The idea of a post-racial society has become increasingly popular in our society since the 2008 election, when the belief that racism was over because a Black man was in office started to pop up more and more among the liberal class. However prevalent this idea has become in the past decade, it is evident that it has been present for many years, and is manifested through the character of Sal very blatantly. Sal, and on a lesser note his youngest song Vito, both appear to be under the impression that because they have (supposedly) overcome their own prejudices that they have moved past racism. For these two, the fact of institutionalized racism is never addressed or acknowledged – not even when they are confronted with it physically at the climax of the film. In the fashion of willful ignorance, Sal and Vito are choosing the “refusal to acknowledge” approach to the realities of their surroundings and the lives of the people that they interact with that Finnegan discusses.
This willful ignorance is ever-present in Sal, who actively tries to combat the multitude of differences between his customers and himself by brushing off problems as if they are not a huge deal. There is something inherently selfish about the way that Sal claims his own post-racism. Whenever he defends his decision to stay in Bed-Stuy, he talks about it from a personal perspective – “I never had no trouble with these people,” he says, pointing out that he has “watched these little kids get old…and seen the old people get over,” and that the kids have grown up on his food. This list of excuses highlights that Sal, although he may believe otherwise, is keeping his pizza shop open for the sake of his own pride. Moving out of his shop wouldn’t just take him away from a neighborhood he had grown to love (or maybe just get used to), it would also mean that he had succumbed to the racist pressures stemming from the beliefs that are embedded in many of the people who surround him, and that Sal actively – but faultily – tries to combat. This is where the idea of racism being an individual problem that one must overcome on their own comes in strong within the film – Sal is focusing solely on the self when it comes to addressing racial problems. But the problems don’t just stop with Sal’s personal worldview, which completely relapses by the end of the film anyway.
Perhaps the only solid message that Lee gives us in DtRT is that non-racism is a fantasy that only white people – people who can move in and out of the space that racism takes place in – can entertain. Sal’s misunderstanding of Mookie’s throwing of the trashcan, as well as the misunderstanding of the audience members who found the destruction of the pizza shop to be the tragedy of the film, show this. No matter what, Sal is always considering himself, his shop, and his own sentiments before he considers anything else (specifically the community and Mookie) first, which is why he will never overcome the discrimination that is embedded in his system.