If you don’t want to die, comply — bumper sticker on pickup truck in Middletown, Ohio. As the statement indicates, our whiteness emboldens us — increasing our racial divide.
In honor of Black History Month here are three videos worth watching:
1.) Truth and Power: #BlackLivesMatter. Filmed in 2016, the first episode of the Truth and Power series on Netflix deals with the Black Lives Matter movement. A look at the inception of a movement borne from the frustration of a race historically, and currently, oppressed in a society that loves its whiteness. A lot is packed into this 20-minute episode, including interviews with the movement’s leaders, authors who have written about the country’s systemic racism, and the way the group has been monitored by government agencies.
2.) Spies of Mississippi. When I watched this hour-long piece on Amazon, I learned two things: 1.) Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, my alma mater, trained the 1960s Freedom Riders and 2.) the state of Mississippi created the State Sovereignty Group to systematically undermine the efforts of Civil Right leaders. The episode is journalistic in style (it was journalists who uncovered the documents about the Sovereignty Group) and it reveals government extensive effort to keep blacks ‘in their place.’ The piece looks at the various terror tactics used by police officers, newspaper editors and unscrupulous black leaders who spied on NAACP meetings.
Similarly-themed content about broken systems and the role they place in oppression are:
- The Naked Truth, S1:E2 Mugged. This episode explores private companies exploiting people who have been arrested (including those with charges dropped). This is accomplished by posting mugshots online and forcing people to pay a fee to have them removed — but, as the episode reveals, finding out who operates these companies is difficult.
- Truth and Power, S1: E4 Prisoners for Sale. This 20-minute episode explores how the private prison industry is undercutting the concept of justice.
3. I am Not Your Negro. I have mentioned this in a previous post, but this should be required viewing, especially for Whites. We have a tendency to presume we understand the race issue — or more commonly simply do not care because it does not impact us. This film is based on the unfinished work of black author James Baldwin. He set out to write about his three murdered friends: Malcom X, Medgar Evers (assassinated in Mississippi) and Martin Luther King — finishing 30 pages of the project.
The film is a tragic, poignant look at the black experience in America.
Baldwin was an intellectual who did not mince words and his written words, referenced throughout the film, are as applicable today as in the 1950s-1970s when Baldwin wrote them. The film also mixes in his interviews and speeches with current events, like Ferguson, showing not much has changed. I could fill this post with Baldwin’s quotes, but will include just one, which is read by actor Samuel Jackson as the image of a lynch mob is displayed on the screen. As the camera fades away from the dead black man it zeroes in on the white murderers staring at the camera while Jackson reads Baldwin’s words:
You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And, furthermore, you give me an terrifying advantage. You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise we literally are criminals.