Crash is highly ambiguous in the depiction of multiculturalism in American society. Almost all the ethnicities depicted in Crash question the perception others have their particular group, but at the same time affirm the different stereotypes surrounding their ethnic group. For example, one of the black characters (‘Anthony’) remarks that they should be afraid in a white neighborhood, due to their group’s association with crime. Following this intelligent observation, he and his friend (‘Peter’) proceed to steal a car from a white couple (Rick and Jean Cabot), affirming the stereotype whites have of them. Another example would be the Persian-American father, who is accused by a gun-store owner to be a danger to society, The father denies this fact, but ends up shooting a child.This ambiguous portrayal shows us one of the dilemmas of Multiculturalism in American society. While it strives to acknowledge diversity, it also promotes color consciousness by rejecting color-blind solutions. To quote Gordon and Newfield “Multiculturalism in the 1980’s sponsored renewed protests against white racism and yet it appeared to replace the emphasis on race and racism with an emphasis on cultural diversity. Multiculturalism rejected racial subordination but seemed sometimes to support it“. While Gordon and Newfield also attest that “multiculturalism often avoided race. It designated cultures”, but multiculturalism in Crash inexorably comes down to race and ethnicity. The characters in Crash think in terms of race or ethnicity, not culture. Despite the fact that every major character is culturally ‘American’, race is the definitive factor in determining identity. The upper-class African-American Cameron is accused of not being ‘black’ enough. The Persian-American father is angered that he is mistaken for being an Arab (traditionally considered to be part of the Hamitic race), while both ethnicities can be considered part of Islamic culture. The Asian-American characters and the Cambodian immigrants are first and foremost ‘Asian’ and no attempt is made to distinguish them culturally. This can clearly be seen at the end of the movie; Anthony drops the Cambodians off in Chinatown, an ‘Asian’ neighborhood, inhabited by Chinese-Americans whose culture and language is completely foreign to the Cambodians. Furthermore everyone from South-American is labeled as Latino or Hispanic, despite the fact that Brazilians are culturally and linguistically Portuguese and that Argentina is more ‘white’ than the United States. Detective Ria is called Mexican (the most common Hispanic group in Los Angeles) multiple times in the movie, despite having a shared Puerto Rican and El-Salvadorian background.One must understand that there is a racial divide or a perceived racial divide in American society, not just between the white American majority and minority groups but between different minority groups as well. This is best seen during Crash’s opening scene, where a ‘native’ Asian-American woman (Kim Lee) accuses the ‘native’ Hispanic Ria of being an illegal immigrant in broken English. Another example would be the privileged African-American Cameron. After an attempted carjacking, he is mistaken for one of the carjackers, due to his belligerent attitude and encounters a racial divide that completely nullifies his privileged position. In other words, his upper-class job gave him a degree of ‘whiteness’, which dissipates when he is mistaken for a ‘black’ thug. The racial divide is best described by Ronald Takaki, a Japanese-American and a professor on multicultural American during an encounter with a taxi driver. The taxi driver asked how long he had been in the US; Takaki interpreted his question in terms of race: “Somehow I did not look ‘American’ to him; my eyes and complexion looked foreign. Suddenly we both became aware of a racial divide between us”. For the taxi driver, an Asian man speaking good English was somehow remarkable and likely made his comment without any racist connotations. For the Japanese-American Takaki, it was a reminder that the notion of ‘Americaness’ was still closely related to race. Another Academic, Schlesinger notes that “The bonds of cohesion in our society are sufficiently fragile, or so it seems to me, that it makes no sense to strain them by encouraging and exalting cultural and linguistic apartheid. The American identity will never be fixed and final; it will always be in the making”. Despite being an assimilationist, Schlesinger has a valid argument, at least with this quote. ‘American’ is not a fixed identity; it means different things to different minority groups. For the Asian-American woman, speaking broken English raised no questions regarding her Asian-American identity, while the Hispanic Ria was dumbfounded by the fact that the women accused her of being an illegal in broken English. Schlesinger correctly notes how fragile the bonds between the different ethnic groups are. This returns in Crash, where almost every ‘multicultural’ interaction is the result of a crash or conflict. As Gordon and Newfield point out in their essay, multiculturalism might have placed the emphasis on cultural diversity, rather than race or racism, but it has done little to deal with the underlying racial divide that exists in American society.
“Argentina Demographics Profile 2010”, Index Mundi, accessed 10-3-2010, http://www.indexmundi.com/argentina/demographics_profile.html Avery Gordon and Christopher Newfield, Mapping Multiculturalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 3-4
Schlesinger, Arthur M., The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (New York: Norton, 1992) 137-138 Takaki, Ronald, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (New York: Back Bay Books, 1993) 1-2