Monday, March 2, 2015


Among Selma's achievements: to evoke the burden — more than that: the exhaustion — that Dr. King felt doing battle with America's theretofore unassailable myth of white innocence. He spends much of the movie exhausted and—we see this in his eyes—in flight from his calling. But on occasion, invigorated by the people around him (by a grieving 84-year-old grandfather, for instance, who has never cast a vote in his life) Dr. King drinks from his Fountain of Truth, known for centuries as Christ's Love, and summons the strength to change the world.

Which struck America then and strikes me now as some kind of stupefying miracle.

We haven't lived up to that miracle, needless to say, but it is part of our inheritance. It has made possible other miracles, including the one I witnessed at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company on November 4, 2008. That miracle was earned, like Selma, by decades of suffering, and likely occurred—like Selma—in part so that white America could restore for itself the myth of its innocence. Regardless, it occurred, and I witnessed it and will never forget it.

I was raised to ask for miracles by praying. And it was nice to think that miracles could come from prayer. But prayer, when it plays any role whatsoever, is basically the singer warming her voice. In the end, miracles are earned by hard work and good thinking. Dr. King, to our great good fortune, knew how to think. He understood that to "lift white consciousness," it was necessary to deploy white America against itself. The myth of white innocence could not tolerate the sight of white cruelty. Innocence Lost mandated Innocence Restored. Fair enough, Dr. King said: If your myth is important you, it could use some defending in Selma.

When the march finally happens, after blood has run in the streets, the film rewards us with archival footage of the real-life marchers. One is struck by the joy in their faces. It is, dare I say, divine joy. Dr. King was tired and would soon be dead. But his marchers were not tired and perhaps—Hands Up, Don't Shoot!—still aren't.

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