There are many themes present in Spike Lee’s School Daze. Homophobia, the power of students, defining blackness through or without Africa, what it means to be African American, how black one is, colorism, masculinity, female power, and even rape. Themes crop up like daisies, but their unifying factor to me seems to be about the ever present (invisible) line and what it means to cross it. For example, Dap has to toe the line between his morals and staying at school. There is only so far he is allowed to go before the school says “walk back over it”. Walk back over it why?
“Who supports the black colleges? I’ll tell you who! The federal government, and philanthropists like Snardgrass!”
“Cuz if you don’t, you stand a good chance of losing them.”
“There it is.”
Because the line you toe was drawn by the people with money, the people who support, the people who hold the reins through their control of the lives of the students at mission. Toeing the line is something that black people have to do all the time. In my experience, there is always a point at which you think “I can’t do this because I’m black.” It is a low form of self-imposed coercion into certain behaviours. We’re all human after all, and being human is about surviving. And surviving takes precedence to morals.
Another way we can look at the line is through the confrontation between Dap and his friends and the men in the chicken restaurant. In that case, it took on the form of the line between blackness, and the ways in which it manifests, and if the way you choose to manifest it falls on the right side. Either way, it’s about divide. School Daze exemplifies all of the ways these lines we drag along with us create divides and bring about violence and disharmony by there existence. In the office, when the chairman of the board goes to talk to the dean of the school, he lists of the various groups that do help and support their various colleges (the Catholics, the Jews, the Mormons (who supports the black people?)). It is the same old trope, of all other groups working together except for black people because of all the internal division. Yet, when attempts to breach walls occurs, there is a push back from those who hold the chalk. School Daze, and almost, if not all of Spike Lee’s movies, are so relevant because he somehow predicted that change is law-deep and buried, causing time and people willing to push the only erasers.