Thanks to Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist born and raised in the Confederate backwoods of New York City who went on to attend segregated and backwards institutions like NYU and Columbia, has finally learned that slavery was a very bad thing. "I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life," he wrote in Tuedsay's paper. "Much more important, slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks."
Thanks to the film, Cohen learned that slave owners were not "mostly nice people," that abolitionist Harriett Beecher Stowe was not a "demented propagandist," and that blacks were not "content" with being raped, whipped and dehumanized. Somewhere in this post-racial country a man is ironing his Klan gown under a Confederate flag and saying "Well, even I knew that."
But let's ignore Cohen baffling pose of stultifying ignorance for a moment. This is, after all, the man who argued against the idea that the shooting death of Trayvon Martin could have possibly, maybe, might of had something to do with race. That event didn't challenge his views on race, but a movie is speeding up his education (only 153 more years of American history to go!). He is a perfect example of how even the most closed off minds can be enlightened by this year's films dealing with race and black history — 12 Years a Slave, Fruitvale Station, The Butler, 42, Blue Caprice, and the upcoming Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom — which last week Vanity Fair columnist James Wolcott argued are doing a better job of starting the "national conversation on race" than the shooting of Trayvon Martin.