“Green Book”: A Case of Cross-Race Friendship

It’s the kind of movie that hammers on your heart even as it’s tripping over its feet, hobbled by unexamined notions of race, ethnicity, and class. Don’t look too closely, and you’ll have a very good time. Ty Burr, Boston Globe, regarding Green Book

Burr speaks for many when he praises Peter Farrelly‘s Green Book at the same time as noting its lack of depth.

While the based-on-real-life friendship that develops when Italian-American bouncer “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) is hired to be the driver for the refined African-American pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is touching and demonstrates how personal connections can overcome racial prejudices, the point of view is mainly that of the white guy. It’s Lip’s family and personal history that’s given the main attention. After all, Nick Vallelonga, Lip’s son, is actually the co-writer.

Although a possible inadequacy for many prospective viewers, the friendship portrayal for me was genuinely moving. Moreover, as a white but openly lesbian person and professional I’ve regularly seen this sort of bias-busting thing myself, albeit in a different context.

The trailer below offers a decent collection of revelatory scenes:

Very possibly the main solution to overcoming racial and cultural biases is exactly the type of premise found in Green BookRodolfo Mendoza-Denton, PhD, Psychology Today, has noted that “if you looked and looked at all of the solutions proposed by scientists over the years to combat prejudice and racism, you’d be hard pressed to find a more effective antidote than intergroup friendship.”

After analyzing 500 studies on the topic of cross-group interactions, psychologist Thomas Pettigrew reached the following conclusion as reported by the APA: “(A)ll that’s needed for greater understanding between groups is contact, period, in all but the most hostile and threatening conditions.”

But as Mendoza-Denton points out, even better than mere contact, of course, is intergroup friendship “because it builds in the necessary conditions for contact to reduce prejudice. Think about it: true, balanced friendships, by definition, are composed of people who value each other, share the goal of maintaining the friendship, and cooperate in activities that support and strengthen the friendship.”

Unfortunately, such cross-race friendships are in actuality relatively scarce. But Nadra Kareem Nittle, Thought Co., has recently indicated that they’ve been on the rise since 1985.

The percentage of Americans who say they have at least one close friend of another race has risen from 9 percent to 15 percent, according to the General Social Survey, which the researchers behind ‘Social Isolation in America’ used for their study…Twenty years from now the amount of Americans involved in interracial friendships will surely increase.

Good thing, as it’s not just about one-on-one dynamics. From a societal perspective, as difficult as cross-race relationships may prove to be, there’s also much to be gained. Psychologist Deborah L. Plummer, HuffPost:

Crossing racial lines in friendships takes time to build understanding. It requires patience to learn how to trust; it is often exhausting when we try to communicate effectively; and it is often painful when there are racial clashes. Yet, all of the time, energy, and personal expense spent with having friends that cross racial lines is so worth the benefits: reduced racial isolation in communities; the creation of a better and informed citizenry; expansion of the concept of citizenship to a global level; improvement of team performance in organizations; and more innovation.

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