Mid Term Essay

Oct 24, 2018 | 0 comments

Oct 24, 2018 | Miscellaneous | 0 comments

Mid Term Essay


The essay will put the ideas presented in Appiah’s “Racial Identities” and Pratt’s “Arts of the Contact Zone” in conversation with each other through Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing.” The essay will majorly focus on the theme of social and racial relations, particular scenes and characters as presented in the film while incorporating the ideas of the two authors. However, before embarking on the discussion, a better understanding of the storyline of the film is important. Racial identities among the minority and dominant races have resulted to Autoethnography and transculturation, and to improve racial relations, collective identities should be encouraged

Summary of Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing.”

“Do The Right Thing” is an American drama film that was written, directed and produced by Spike Lee. The movie brings out a story of a simmering neighborhood racial tension that degenerates and culminates in tragedy on the summer hottest day. A young black man, Mookie, resides in Bedford-Stuyvesant, an African American neighborhood together with her sister, Jade. Mookie delivers pizza in the neighboring pizzeria and Jade wants him out of her apartment because he is ambitionless. However, he works to support Tina, his girlfriend and Hector, their son. Salvator an American Italian, who is the owner of the pizzeria, has a son called Pino who hold racial contempt for the black and detest the working place. Vito, the younger son of Sal, is a friend of Mookie, but Pino is out to make the life of Mookie miserable. Lee pointed out that within the strict location and temporal confines of the film of “Do the Right Thing” lies the concerned work with tackling the enormous themes of America. That is liberty, violence, economics, and urban survival, ambition and race relations on a micro scale. With its unorthodox and thrilling blend of Black artificiality and Aristotelian unity, it gives the location of the big among the small and finally the national in the local.

Appiah’s “Racial Identities” and Pratt’s “Arts of the Contact Zone” and their application in Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing.”

According to Anthony Appiah, there is no connection between the ideas of racial or cultural identities, color conscious or color blind, and racial justice or fairness. The central thesis of Appiah states that the concept of race is a mistaken American idea and that the only race is the human race. Given that the current use of the term race is based on the world’s previous misunderstandings, the author explores the history of the use of the term race. For instance, Appiah pointed out that Thomas Jefferson relied on the perceived psychological and physical differences between whites and blacks to use the term race as an explanation for “social and cultural phenomenon” (49). Similarly, the biological approach viewed blacks as inferior intellectually and physically. They were viewed as shallow, unintelligent, unimaginative and crude but more adventurous and brave compared to the whites.

On the other hand, in the essay Mary Louise Pratt “Arts of the Contact Zone,” she uses terms like imagine community, autoethnography and safe house to help in demonstrating the reasoning of her feelings and thought about actual and historical events she speaks about. Pratt in her essay talks about ethnography and transculturation. She talks of imaginary spaces where inequalities and differences are sensed and recognized. Acceding to Pratt, these imaginary spaces are referred to as contact zones. Contact zones according to Pratt refer to social spaces where cultures grapple, meet and clash with each other, in the context of power such as slavery, colonialism or their aftermaths (Pratt 584).

The theme of social and racial relations is seen in many scenes in the film. According to Pratt, contact zone can be either negative or positive. For instance people communing together from different backgrounds, and discussing certain aspects of history provides them with an opportunity of identifying with interest, ideas and other people’s history. In contrast, negative contact zone includes colonialism where a country colonizes the natives and oppress them rather than exchanging ideas. .in the film of “Do the Right Thing” the theme of social and racial relations is portrayed, as well as a positive contact zone in the manner in which the characters forget about their differences and hold truce to improve their social and racial relations. The notion that cities and neighborhoods are just historical sites having many layers is brought out vividly. The cities have had large populations for a very long time, and. Therefore, many people have lived and died throughout the history course. Lee pointed out that some of these tragic happenings have been forgotten, and the cosmopolitans and bustling metropolis are often thought in terms of Broadways shows and skyscrapers with the inhabitants stories being neglected or falling by the wayside.

Pratt also introduced the readers into a discussion an Andean called Guaman Poma who wrote a letter in 1613 to King Philip III of Spain that was 1200 pages long. The letter contained information about history, customs, public offices, laws, dynasties and their leaders of Inca (Pratt 585). This letter was divided into two parts in which, Nueva Coronica, the first part was the main apparatus of writing through which Spanish presented to themselves their American conquest. Pratt referred to the first part of the letter by Poma as an autoethnographic text. Autoethnographic texts are texts where people undertake in describing themselves in was that engage representations other people have made of them. In contemporary literature, writers use this framework of a system for their advantage, by using the dominant civilization language or the conquerors’. In her words, Pratt stated that:

“Autoethnographic works are often addressed to both metropolitan audiences and the speakers own community. Their reception is thus highly indeterminate. Such texts often constitute a marginalized groups point of entry into the dominant circuits of print culture.”(Pratt 34)

The text of Guaman Poma is also created with the invaders language, the Spanish. The author does not reproduce or imitate it, but selects and adapts it by the Andean lines to express the interest and aspirations of the Andeans (Pratt 589). Pratt called this process transculturation, where the device is pulled from another person or language to get points across. In her words, Pratt stated that:

“Ethnographers have used the term transculturation to describe processes whereby members of subordinated or marginal groups select and invent from materials transmitted by a dominant or metropolitan culture.”

Forgetfulness and remorse to improve social and racial relations get revealed at the end of the film of “Do the Right Thing.” There is an element of truce between Mookie and Sal. Both are aware of the violent and reckless actions of their previous night and wish they could have just moved on without the ingrained societies racial and suspicions and stereotypes. However, for them to speak that way means it is unrealistic socially but also hurt the provocative ambiguity of the ending.

Despite the difficulties linked with racial identity, Appiah argues that racial identity does not have a place in the racist society, and if the society is to end racial discrimination, people need to move beyond the current societal identities. Appiah stated that Americans should build, essentially “collective societies” that “recognize both the centrality of difference within human identity and the fundamental moral unity of humanity“(Appiah 105). This way will allow collective responsibility make it correct the past and current wrongs against the minority groups. For instance, Appiah suggested that resources could be allocated for educating disadvantaged group’s members to ensure that no individual is below the average skills needed. Furthermore, many efforts may be exerted to find “talented members of minority groups who would not be found when employers are guided purely by profit”(Appiah 102).” The results of these strategies would be to put to an end the ethno racial identities for the individuals who identify with them.

To bring out the prevailing themes in the film of “Do the Right Thing,” the element of conversation is not embraced by the parties. There are racial animosity, class line boundaries in the small town and violence that inhibit people from embracing conversation, and this jeopardize social and racial relations.

The theme of social and racial relations also comes in the limelight from the racial tension brought out in the film of “Do the Right Thing.” To begin, there is no one who is a racist including Sal and Buggin but there exist racial tension as stereotype scenario portrays. Lee inserts the white guy who is obnoxious and whose car gets ruined by the black youths. Lee further pointed out that probably everyone had an expectation that the police would chase the black youths but that does not happen, they side with the black youths. This shows that racism does not exist, and the social and racial relation is at its best.

Social and racial relations in the film are also under attack. The happenings tend to ruin the good social and racial relations in the neighborhood. Buggin is in the problem by giving a shit to a white man just by stepping on his shoes. Furthermore, he is angry because an Italian America is giving honor to his Italian heritage. Everybody around knows that he is in trouble, and when he get escorted out, Mookie gets annoyed by him. In fact, according to Lee, everybody is annoyed and does not understand why an Italian American should not be proud of being an Italian. On the hand, Sal is leery and not racist. Although Mookie is uncomfortable with him after he went to his sister, he is a nice person who loves the neighborhoods for giving support.

The theme of social and racial relations in the film is also seen in the love and hate of the characters involved. There is a contradiction on Radio Raheem, and there exist to love and hate in the film of “Do the Right Thing”. Raheem describes himself, and he is also intimidating. He roams around blasting loud music and does not interact with anybody. Therefore, he is neutral. He does not build any social and racial relations and seems like a lone ranger. Hate comes in when he gets angry to Sal and finally gets killed because of his actions to show the hate consequences. Raheem and the police were consumed excessively with hatred and Mookie threw the trash can aftermath. Lee pointed out that the title of the play derived its name of “Do the Right Thing” because Mookie was angry and did whatever he could. However, that cannot be said to mean he did the right thing.

According to Appiah, it is not appropriate to use the concept of race as a scheme for classification of whites and blacks. He argues that racial identity should replace this concept (32). Racial identification, according to Appiah, is significant socially as it shapes actions, behaviors and life plans. However, a person can decide how salient the identity is. Despite the fact that it is an improvement to racial classification, Appiah asserted that racial identity also has its drawbacks. For instance, racial identity is often ascribed by others to people. Therefore, it is hard to resist racial identification (82). Similarly, the ascription of race allows racism to continue by creating liabilities for the blacks and benefits for the whites, all on the basis of the color of the skin. The theme of social and racial relations is ironed and strengthened from the relationships in the film. The film reveals and shows that even the individuals that form particular cultural or ethnic groups have certain social and racial relationship with one another. The members of particular ethnic or racial affiliations or that have common interests tend or can flock together because they can identify with others just like them. In the film of “Do the Right Thing,” the theme of relationships is also portrayed along the racial lines. Sal is brought out as an American Italian in the neighborhood. However, on the wall of his restaurants Lee pointed out that he only sticks the picture of his racial people. Furthermore, the black youth is seen as reacting to what may seem as racial violence. The violence erupts between two racial affiliations. This shows that relations between the people of the same racial identity affiliate themselves. Furthermore, insecurity is seen in the neighborhood from the street violence of the black youths and violence experienced in the streets. All these social problems affecting the people affect their social and racial relations.

The societal social problems brought out in the film of “Do the Right Thing “also affects social and racial relations. In the city of New York and the Bedford neighborhoods in Brooklyn, there exist structure continuity, and there exist remedies people come up with for the known city life. In the cities are places where thousands or millions of people have to reside together in a small place and, therefore, the need to look into some of the social problems like the security, transportation, electricity and water supply. For instance, in the film, Mookie is about to be evicted by her sister from her apartments and, therefore, he will lack housing.


In conclusion, the essay applied the ideas presented in Appiah’s “Racial Identities” and Pratt’s “Arts of the Contact Zone” in conversation with each other through Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing.” From the discussion, it is evident that racial identities among the minority and dominant races have resulted to Autoethnography and transculturation, and to improve racial relations, collective identities should be encouraged. The theme of social and racial relations has been extensively discussed as portrayed by Lee in the film. Social and racial relations integrate social interaction and other factors that affect it.

Work cited

Appiah, Anthony. ‘COLOR CONSCIOUS: THE POLITICAL MORALITY OF RACE’. Lilt.ilstu.edu. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Oct. 2015. <http://lilt.ilstu.edu/gmklass/pos334/archive/apiah.html>[Accessed 15 Oct. 2015].

Lee, Spike, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Rosie Perez, Joie S. Lee, John Savage, Samuel L. Jackson, Ernest R. Dickerson, Barry A. Brown, and Bill Lee. Do the Right Thing. Universal City, CA: Universal City Studios, 2001.

Pratt, Mary Louise. ‘‘Arts Of The Contact Zone’. N.p., 1991. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.