This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Gex’s review published on Letterboxd :
This review may contain spoilers.
So "nigger" is an offensive word right? At least when white people use it? But why is that exactly? From what I've been taught, it has to do with the past, during the 1800s to the late 1900s (depending on which area of America you are at). A term used by white men towards black slaves. A term intended to be insulting and contemptuous. A term that treats blacks as those of a lower class. But nowadays the definition/usage tends to vary. Blacks use it towards each other in a way that isn't putting someone down so much as it is the cool thing to say. Sort of like how DC Talk took the term "Jesus Freak" and made it cool. A term of endearment, another word for "friend". Except that it's a cool word that only black people can use, otherwise it's blasphemous, making the non-black who uses the word susceptible to being beaten, potentially to death. Never mind that they use the term towards white people as well. A bit of a double standard, though I can see their point. There is much the white man should feel guilty about when it comes to events of the past previous generations have carried out. Used between black people, it's in a controlled environment, within their own context. Outside of that context, "nigger" takes on a different form, a different life, a different meaning.
In this day and age, the use and definition of "nigger" can get on the contradictory level. Hell, it doesn't seem to be that big of a deal when a black person calls a white guy a "cracker". It's ok for a nigger to call a white guy a cracker, but it's not ok for a cracker to call a black guy a nigger. Just doesn't seem fair to me, especially considering the percentage of white people who listen to hip-hop and rap. But I know what some of you are thinking:
Who ever said life was fair? Of course life isn't fair!
As if that's a legitimate excuse not to strive for some balance of fairness. Fairness will never be achieved, and neither will perfection; but that doesn't mean we as a society (much less as an individual) shouldn't strive for that. That is why those concepts exist in my opinion, as something to strive for. Even if it's never achieved, it's better than not trying to achieve it at all.
Anyway, it's all about the context of the words. As words come and go, if ones that have been around for a while continue to stay, they will always be able to offend if that is their intention. It depends on how they are used. Even words that aren't normally considered offensive slang, even words that normally suggest upstanding character or having a high profile, such as "Sir", can be used in such a way as to offend. In casual conversations with mature people, all kinds of curse words can be thrown around with no harm or foul. Fuck cunt cocksucker motherfucker shit hell damn bastard bitch twat fuckface needledick sagtits, among others that can get more creative than that. But throw in "nigger", and everything changes for some reason. Personally, I believe it's how society is raised and conditioned. At what point did you "learn" that calling someone a nigger is a bad thing? At what point did you learn that a white person calling a black person a nigger is extra uber bad?
Here's my thoughts on it. The word has several definitions nowadays, not all of them found in a dictionary. It's definition tends to change depending on who says the word and under what context. I view it similar to the way Chris Rock does in one of his stand-up bits. There's black people, then there's niggers. Niggers are ignorant people who are not only dumb as fuck, but also act dumb as fuck. This normally applies to certain black who have a special way of acting dumb as fuck much like how white people on reality tv shows also have a special way of acting dumb as fuck. Hell, as far as I'm concerned, some dumb as fuck white people can be called niggers; black people certainly take advantage of that. There are black people who are reasonable individuals, then there are those who are anything but. But this isn't something limited to just the black community. I believe every ethnic group has some mini-sect that tends to match this trait. Basically a stereotype that films/media have shown on full-display at several points in time over the past few decades. Just something I've learned while in college, and not by my professors. Just doesn't seem like the word should hold the amount of venom that people somehow take for granted.
The reason I bring all this up is because there is a moment in this film (yep, finally getting around to discussing it) where the Italian restaurant owner and a black individual are shouting at each other angrily. The black man is obviously in the wrong here, intruding on the business, disrupting it and bothering the other customers for no good justifiable reason other than venting some anger. The other black customers want him to leave. But the moment the shop owner calls this man a nigger during his angry shouting, then all the customers suddenly change their tune, and are in full support of Mr. Radiofuckhead. With one word, even though in the context of the situation it was aimed only at this individual, and not a statement on all black people in the room. And things spiral downward from there.
Oh, and since it's my belief that people should toughen up around words so that they won't be so easily offended just by their presence, regardless of context, nigger bombs will be dropped throughout this review. I aim to use it until it loses it's punch, is drained of its venom, to where it carries little to no weight. You know, like how radical leftists and feminists toss around the word "nazi", "racist", and "sexist". And keep in mind what I consider a nigger to be. As far as I'm concerned, it's an ignorant dumb as fuck individual, most of the time associated with black people, but can also be associated with whites. Hell, I'd like to see someone call a Native American or a Korean a nigger.
I'll get back to that moment in the film later. First I have to discuss how I felt upon my initial watch. Anger. Anger at the destruction individuals can cause on either life or property, for reasons that can range from petty to significant. But the fact that it all starts from pettiness and grows from there is what truly makes it infuriating. An emotion Spike Lee was clearly trying to push here, while also not telling you how to think. There isn't a clear agenda being pushed here, which is good. This is a film that can generate anger for different reasons, depending on who you are and what your opinions on society are. It's an anger also expressed by Spike Lee, about how unnecessarily bad society is. It's a combination of several factors, from being treated poorly by others, to having small annoyances pile up, to just the atmosphere in general getting to them/us (the heat). How a culmination of those affects causes emotions to escalate beyond what is necessary. How it will cause individuals to do something they should regret, yet it's questionable if they will be regretful or not. And I'm not entirely sure most of the characters in this film regret what they had done by the end. Sure some of them do, but it sure doesn't seem like most individuals in the neighborhood have. It's largely left up in the air, which is a good thing. Do the right thing. What should they have regretted? Just how far back before things got out of control should a different reaction taken place? At what point did things really start to get out of control? At what point was an action taken that shouldn't have been taken? Or was it the right course of action, but it went too far?
This film ends with such questions raised, and gives no answers. It is meant to be interpreted by the audience. It is meant for them to find the answers themselves. Not enough films nowadays have this trait. And there are some who think that because the film is open-ended, the audience should also be open-ended without declaring a definitive stance, on what the right thing actually is. To that I say bullshit. If a film ends with questions raised, that's an open invitation to having answers given by different individuals. If no answers are given, then none of them are going to be right! Even if one is wrong, at least they tried, assuming they made an honest effort.
And I know what some of you are thinking. "You're a white privileged motherfuckin' honky-tonk white-devil cracker! You don't get the right to judge and offer advice on how to resolve this issue!" To which I would respond, "You niggers can go fuck yourselves! If you wanted peace and to have issues like this resolved, you wouldn't give a fuck what my skin color is so long as I had good advice!" The whole white guilt thing becomes bullshit when one realizes racism goes both ways. Plenty of people tend to forget that. And if the whole "be ashamed of the past" thing is going to be brought up, I say I had nothing to do with it. That was before my time, and even if it wasn't, there was nothing I could do about it back then (unless you expected a toddler to make some MLK Jr. or Malcolm X inspired influential speech that everyone would hear or something). And even if the whole shaming of the past to affect the present argument was still valid in spite of that, I could bring up history on how black African niggers also enslaved blacks in Africa back in the day (and maybe still do to some extent, depending on how you view theInvisible Children, or the Beasts of No Nation). Despite what films/shows like Roots may indicate, black slavery wasn't just a white American thing. Plenty of black slave owners who rounded up blacks in Africa back then too. And if we're to go back even further, I could get pissed about Middle Easterners having white slaves.
Let's keep the whole history thing in focus, sticking with the stuff the film is based on.
In this film's case, it's all about racism. This film has clear parallels to the 1965 Watts riots, with the rising temperatures, the black radio host, among other parallels that I'm probably not noticing because I'm not that well studied in that time period and in that subject matter. What is really fucking eerie though is that this film was made a few years prior to the 1992 LA riots (man Los Angeles must really suck). It's worth watching the recent Showtime documentary Burn Motherfucker, Burn! for more insight into all of that, though I do have to wonder if the people who made that film were inspired by Do The Right Thing, which itself was inspired by those very acts the documentary was covering (seriously, it mentions stuff so closely related to what this film portrays that the similarities seem too close for this not to have influenced the documentary).
But in any case, the 1965 Watt's riots was the biggest thing that happened to showcase the racist divide in America at that time. After that, de-segregation started to happen all over the country. But not altogether. In Los Angeles, from 1965 up to this movie, even though blacks and whites lived in Los Angeles, they didn't live together. The town grew around the idea that both ethnic groups should live in different neighborhoods, and thus it happened as such. Not entirely sure how that worked, I guess they just designed it so that blacks couldn't afford to live with the whites or something. But regardless, it was a segregated city, even if in an unofficial capacity. Police brutality was all around. The Watt's riot is well known, but there are other incidents between then and 1989 (when this movie was made) that inspired its creation. The incident in New York at Howard Beach (mostly Italian community) in 1986 where some white youths chased out some black youths from a pizzeria shop, and one of the black youths got hit by a car and died. The fatal 1984 Bronx shooting of elderly Eleanor Bumpurs by the NYPD. Graffiti artist Michael Stewart strangled to death while in police custody in lower Manhattan in September of 1983. Among other incidents.
That being said, I hate how mainstream history and media sources try to make things so clear-cut and, pardon the expression, black and white. They never bring up the statistics, such as how, between the years 1980 and 2008, blacks committed 52% of homicide crimes, while whites committed 45%. 50% of the victims were white, 47% of the victims were black. All this according to the Department of Justice statistics. I could go more in-depth with that, but that's beyond the scope of this review. The point is, niggers were abound back then, and they were abound during the time this film was made, and they are still abound now. In any case, regardless of the statistics, the police in Los Angeles up to the 1992 LA riots were more on the racist side, racist against blacks, even though there were some black police officers (not in this movie). They are beholden to a higher standard, and they didn't act accordingly, and many suffered for it in the short and long term. But it's not just a police thing, it's a political thing. After all, it's not like the police were in charge of city/urban development and the segregation of black and white neighborhoods. And not every cop is a hateful racist, not even back then.
Spike Lee is intelligent enough to avoid some of these obvious pitfalls in this film by pulling back and trying to keep things open-ended. Even going so far as to reverse some of the real-life situations here, by have the blacks chase the Italians out of the Italian pizzeria as opposed to the real-life vice-versa, which makes sense here because in this film the Italians opened up a pizza shop in a black community.
Alright nigga, onto the movie itself.
"Since Lee does not tell you what to think about it, and deliberately provides surprising twists for some of the characters, this movie is more open-ended than most. It requires you to decide what you think about it." -- Roger Ebert
So the film begins with a woman doing an angry dance. Somewhat comical, somewhat absurd, especially in the last scene when she's wearing boxing gear, still dancing angrily, yet sensually. A mixed bag, emphasizing the anger in the air, the need to express oneself, the desire to vent that anger, the desire just to get laid and be happy. By the end of the film, we will know which side will be won over, in general.
After the opening credits, the film begins at eight in the morning, on a blistering hot day, reminiscent of how blazing hot it was in 1965 Watts. We get introduced to several groups and individuals, from Senior Love Daddy radio host; to "Da Mayor", a fairly positive man who gets drunk often; to Spike Lee's character Mookie who tends to be the polar opposite of "The Mayor" in that he's usually selfish; to the Italian family that runs the pizza shop in the middle of a black community; to Radio Raheem, a guy who always carries around a boombox always playing "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy, and wears 2 four-fingered-rings (or just 2 fancy brass knuckles with letters on them) which say "Love" and "Hate"; to 3 old geezers just rambling on about anything (most of their dialogue was improvised); to 3 young adults who just, uh, are around; to a retard named Smiley who stutters and preaches about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X; to Mookie's girlfriend; and to Buggin Out. Quite a large number of characters to focus on, yet the film does so with finesse.
Throughout the film each of these groups gets involved in dialogue and interactions with each other, and with themselves. Every other scene shows tension brewing, much like the brewing heat, which continues to rise as the film goes on. And it all starts from pettiness and grows out of control from there. One could argue when the first subtle anger appears, but currently I'm thinking it starts with the Italian Pizzeria owner Sal and his sons. One of his sons clearly hates the neighborhood and the black people in it, his other son is constantly at odds with his brother, and the father tries to keep his cool amidst hearing their complaints and not doing what they're told. All a metaphor for community, that everyone has their differences, they don't always get along, but they're still family, and they love each other, and they find a way to co-exist, even if it seems the inner-turmoil threatens to tear them all apart.
The tension all comes to a head when Buggin Out (that's the actual name listed for this film), played by that guy who would go on to run a chicken joint under the guise of drug smuggling in Breaking Bad, leads a boycott within Sal's pizza shop, eventually leading to a fight to break out and for the pizza shop to burn down. It's from this incident near the end of the film that it's best to work backwards from to see what all led to it. It's usually in hindsight when one can determine what should've been done to prevent it, what doing the right thing actually is.
The nigger rioters destroy and burn the pizza shop down (with assistance from the stuttering retard) in retaliation for Radio Raheem getting killed by police, something they unfairly blame Sal for. Sal and Raheem were in a fight, in which Raheem, as the physically bigger man, had the upper hand in and was starting to strangle Sal to death. The cops break them up, and one of the officers ends up strangling Raheem to death, going too far with his restraining, not heeding the advice of a fellow officer who told him to stop.
The right thing to do is obvious here. The cop shouldn't have strangled Raheem to death, that's police brutality and committing unnecessary murder. But it's ironic when one considers what would've happened if Raheem ended up strangling Sal to death before the cops arrived. Of course, burning down Sal's shop is wrong too. As Da Mayor points out, it's something they're going to regret for the rest of their lives.
But that's another thing, regret. I've only seen 2 individuals have regret over the entire incident. There's black cracker himself Da Mayor, who wakes up the next morning following the riot in disappointment at everyone. The other is Sal, who acts regretful after the cops take Raheem's body away. Regret that he busted up Raheem's radio out of anger, even if I personally thought he was justified in doing that because Raheem was told earlier that playing loud music isn't allowed in Sal's shop (I don't think that's allowed in any shop, period). He regrets it because he sees where it led to, even if he ultimately had no control of the events that followed. So when all the niggers of the neighborhood were staring at him in anger following the event, even though he wants to find some way to explain things, to say how sorry he is, he knows that it's futile, so all he can say is, "Do what you gotta do." This regret is carried on into the final moments of the film where he's sitting amidst the burned rubble of his place, and confronted by that materialistic asshole Mookie who earlier threw a trashcan through the shop window which ignited the rioters into charging in and destroying the place (I'll get to why he did that later). Even though Sal has every reason to be angry at him, and every reason to tell him to fuck off when Mookie asks for his pay from yesterday, his anger and frustration lie elsewhere. It lies at his place being burned down, a place he put his heart and soul into for years. Mookie points out Sal shouldn't be so angry because he's going to get insurance pay from it, but he doesn't understand that Sal has lost more than just a shop. He has now lost his place in this neighborhood, in this world, forever carrying a damaged relationship with the community, forever having lost his dreams. Plus Sal viewed Mookie as a son, and had dreams for his actual biological sons running the pizza place later on.
Both characters have their faults. Sal, in complete contrast to Mookie, is too idealistic for his own good. Idealistic to the point that his dreams and optimism blinded him to the reality that things aren't as good as he believes. He doesn't see that the inherent hatred and racism held by one of his sons is something other than petty and minor. He doesn't see that Mookie gives a damn about his hopes (at least up until the very end). He doesn't see the broiling tension among some in the neighborhood, and thus acts in ignorance to that tension. Mookie, on the other hand, is entirely materialistic, not giving a damn about Sal's broken dreams and shattered hopes, not giving a damn that he may not be able to recover from this in life (from a non-financial perspective, at least in the short-term). He only gives a damn about money and getting paid.
Sal is angry and frustrated and Mookie's shallow view of things, but he knows that he can't change it. So he throws cash at Mookie in frustration and anger, letting him have what he wants, and then Mookie departs. There is some indication that Mookie has a sense of that beyond the material when he rejects getting more money than he has earned from his actual hourly pay, some sense of honor that is entirely meaningless within the context of everything, but it's there. That could indicate some sense of hope, but it's a faint glimmer of which I wouldn't hold out any hope for.
Anyway, back to regret. No one else seems to regret all that has happened, especially Mookie. No one else in the neighborhood looks dismayed over the events that had occurred, and even Love Daddy (the radio host), even though he asks the question if we're all going to learn to live together, only seemed dismayed the night of the riot when the firemen sprayed water on his window. As the camera pulls away during the final shot of the film, all the niggers in the neighborhood are walking around and playing around and carrying on amidst the rubble from the riot, not giving a care in the world. As if it didn't matter. As if Sal's Pizzeria never mattered. No signs of regret.
The earliest sign of clear lack of any feeling of regret comes as the fires began to die down but still burned on the night of the riot, when white nigger retard Smiley hangs up a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X on the wall of Sal's Pizzeria, and smiles after doing so, as if he had just accomplished a great thing of promoting peace and love and harmony. Because only a retard would believe any of those things have been promoted after all of that. It may have gotten Buggin Out what he wanted in the end, but it means absolutely nothing. They wanted more respect and mention of popular black figures, in a neighborhood that's dominantly black. But they gained anything but. The police remain as racist as ever, the fireman as angry towards them as ever, and all Sal's son Pino can say amidst all of this during the rioting is, "Fucking niggers." Buggin Out's justification for boycotting Sal's had the opposite affect of what he intended. Getting some brothers on the wall to get more respect for the black man (Motherfucker, I didn't see any of pictures like that in Los Pollos Hermanos! And on top of that, you're half-Italian yourself! Seriously, the real-life actor is half-Italian, which I think makes this even more hilarious). Everyone in the neighborhood, whether black or white, only had their racial bias and racist beliefs further cemented amidst all of this, continuing the divide if not increasing it.
But there are different ways of viewing all this. One could view the police as being responsible for the divide with the way a couple of the cops acted (one especially). One could view Sal as being responsible for acting out of momentary hatred towards Raheem. One could view the firemen as responsible. Others could say the crackers had it coming with the way society is, biased against blacks. Other could say the niggers had it coming with their disrespectful attitudes in Sal's. I say there is fault to be shared by everyone. Could be because I'm a white-trash cracker myself, but I'm putting the majority of the blame on the niggers here in this scenario. Reasons why will follow.
So as I was saying, Sal got pissed at Raheem for playing his boombox music with the song Fight the Power in the pizza shop, especially after telling him not to at an earlier point in the film. It's also irritating the customers who don't want to hear this bullshit, much less listen to Buggin Out argue about boycotting Sal's for petty reasons that would ultimately become insignificant amidst everything. The black customers themselves are irritated at the boycotters. Earlier in the film, the group of three old guys get annoyed at Raheem walking the streets playing his radio super loud. So they're all on Sal's side with wanting peace and quiet in the restaurant. But that all changes in an instant with one word.
The moment Sal calls Raheem a nigger, that's when all the black customers turn on him. That word which has held so much venom ever since they decided it should since the civil rights movement of the 60s (ironically the same decade the Watt's riots broke out). Prior to the 60s, from what I understand, the word wasn't that big of a deal, and it was used by everyone without fear of repercussions. It was a racial slur, just be be clear (it's not like you were going to hear it in family friendly commercials and radio ads, though I do think it would be hilarious if it was said as often as chink and gook among others), but no more than any other slur that existed at the time. It didn't matter that Raheem and Buggin Out and Smiley were in the wrong, it didn't matter that the customers agreed with Sal and were taking advantage of his late-night generosity when he was starting to close shop. It didn't matter that everyone else in the film laughed off Buggin Out's idea of boycotting Sal's for not having pictures of black people to go alongside pictures of Italian-Americans in his Italian pizza shop. All that mattered at that moment was that a white man shouted "nigger", and that immediately put him in the wrong on everything he said and did for the foreseeable future.
That is the moment everything goes horribly wrong. If Sal busted up Raheem's radio either without calling him a nigger, the fight likely wouldn't have gotten as bad as it did. Because up until that point it wasn't a racist issue the way the customers saw it, it was a petty annoying boycott issue. Even when Sal shouted nigger it wasn't because he was racist (we know he's not at this point), it was because of how angry he was getting at the boycott and at the radio. It only became a racist issue because of how that word is viewed, plus the way they tend to be looked down on by police, not to mention how they view the Koreans being able to successfully set up shop while they never seem to be able to. A culmination of everything around them that turned something that wasn't racially driven into precisely that.
The problem is that the boycotters are very misguided. It's pointed out to Buggin Out that he has passion, but it's not utilized to its potential, that it's not used constructively and for greater purpose. There are better things to protest for the sake of black rights than a pizza shop. Trying to force the shut down of the restaurant doesn't help the cause anymore than Smiley posting the image of MLK and Malcolm X on the wall. He could've simply refused to eat there ever again.
And speaking of misguided, Radio Raheem himself. His misguidedness can be forgiven to some extent, since it becomes evident he's not right in the head (that's the case for all 3 boycotters, especially Smiley). But misguided or not, his hypocrisy is clear. Consider his speech when he talks about the meaning behind Love and Hate, preaching that love will conquer all, even though hate won out in the end in his case.
The song he is always playing, Fight the Power, is all about, well, better to show some lyrics from the song to give you an idea:
Got to give us what we want
Gotta give us what we need
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be
It's a start, a work of art
To revolutionize make a change nothin's strange
People, people we are the same
No we're not the same
'Cause we don't know the game
What we need is awareness, we can't get careless
Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant, to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother, him and John Wayne
'Cause I'm Black and I'm proud
I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped
Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps
Sample a look back you look and find
Nothing but rednecks for four hundred years if you check
It's a song that calls for freedom, people of all races being treated equally, and challenging nostalgia for historic figures who had their downsides many don't talk about. A song calling for a revolution, for protesting in the right places at the right time for the right cause. Yet Raheem and Buggin take this message and channel it in a very misguided way against Sal rather than against the police, or the politicians, or the media. In the context of the film, and in context of various cities/counties during that time period, they had good excuses to be frustrated at forces who didn't treat them as equals. But Sal isn't one of those who treats them as such. All customers of his are treated the same, except for Mookie's sister, Sal has a bit of a liking for her (not sexual in case you're wondering).
That seems to be the core theme of the film, misguided hatred and frustration. Not to mention that those who are treated unfairly by one race/class doesn't act much better at times. For instance, Raheem gets insulted by the Koreans at their shop, but he just shrugs it off and is a bit amused by it, mainly because they seem like a minority even to him. But when he's at Sal's, he takes Sal's supposed insult more seriously.
And Mookie, who seems to be the central character of the film, yet he tends to be the least interesting in terms of screen presence. Probably because he's played by director Spike Lee himself, and he doesn't have that much on-screen charisma. Most of the time he just has that blank stare. But despite that, as the central character, he has attitudes worth delving into a bit. As I stated earlier, he's very materialistic, very shallow in his nature. Yet there are hints that he has the potential to be more, much like how Buggin Out has passion but it's misguided; Radio Raheem has deep philosophy but he is hypocritical about it; Smiley preaches peace and love, but he's too retarded to go about accomplishing it; Sal has good intentions, but his idealistic nature makes him overlook the reality of things from time to time. Mookie's materialism can be clearly seen in the sequence where he's making love (I guess) with his girlfriend, rubbing ice around her various body parts. But while he does this, you should notice that he's saying, "Thank God for the lips. Thank God for the elbows. Thank God for the knees. Thank God for the various body parts." He never references something of his girlfriend other than by objectifying her body parts, not considering her character, her as a person, her soul, her essence, etc.
His materialistic nature makes him frustrated when he is deprived of material, in this case early payment for his job. His frustration comes to a head just prior to the riot scene, where he decides the only reasonable course of action, for some reason, is to chuck a trashcan through the window and get the riot started. His anger towards Sal also stems from how Sal treats his sister nicely. But because Mookie views things materialistically, he only sees this interaction as Sal trying to get a materialistic gain from Mookie's sister, rather than just seeing it as being nice for the sake of being nice, for ideology's sake. Being ideological allows Sal to treat her as a human, not as an object, and Mookie cannot seem to fathom this, because he only sees Sal as a source of money. And he fails to see that Sal views him as like another son. So he remains divided, and in so being divided further pushes the racial divide.
There's judging characters in the heat of the moment, and then there's judging them when we have knowledge about them as individuals, knowing that they are actual people and not cardboard caricatures. Attempting to understand others is a step forward for living together. Do the right thing. What is the right thing?
In the case of this movie, there are early signs of what the wrong thing is. One would think the earliest sign of trouble is with Buggin out stirring up unnecessary trouble at the pizza place, but if that was the only source of the problem, it wouldn't have gotten as bad as it did. There's the heat the can encourage anger and frustration, but that's purely elemental. The earliest signs are with Mookie's selfish materialism. Sal's deluded ideology. Radio Raheem taking a light dissing from some kids on the block (the same group who would take his side when the fight breaks out at Sal's) too seriously. In fact, we see small hints from the trouble within everyone prior to Buggin Out making his first appearance. Buggin Out just ended up being the main spark to light the fuse, which no one was decent enough to realize it should be put out rather than encouraging everything to burn. One of the reasons why I have no sympathy for that one bitch who was crying and moaning, "Nooooo! Nooooooo!" when seeing the firefighters and policeman fighting off the niggers attacking them while they tried to put out the flames at Sal's (no good fighting the fire now, things have gotten so heated something's gotta burn before things can cool down); while only minutes earlier she was cheering on the burning down of Sal's shop. The heated tension was small and insignificant at the start of the film, but it was there, it was present, and it would grow.
One of the biggest contributions towards this racist divide is that the word "nigger" can be used as a fool-proof instigation of racial violence, even if said without that intention. Draining the word of its venom until it's on equal grounds with every other racial slur would be a real good start at solving the racial divide in my opinion. It won't solve all problems, but if something so small as a single word can instigate so much violence, that is something that should be dealt with early on, if only for the sake of having a reasonable discussion where that word can be used. And considering how big of a deal our culture/society treats that word, it absolutely must be used in discussions. Because if a single word is to be considered taboo regardless of context or good intentions, what else is taboo? What else is off limits? There should be a good reason for something to be taboo, and good reason (or otherwise) can only be found with discussion. Forbidding discussion is forbidding knowledge and potentially wisdom.
Besides, if we're really to all consider each other equals, why not start with the words? Why not have nigger the the equivalent, not better or worse, to words like chink, spook, coon, cracker, spic, beaner, bink, biscuit lip, boxhead, brownie, bush bandit, buttonhead, round eyes, gook, Short Round, butterhead, melon mouth, camel lips, casper, charlie, chonky, honky tonky, clicker, clitless, coalhauler, cocksauce, cocoa puff, cossak, crow, dink, ditz, dryback, egghead, eggroll, ese, eskimo, ewok, fence-hopper, fence-fairy, featherhead, fishhead, flatback, garlic breathe, gas pumper, gas huffer, ghost, ghoul, camel jockey, godzilla snack, grape smasher, greaser, greanhorn, grinder, gringo, guttermonkey, gut-eater, gypsy, hick, hillbilly, jambo, jar-jar, jarhead, jew-bag, jew-burner, jewbacca, jock, jughead, kook, lamb chop, leafblower, mario, meat pie, mildud, milkhead, modern farm equipment, mucker, muppetfucker, nip, oreo, panface, panhead, pastyface, peckerwood, peeled banana, penny-pincher, pikey, porch monkey, pubeface, puckhead, puckstop, quarter jockey, redneck, roach, sheethead, shit-eater, shit-kicker, shit-slinger, shitheel, skinhead, slant-eye'd, slit, slope, snowflake, tad pole, tape-head, white trash, trailer trash, turtleneck, wagon-burner, wetback, yank, redskin, zipperhead, etc.
Getting thicker skin for stuff like this so that they don't offend you when they are said in a way not intending offense is a good start. Having a good mixture of ideaology and practicality is another step.