While to some audiences, The Blind Side, a popular movie featuring the true story of how a white family came to the aid of a young black man, may seem like a heartwarming tale of how a black boy was surely saved from a life of gangs and crimes to become a highly sought-after NFL player, there’s actually a deeper underlying message featuring (you guessed it!) racism, similar to what one might find in Frederick Douglass’s The Heroic Slave.
In order to properly analyze this situation, let’s start with the beginning.
Michael Oher was a young, struggling black student rising from a demographic background riddled with poverty, abandonment, as well as gangs and drugs.
Leigh Anne Tuohy and her perfect little family of four are featured as an upper-class, suburban white family, able to enjoy many aspects of white privilege such as having a high-class home featured straight out of a Martha Stewart episode, overpriced luncheons with the gal-pals… OH! And having the financial background making them capable of taking in some strange black boy out of the goodness of their hearts. Ohhhhh goody.
When Leigh Anne first sees Michael walking along the side of the road, in the cold, she immediately realizes that something is just not right- and so she sticks her nose into his business and starts demanding that he tell her his deal. After discovering that Michael is actually homeless, she experiences a moment similar to that of Mr. Listwell in The Heroic Slave when he overhears Madison Washington lamenting over his own situation: “‘Here is indeed a man,’ thought he, ‘of rare endowments,- a child of God,- guilty of no crime but the color of his skin,- hiding away from the face of humanity…’” (9). And it’s pretty similar to Michael’s own situation- here we have a young black man content with living out his days out of a plastic bag, trudging along cold and desolate side streets, not asking for help from anyone or anything.
Well, too bad Michael. Because the moment that Leigh Anne realizes that this young man is in a predicament far worse than anything she ever has or will experience, she seems to have this white-guilt epiphany moment in which some unseen force is whisper-screaming in her ear, “HEY YOU! Save this boy!” And much like what Mr. Listwell experienced in his own moment of white guilt, it’s game over, “From this hour I am an abolitionist. I have seen enough and heard enough, and I shall go to my home… resolved to atone for my past indifference to this ill-starred race…” (9).
While Leigh Anne’s allowance of Michael spending the night in her family’s home may seem like the simple act of kindness that it is, obviously she does not simply stop at that. She feeds the boy, clothes him, and takes a special interest in raising his grades so that he can get into a great college. “‘A resting-place, indeed, sir, you shall have; not, however, in my barn, but in the best room of my house. Consider yourself, if you please, under the roof of a friend; for such I am to you, and to all your deeply injured race.’” (12). She even tries to help Michael in finding some sort of passion that can excite his soul- and what a surprise that there’s no career more fitting for him than being an NFL star. How typical.
Eventually, Leigh Anne takes the situation as far as to actually take Michael in as a member of her own family. Do these extreme measures sound familiar to you? They should, considering Mr. Listwell, some random white man, decided it was his moral obligation to aid Madison Washington in both his escape attempt to Canada as well as his escape from the chain gang auction by providing him with files.
While Mr. Listwell’s actions were considered highly unusual for his time period, considering the majority of the population were either in active or docile support of slavery as a whole, Leigh Anne and Michael’s experience is received similarly by their own community. For example, Leigh Anne’s friends laugh and tease her at one of their many gal-pal luncheons about whether or not she plans on adopting Michael- and laughter is replaced with shock/horror when they realize that she truly does intend on keeping Michael around. One friend goes as far as to ask Leigh Anne if she’s having some sort of white-guilt experience. Well, we’re kind of wondering the same thing Sharon. Or Karen. Or whatever your name is.
The bottom line is that it seems to be a trend originating from as far back as the tale of The Heroic Slave, that it has to be a white character, for one reason or another, be it selfless or selfish reasons, that swoops in to save the poor black kid from their cruddy situations. Well, I for one think it’s about damn time that these kids are featured in a heroic tale of how they saved themselves. So back down, past/future Leigh Anne’s of America, because these kids are more than capable of rising above their situations and saving themselves.