The Difference Between Knowing The Path And Walking The Path

Credit: MediaPunch/IPX via The Associated Press

In Eric Deggans’s opinion essay for National Public Radio, titled “Tom Hanks Is A Non-Racist. It’s Time For Him To Be Anti-Racist,” he argues that Tom Hanks has built a career playing righteous white-men on screen, and now is the time for Hanks to actively contribute to working against racism. Deggans sets out to define the term non-racist, and explain how many white “allies” often take this stance, and contrast it with being anti-racist, and how working as an anti-racist can be more productive and beneficial to society. Deggan’s argues that while Hanks has become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood by portraying American white men that “do the right thing,” Hanks can better make a difference by addressing how his works have contributed to white American exceptionalism, help to promote diverse works that would otherwise be ignored, and help dismantle barriers in his industry which would allow for more diverse people and ideas to flourish.

Credit: University of Tulsa/McFarlin Library Special Collections

Hanks is most famous for his frequent roles as historical figures exemplifying the idea of white American heroes, and Deggans contends that Hanks should work to dismantle these ideas now that he has become self-aware of his role. Deggans’s piece is inspired by an essay Hanks himself wrote for The New York Times, titled “You Should Learn The Truth About The Tulsa Race Massacre,” in which Hanks details the Tulsa Race Massacre and addresses the idea of systematic racism in America. In his piece, Hanks says “History was mostly written by white people… while the history of Black people … was too often left out. Until relatively recently, the entertainment industry, which helps shape what is history and what is forgotten, did the same. That includes projects of mine” (Hanks 2). Deggans remarks that he finds these to be wise words from Hanks, and that he is pleased Hanks is advocating teachings about race-based massacres, especially amid the uproar over critical race theory, but that Hanks must also do more than acknowledge these events in America’s past.

Hanks is one of the most prominent figures in Hollywood, and his mere attachment to a project in the industry can immediately guarantee it’s production, and Deggan’s explains that Hanks can use this power to help promote productions that are either products of non-white people or otherwise work towards broadening ideas regarding race in America. Hanks is also a notable producer for many historical documentaries, especially related to World War II, and he can wield his credits to produce documentaries that tells stories that are often forgotten or ignored in America, not unlike the Tulsa Race Massacre, as he sought to do in his piece for The New York Times. Deggans points out that many of the films Hanks has starred in show white Americans beating the Nazis, but these films often leave out “how Black soldiers returned home from fighting in World War II to find they weren’t allowed to use the GI Bill to secure home loans in certain neighborhoods or were cheated out of claiming benefits at all.” (Deggans 1).

The most effective argument Deggans makes in his essay is that it isn’t enough when people like Hanks simply speak out on racism, but that people must make moves to remove barriers in their fields and help promote change and diversity. Deggans goes on to define the term anti-racist in his essay, saying “Anti-racism implies action — looking around your universe and taking specific steps to dismantle systemic racism” (Deggans 1). By working to be anti-racist, Deggans argues, Hanks and others can be much more effective in the fight for change. In television and film particularly, stories by non-white writers and the casting of non-white actors can significantly change both the conversation and the injustices in society because of their reach and influence.

To conclude, Deggans’s essay on Tom Hanks contends that while Hanks has built a successful career by promoting white American exceptionalism and as he is now reckoning with his role, Hanks can make an impact by addressing how his own productions have contributed to systematic racism, aid in producing works in his industry that tell oft ignored stories, and work to promote diversity in casting in Hollywood. While Hanks and many filmmakers like him have made fortunes by promoting white people on screen, they can work to promote the change they seek by actively working against systematic racism. While writing an essay addressing an often overlooked and ignored injustice in history, Hanks has made a step in the right direction, but he has the power to do much, much more.

Works Cited

Deggans, Eric. “Tom Hanks Is A Non-Racist. It’s Time For Him To Be Anti-Racist.” National Public Radio. Opinion. 13 June, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/06/13/1005725990/tom-hanks-is-a-non-racist-its-time-for-him-to-be-anti-racist

Hanks, Tom. “You Should Learn The Truth About The Tulsa Race Massacre.” The New York Times. Opinon Guest Essay. 4 June, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/04/opinion/tom-hanks-tulsa-race-massacre-history.html

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