Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
The final season of Warrior presented the antagonist, Leary, as a racist patriot for his Irish community in a fictional 1870s San Francisco. However, he was not the one-dimensional racist that we as an audience are accustomed to. Warrior almost goes out of its way to not only humanize Leary by presenting that he had a family that died, but also in that his racism is not as simple as it would appear.
My Brother's Keeper
He defends two Black men who enter his bar for a drink as his employees are threatening to kick them out. Leary is the first to defend their background, saying that they did not come to America willingly and to serve them accordingly. Yet it also shows his loyalty to his community, warning the men to get their drinks and leave, adding they should have known better than to enter an Irish bar in the first place. Later on, during the penultimate episode where the Irish invade Chinatown and kill many locals in the process, Leary isn’t among them and it’s implied he was against it. Yet at the same time, he understands where the murderous intent is coming from, with Irish families suffering from the Chinese immigrants taking job opportunities.
Warrior doesn't make Leary out to be a hero in the same way it does not make its protagonist, Ah Sahm, out to be one as well. While these days Americans are accustomed to racism meaning being against anything not White, the portrayal of Leary’s racism is much more nuanced. It does not apply to all non-White communities, but to the Chinese community specifically. This only being the case because, like others in his community, he sees them as a direct threat to the Irish surviving in America. Not because of what they looked like.
Survival of the Fittest in America
While saying to Ah Sahm that the Irish are Americans because of the suffering they’ve endured for the sake of the country, Leary is also more than aware, just as Ah Sahm is, that other white people don’t see them that way. However, he is not willing to acknowledge that to Ah Sahm because it would mean conceding a point and thus nullifying any moral claim to the Irish getting the jobs that they are competing for, as well as his own convictions. In his unspoken and personal view, they simply cannot afford an equal playing field with the Chinese and need every advantage they can get.
During a final drink before his back alley brawl with Ah Sahm, Leary crystalizes his view on racism. At first it seems like a repeat of their last conversation some episodes back. This time, however, when Ah Sahm brings up again that both the Irish and Chinese communities are equally immigrants and foreigners in a strange land, Leary barks that where they came from wasn't the point. For him, the point was the Irish paid their dues to consider themselves Americans and he believes the Chinese are exploiting the nation somehow (he never explicitly clarifies).
Leary is willing to go through violent means to achieve this, maiming Chinese workers’ hands and blowing up factories that are hiring them, but not the Irish. Yet Leary isn’t willing to kill them just for being Chinese either. The one time he does so is when he is jumped by the Tong during a sabotage of a factory, with said member about to kill his girlfriend. Yes, they shouldn’t have been there, but equally, Leary was against murder because of what someone looks like.
Make no mistake that what this man does is detestable. Even though Warrior humanizes Leary, it doesn't excuse it either. It just gives background and context to what has led him to his racist path. And even a beat down from Ah Sahm doesn't dissuade him from that decision.
Destiny of Violence, Hate, and Respect
I believe that Warrior is an overall underrated show anyway, but I think that its portrayal of racism during a time when it was the norm for everyone there is very important. Through Leary, it doesn't justify racism in the slightest, but shows that there can be real human reasons behind much of it and that it may not be as clear cut as we modern Americans like to believe. Actor Dean Jagger, who portrayed the character, said that he believes most people would become like Leary if they themselves were pushed back into a similar, extreme position of survival and competition.
Moreover, the show also implies that based on the individual, there are elements that can surpass racism and can lead to some form of mutual respect, even if both sides also still hate each other.
For Leary and Ah Sahm, this transcendent factor is violence, with both men having very similar histories and having to make hard, moral choices. Both men are very dangerous despite their initial demeanor and share some level of loyalty to their respective peoples. And both men are as equally prejudiced against the others’ community, with Ah Sahm warning the Irish spectators after his victory over Leary that any Irishman that enters Chinatown again in violence will have an equally violent reaction in kind into their own part of San Francisco.
Yet in the midst of this intense hostility, both men acknowledge each other as individuals, with each referring to the other by name rather than by racist slang or generalization. They are able to hold a tense, but non-violent conversation. They share a glass of whiskey in his bar before their final showdown. They share a personal relationship with violence that is hidden beneath their loyalties to their prospective communities. They recognized themselves in the other warrior and that was what made their final battle inevitable and great.
More in Common Than Wanting to Admit
This can be parodied today in that many of the extremists factions share more points than they oppose in each other as well. The commitment to our goals often overshadows both the good and bad aspects of our shared humanity. Just like Leary, we feel that we cannot acknowledge those aspects for fear of losing any ground that we have. Rightly or wrongly, that what's at stake is our own survival in some way.
Of course, following this example to its conclusion like the show’s is pretty dark. An endless cycle of hatred that just keeps repeating itself. Even finally losing to his rival doesn't dissuade Leary from his racist views. Something I found many people today would happen if you "punch a Nazi."
However, the hope would be—and this is not mentioned or implied in the show at all—is that our society has developed enough self-awareness to see these factors and make the necessary adjustments that would not lead to an all out brawl like what Leary and Ah Sahm had in their fictional world.
© 2021 Jamal Smith