Sometimes when I write about my father’s civil rights work in Mississippi, I get emails telling me that I should be proud of his fight against racism at a time when it was neither easy nor accepted, particularly in a young white man.
Other times I get comments about how bizarre it is that such a wonderful father sired such a backward daughter, someone who voted for the wrong president and holds bigoted beliefs.
But the comments that anger me the most are the ones that demean and diminish the efforts of people like my father. There is now a movement to label the civil rights work of people in the majority, usually white men but also women who are considered “privileged,” of being a part of the toxic “white savior syndrome.”
I had occasion to revisit that anger this past month when I heard about the controversy pitting Michael Oher, the former Baltimore Ravens football player, against the white family who took him in after he was abandoned and neglected by his drug-addicted biological mother.
I don’t need to rehash the story here, because most of us have seen the movie “The Blind Side” where a Tennessee family “adopts” a homeless Black teen, gives him a place to stay, mentors him through school and helps him get into an elite football program.
This was a fairytale, and while we all knew to take it with a grain of Hollywood salt the size of Mount Rushmore, the basic story was incredibly inspiring. Until, that is, Michael Oher decided to shatter what he now calls a lie.
He is accusing that family, the Touheys, of never actually adopting him but of instead putting him under a legal conservatorship. He recently filed a lawsuit charging them with exploitation, alleging that they only wanted to control his money, and that he had no idea he wasn’t ever adopted.
Unfortunately for Oher, he wrote a memoir about a decade ago where he actually admits that he knew about the conservatorship, so in terms of lies he is already one up on the Touheys. Additionally, there is ample evidence in the record that Oher received the exact same share of proceeds from the movie as the Touheys’ biological children, who always considered him a brother.
What should have been just another sad example of money corrupting family ties was taken to a new and disturbing level when people started bringing race into the mix. Articles began showing up with titles like Vox’s “Was ‘The Blind Side’s’ White Savior Narrative Built on a Lie?” and NPR’s ‘The Blind Side’s’ Drama Just Proves the Cheap, Meaningless Hope of White Savior Films”
When “To Kill A Mockingbird” was being prepared for its Broadway staging a few seasons ago, producer Aaron Sorkin was quoted as saying he wanted to minimize the “white savior” aspects of Harper Lee’s original narrative.
At the time he observed that “I realized something about my favorite scene in the movie and in the book ... at the end of the trial, Atticus is putting his stuff back in his briefcase. The courtroom has cleared out except for the people in what they call ‘the colored section.’ Everyone has stood up silently. Rev. Sykes says to Scout: Miss Jean Louise, stand up, your father’s passin’. That really is a white savior moment. And it’s a liberal fantasy that marginalized people will recognize me, that I’m one of the good ones.”
That iconic scene is probably my favorite, not just in that movie but in any movie. I admit that I think of my own father when I look at Gregory Peck’s stoic figure, saddened but not entirely defeated, because I imagine Daddy felt the same way when he lost his own cases down in Mississippi in 1967.
To now have someone take what was a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, which has no color, creed or gender, and completely twist
it around angers me.
Yes, I am a white woman and I can’t exactly empathize with a homeless Black teen who was essentially abandoned by his drug-addicted birth mother.
But I am someone who doesn’t think that the color of the person who is throwing me a lifeline matters all that much.
Do you think that the parents who were desperate to save their children’s lives cared that renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson was not a white man? I don’t.
So while I’m sure Michael Oher feels he was wronged, race has nothing to do with it. Only race baiters would see it that way.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at email@example.com.