Do the Right Thing, by Camille Yim

Camille Yim

HIST 128



The American Life


The University of San Diego honors Black History Month by hosting events on campus.  On February 21st, I attended a screening of the movie Do the Right Thing.  The film is essentially about the lifestyle of a post-slavery black community.  An African American man working for a White man, a White family business, an Asian family business, a female African American, African American men, and White policemen are characters used to illustrate various perspectives of struggles, tensions, and emotions of this transitional period where African Americans are no longer enslaved, but now displaced to live amongst themselves apart from the rest of the American society.  This period is important to African American history, because as they showed in the film, past racial discrimination, anger, fear, and frustration creates misconceptions that prevents the communities from living harmoniously.  Two guest speakers, a theologist and a philosopher, also shared their insights after the film regarding the different cultural aspects, as well as brought up critical questions concerning what racism is, and who is racist?

Racism associated with fear, anger, frustration, inferiority, superiority, disrespect, ignorance, dehumanizing, and distinction during the discussion after the film.  There was one scene in the movie that I thought disclosed why the idea of racism is so difficult to understand, and so unclear to define.  Mookie, an African American employee at Sal’s Famous Pizza, and Pino, Sal’s son who is Italian, never see eye to eye.  One time when they get into it, Mookie asks Pino who his favorite singer, athlete, actors are, and Pino comes back naming all African Americans.

Mookie says, “Sounds funny to me.  As much as you say nigger this and nigger that, all your favorite people are “niggers.””

Pino replies back saying, “It’s different.  Magic, Eddie, Prince, are not niggers, I mean, are not Black.  I mean, they’re Black, but not really Black.  They’re more than Black.  It’s different.”

Pino was saying that famous African Americans are Black by race or skin color but not in the sense of belonging or purpose as a citizen.  Since those African Americans are talented and successful, they’re more than the poor and uneducated people living in neighborhoods like the one in the film.  In order to understand where Pino and Mookie are coming from, one must need to understand the history of Africans in America.

During the Transatlantic slave trade, through the plantation generation, and even after the revolutionary war, African Americans were societies of possessable objects.  They viewed them as less than a poor person.  As African Americans gradually gained their rights as a citizen, they were never given back what they lost, but instead left misplaced trying to earn an “American life” where they not only didn’t have proper skills or money, but also felt unwanted.  White men brought African to America for their labor, and now they didn’t feel like they had a purpose to be there.  What Mookie and Pino are getting at, is that the idea of racism against African Americans has shifted from dehumanization, to now in a way analogous to distinguishing between the rich and the poor class.

Unsettled tension and anger between White Americans and African Americans built up from the feeling of being an outcast, along with the economical class differentiation.  The entire movie’s fight against the current misconceptions between two races made it feel hopeless to watch.  It wasn’t until the end when Sal over paid Mookie and told him to keep it, that Mookie saw beyond the economical class difference.  He saw that Sal could care less about being wealthy, and more about having a business that people enjoyed.  In the end the problem comes down to racism, but not in the way most people would automatically think.  The problem of racism in terms of uneven distribution of power and lack of empathy.  The movie is trying to get people to realize is that everybody is struggling to feel a sense of belonging and purpose.



Lee, Spike, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, et al. 2001. Do the right thing. Universal City, CA: Universal City Studios.

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