Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
In a guest essay for the New York Times earlier this month, actor Tom Hanks apologized for his contribution as a filmmaker to erasing black history from American consciousness. Referencing the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, he wrote, “History was mostly written by white people about white people like me, while the history of Black people — including the horrors of Tulsa — 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.”
Those projects of his include producing numerous outstanding films and TV shows based on American history, including Band of Brothers, The Pacific, John Adams and From the Earth to the Moon. In addition, as one of America’s most beloved and successful living actors, the two-time Oscar winner has starred in some of the most memorable history-based movies of the last few decades, including Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, and Apollo 13.
But in an essay last weekend titled “Tom Hanks Is A Non-Racist. It’s Time For Him To Be Anti-Racist,” National Public Radio (NPR) TV critic Eric Deggans griped that Hanks’ confessional “is not enough.” His film work has too often “focused on the achievements of virtuous white, male Americans,” making it “tougher for tales about atrocities such as Tulsa to find similar space.”
Deggans, who ironically is the author of Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation, concedes that Hanks is a consummate actor and “all-around stand-up guy” who has advocated for gay rights and environmentalism. Though Deggans did not note this, Hanks also backed the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden. Last year, he and wife Rita Wilson supported Michelle Obama’s “We All Vote” initiative, which aggressively pushed voting-by-mail during the 2020 presidential election. Hanks also ranks among Hollywood’s most charitable celebrities, supporting AIDS research, clean energy, and arts education. It’s fair to say he has contributed quite a bit to the progressive cause.
That’s wonderful, writes Deggans, but again – not enough. What matters to Deggans is that Hanks “is a baby boomer star who has built a sizable part of his career on stories about American white men ‘doing the right thing.’” It’s unclear how this is a bad thing; it’s also unclear how a man who makes a living as an entertainment critic is unaware that approximately 99% of contemporary TV and movie villains are white males (the remaining 1% are space aliens or the living dead). Hollywood depicting white men doing the right thing is a refreshing change, not the norm.
Deggans lumps Hanks in with fellow Democrat filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, “baby boomer filmmakers [who] have made fortunes amplifying ideas of white American exceptionalism and heroism.” It is difficult for white allies, he pontificates, to “admit how they were personally and specifically connected to the elevation of white culture over other cultures.” In order to atone, Deggans demands that these storytellers “talk specifically about how their work has contributed to these problems and how they will change,” because “their responsibility now lies with helping dismantle and broaden the ideas they helped cement in the American mind.”
“Dismantle,” by the way, is one of the favorite verbs of cultural Marxists, whose ultimate aim is to do just that to all the white, capitalist, patriarchal, heteronormative power structures and value systems that leftist revolutionaries want to subvert.
Hanks may be a well-meaning guy who publicly denounces racism, but what matters to race-baiting media propagandists like Deggans is, Hanks is a white man complicit in the “elevation of white culture” and in upholding the myth of (white) American exceptionalism. To begin his redemptive journey of “allyship” (one of the left’s clunkiest neologisms) to people of color (another clunky expression), Hanks must do more than write a NY Times op-ed publicly acknowledging his guilt; he must stop making stories about righteous white men and start making stories dismantling American whiteness. Otherwise, all his other progressive bona fides are meaningless, and he’s no better than a run-of-the-mill, Confederate flag-waving, Trump deplorable – because to anti-racists, there is no such thing as being simply not racist. One is either actively anti-racist or actively racist.
Of course, anti-racism is racism. The concept of anti-racism, as formulated by race hustlers like bestselling intellectual fraud Ibram X. Kendi, begins from the racist proposition that such a thing as “whiteness” exists, that all whites are infected with it, and that they always and everywhere contribute to the oppression of non-whites, either consciously or unconsciously. Even if they are not actively involved in oppression, they are passively guilty because they benefit from a system that privileges whites, the demonstrably false argument goes.
People like Kendi and Deggans, and propaganda institutions like NPR, are directly responsible for the ugly state of our culture today in which black Americans are inculcated with the destructive lie that this country is designed to keep them under the bootheel of white supremacy, and in which open racism, including racial violence, against whites is not only acceptable, but justifiable.
Deggans, on behalf of American blacks past and present, concludes by demanding that Hanks, Spielberg, Howard, and all the virtue-signaling, white Hollywood A-listers like Meryl Streep, roll up their designer sleeves and take “specific steps to dismantle systemic racism… As a star who can get a movie made just by agreeing to appear in it, what will Tom Hanks, movie star, actually do?”
It won’t much matter what Tom Hanks, movie star, does, because nothing will ever be enough. What he and other apologetic white Hollywood progressives are going to find out the hard way is that cultural Marxists like Deggans view systemic racism in every American institution as a given; they see whiteness as an irredeemable condition; and they believe that the “hard work,” as they call it, of anti-racism is never-ending. No amount of self-abasement and cultural reparations by today’s white elites will ever heal our current racial divide (but of course, for the Marxist left, that’s the point: not to close the divide, but to perpetuate it and aggravate it). And the more that self-flagellating whites buy into this worldview and strive to cleanse themselves of guilt for racial sins they never committed, like slavery or Jim Crow laws, the deeper the chasm between black and white will grow.
How far we have regressed since Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned a future in which his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. MLK’s dream today would not be considered anti-racist. But in fact, the only way for all of us to unite, shed our racial baggage, and move forward is to reject the ideological poison of Critical Race Theory and anti-racism, to reject the false tribal divisions of identity politics, and to recover the original Civil Rights-era goal of simply treating everyone the same – as individuals with equal rights under the law, with equal dignity and humanity.