Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Towns of Madison

Madison Morgan Cultural Center, in Madison, Georgia drew a crowd for the screening on Monday night. It had a small town feel. Everyone seemed to know each other. There was a warm, neighborly thing in the air. As far as my eye could tell, everyone was white (eyes and assumptions don't always tell the whole story). I'm happy any which way an audience goes in terms of demographics, because the dialogue is needed every which way. And we did have great discussion of the issues the film raises. But it still struck me, because the Director of the Center shared with me that she'd done outreach to black organizations in town. As an outsider, I obviously don't know the in's and out's of it all, but I couldn't help wonder: Was the lack of turn out from Madison's black community a good barometer of race relations in town? Did it reflect a fundamental lack of trust and comfort by black Madisonians in talking with white Madisonians about the history and legacy of slavery? Was it skepticism, upon reading a blurb about Traces of the Trade that the film would present things in a way that validated their realities? Was it too painful a subject to want to deal with on a Monday night, too close to home? Was it the fact that the event was hosted by an organization that is probably thought of as "white"? All of those would be sadly understandable and common reasons. I spoke with a woman at the reception after the screening and she said, in so many words: "We're just totally separate, totally, totally separate. It's like the 1950's here." At the post office in the morning I noticed that every African-American person who came in said hi to every other black person who was also there, getting their mail, dropping something off. It had that same small town feel. Warm, friendly. But a separate town. Two towns within a town. Not particular to Madison. There are so few places that AREN'T like that. It reminded me that what it takes to loosen things up is a real effort, a big effort, a concerted effort, long-term effort. And people are busy. So life goes on. But as the woman at the reception and I agreed, everything starts with a small step.