Do the right thing
Who’s a Spike Lee fan here? In the 1980s, a film of the title above was released by one of America’s most revered film directors. In my research, I was quite surprised to read that they actually produced the film for a budget of US$6 million! That’s quite a hefty sum, to be honest. Kudos to Spike Lee for raising those funds. It went on to make some US$37 million in the box office!
The film touched on communities of different races co-existing in Brooklyn. When a neighborhood local visits an Italian-owned pizzeria in Brooklyn, he becomes terribly upset when he sees that the pizzeria’s Wall of Fame exhibits only Italian actors. He expresses that a pizzeria in a black neighborhood should showcase black actors, but Sal the Pizzeria owner disagrees. The wall becomes a symbol of racism and hate in the neighborhood, and tensions rise just as the temperature rises as well.
According to an article in Vibe, Spike Lee wrote the script in two weeks as he was inspired by the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock Presents — Shopping for death about two retired salesmen who propose a theory that most murders occur in hot weather. They see a potential murder victim in the nagging wife and tell her to take precautions, but their efforts fail and she is murdered. (Source: TV.com) At the time of Spike Lee writing the script, there was also the 1986 racial incident in Queens, New York City, where a Trinidad man was killed after being chased onto a highway by a mob of white youths. This was one of three famous racially inspired killings, with Willie Turks (1982) and Yusuf Hawkins (1989) as the other victims.
Spike Lee’s call to “Do the right thing” through his film earned him the reputation as a filmmaker who is “obsessed” by race. Three decades later and the pertinent question is, has racial tension been resolved? Read The New Yorker article here.
Personally, I’ve always associated the term, “Do the right thing” with my time in Australia, my adoptive country, and a place I call Malaysia’s 14th state (it’s a joke!). Malaysia has 13 states, and it just seems if you were to throw a stone, you’d likely hit a Malaysian with an aunt, cousin, brother or sister who has emigrated to Australia. Australia, the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation is the place I give thanks to for welcoming and shaping me since the age of 19. I love the country for its values; giving everyone a “fair go”, where vilifying someone for their identity is a crime, and a place that frowns upon those who do not do as they say. That’s the Australia I grew up in during my late teens and formative twenties.
The “Do the right thing” phrase was made popular by a series of public service announcements launched in 1975 for the Keep Australia Beautiful NSW campaign. The Keep Australia Beautiful Week was initiated in the 1960s by Dame Phyllis Frost and ran again this week from 19–25 August 2019. The campaign has helped to reduce litter for over 45 years and help keep Australia beautiful.
Besides keeping Australia clean and beautiful, that phrase resonated strongly among newly arrived migrants like my family and I. We were the new wave of migrants in the late 1980s and it was evident in my school yard who the migrants were as we were working very hard to do the right thing to fit into our new assimilated country and its culture. Among us were new arrivals from Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Tonga Island, South Africa, Chile and Argentina. We were such a beautiful and rich multicultural mix of people all out to fit into our new life in Sydney. I never really felt the brunt of cracism except for two incidents which I’ll never forget. But I’d like to think that one was the result of road rage and the other, of displaced youth bravado.
Allow me to sidestep for just a moment with this story. I was explaining to my 7-year old nephew that he should refer to his friends using country of origin rather than colour. How would he like it if I were to call him yellow. And his reply to me was, but I’m PEACH!!
Growing up in multicultural Malaysia, we were well exposed to British and American culture thanks to the very successful marketing of first world content to our national media channels. My world view had me fitted comfortably in the skin of a 152cm Asian woman with long black hair ready to take the world on, for she was my oyster so they professed. I was indeed feeling peachy and was not feeling any different from any other kid except that I was a bit nerdy. They just needed to get to know me. And so I got them to know me. But it got tiring after awhile.
It shocks me that today, two decades past the millennium, we’re faced with reports like this ABC article that discusses racial profiling in regional and urban Australia. It’s a good reminder to always Do the Right Thing regardless of your background, social status, regardless if anyone is looking, regardless. And while the theory behind racial tension heating up as temperatures rise remains unproven, let’s hope it is indeed just something in Hitchcock’s mind because the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius since 1880!
Here’s a wish besides world peace. If we could all have “common sense” realigned as a society once again, and carry some of those same values of integrity, love and mutual respect of one another, wouldn’t that then be the unifying factor to move forward past 2020? In Malaysia. In Australia. The Americas or China. We live beneath this thin veil of suspicious mind’s eyes cautioned by the other party’s motivation. And it’s exactly that, that will raise temperatures.