In the classic Mission: Impossible TV series, a team of covert spies puts forth a lot of calculated effort to blind their enemies to their real plans. But in one intriguing episode, they opened an enemy’s eyes. Assigned to rescue a black liberation leader from a West African apartheid prison camp, the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) dupes the camp’s white supremist commander into believing that he is actually a black man.
Posing as a fellow commander, IMF leader Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) visits Colonel Alex Kohler (Lawrence Dobkin) with IMF agent Doug (Sam Elliott), who poses as a “racial affairs” expert. IMF agent Dana (Lesley Ann Warren), posing as an American journalist, asks what a “racial affairs” expert does. Doug explains that his job is to ferret out those black citizens who are illegally posing as whites. He and Phelps discuss a recent case in which a medical ailment triggered a reaction in one such “white”, causing him to revert back to his original black skin. In such cases, the exposed individual loses his job, his property, and his spouse, and his children are “re-classified”. Colonel Kohler ignores Dana’s disgust at his society’s cruelty.
But that night, IMF agent Barney Collier (Greg Morris) plants an ultraviolet sensor in General Kohler’s bathroom light. Dana had slipped Kohler a drug to make him susceptible to its rays, which darken his entire body while he showers. By morning, he is shocked to find that his skin is entirely black!
He tries desperately to wash it off, but he can’t. Not with scrubbing or scraping. He avoids appointments, refusing to see anyone or leave the safety of his room. He knows that life, as he knew it, might well be over.
I grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly white, but I never held racist views toward others. I accepted people for their inner character. So I never understood the concerns that many people expressed about racial strife. After all, I had seen very little of it, and I couldn’t imagine that such prejudiced mindsets still existed in this country.
But they do. A white friend of mine did some research into racial issues several years back. He opened my eyes, like Kohler’s, to see things I had never considered. To consider what it might actually feel like to live in someone else’s skin.
If you have rarely experienced racism, you are probably in the majority of your society, like I was. That makes life fairly comfortable, and makes it difficult to imagine the experiences of someone in the minority. So consider the following:
How often have you entered a room and felt tense stares from everyone, and understood that they had instantly judged you by your skin tone?
How often have you entered a store and noticed employees watching you nervously, expecting you to commit some crime, though you had done nothing to appear suspect?
Have you ever stared at your children – as I have – and worried that they would grow up with people calling them nasty names, based solely on their appearance?
Have you known friends or family members who were attacked by racists and wondered whether you would ever see justice served?
These experiences are common for many minorities. They expect to be rejected, suspected, hated, and abused, all because of their appearance. As if they should apologize for the color of their skin.
Dana later secrets Colonel Kohler away to an antique shop, where IMF agent Paris (Leonard Nimoy) provides photographic “proof” that Kohler’s grandfather was really black. Soon, officers arrive to arrest Kohler, but Paris pulls a gun on them and leads Kohler to escape in the soldiers’ jeep. “Why are you helping me?” Kohler asks him.
“I am one-sixteenth part black,” Paris explains. “We are brothers.”
Kohler is ultimately caught, and the IMF team gets away clean, as always, having rescued Kitara, the liberation leader. Kitara (Robert Doqui) asks how long Kohler will remain black. “About a week,” Doug explains. “After which, he and his associates will probably turn very red.”
Thursday, June 26th, 2008