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July 02, 2018 Monday 04:38:57 PM IST

The star of Driving Miss Daisy(1989) is the inimitable British-born Hollywood actress Jessica Tandy. When she won the Oscar Award for Best Actress for herstellar performancein this movie she was 81.The other star in this movie is Morgan Freeman whoexcels in the role of Hoke Colburn, Miss Daisy Werthan’s chauffeur.

A huge box-office hit,the movie grossed over $140 million worldwide. Based on a play by Alfred Uhry by the same name,the movie begins with Miss Daisy backing up her 1946 Chrysler Windsor from the garage. Within seconds, the car goes out of control and ploughsinto the neighbour’s yard. Her sonwho happens to seeit from the second floor of the house decides it was time for her to stop driving. So, when he gets her a new car, he also hires a chauffeur for her.

However, Miss Daisy is not ready to give up driving as she thinks she is still young at 72 and has the ability and mental toughness to drive a car. But her son is not willing to allow her to do so as he thinks it would be dangerous for her as well as for others. When she is not allowed to drive the car, she insists she would walk to wherever she wanted to go.

One day while she is walking to a store, her chauffeurHoke accompanies her by driving the car very slowly close to the sidewalk. “What are you doing?” Miss Daisy asks angrily. “I am driving you to the store,” repliesHoke with a smile. When passersby begin to look at them withwide open eyes, she becomes embarrassed and gets into the car. However, even after accepting his service as a chauffeur she is not very fond of him as he is black. 

The year is 1948 and Miss Daisy as a wealthy and Jewish widowed woman is not above racial prejudice. While she has a Black woman as a housemaid,she is not eager to have a Black man to be part of her life. However, slowly she mellows and begins to appreciate Hoke’s services. So, when her housemaid Idella dies in 1962, she enlists Hoke’s services as a cook as well.

In the meantime, Miss Daisy also experiencesprejudice against Jews like when the local synagogue is burned down by an anti-Sematic group. However, at that time she fails to recognise her own prejudice against Blacks. In fact, she is not able to equate her prejudice for the Blacks with the prejudice of people at large against the Jews.

So, one day, while attending a dinner in honour of the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr, she refuses to take Hoke with her even though she has an additional ticket for the event. And Hoke has to be content with listening to King’s talk on the car radio,which becomes a painful experience for him.However, by the time she is 95 years old, she openly recognises Hoke as her “best friend” in an emotional moment. For Hoke who has always served her with love and respect in spite of herracial prejudice this is a moment of relief and contentment.

In the case of Miss Daisy, it was racial prejudice that built barriers in her dealings with Hoke and otherBlack people. She was unable to accept them as equals. Moreover, she looked at them with disdain. But Miss Daisy is not an exception. There are people everywhere who harbour racial as well as other kinds of prejudices against others. If we think poorly about other people because they belong to another race, caste, sex, religion, or social status then we would be also rightly counted among prejudiced people such as Miss Daisy. 

We may often think that we have justifications for our prejudices. However, the truth is that they don’t hold water. Prejudice against another person can never be justified as prejudice means a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

Prejudice can never be justified also because it often leads to discrimination with painful consequences for those discriminated against. But the sad thing is that those who are discriminated because of a prejudice of some kind also don’t stop discriminating others because of their own prejudices as in the case of Miss Daisy. 

As a member of the Jewish community, Miss Daisy was aware of the prejudice against her own people in the country. However, that did not stop her from showing prejudice against others because of their race and colour. This is also what happens with many of us. While we suffer some form of discrimination from others because of their prejudice against us we tend to discriminate others because of our own prejudices against them.

In the case of Miss Daisy, it took a lifetime to realise her fault and correct herself by getting rid of her prejudice. In our case let us not wait any more to realise ours and correct ourselves by getting rid of all our prejudices.

The sooner we do it the more blessed we shall all be.

Fr. Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, CMI

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