While discussions of racism can be uncomfortable, they are critical for understanding what we still need to accomplish as a country and if you count yourself as any kind of ally. So when I saw the description of this film and what it was about, I really wanted to see it and find out what it had to say about racism in America. After watching the documentary, I am moved, saddened, and yet found it a very powerful and compelling work.
Directed by Emily Kunstler and written by criminal defense/civil rights lawyer Jeffery Robinson, the documentary interweaves lectures, personal anecdotes, interviews, and shocking revelations to create a stark timeline of anti-Black racism in the United States, from slavery to the modern myth of a post-racial America.
What makes this film so powerful is the way that Jeffrey Robinson uses lectures to introduce personal anecdotes, interviews, and revelations, including the words of previous presidents and slave owners to illuminate the truth of racism in America. He lays out the truth, even when it is heartbreaking to hear. While those of us who don’t live with that truth in our daily lives might want to flinch from the truth, the filmmakers don’t allow room for squeamishness or to turn away. The lecture and the words of the past layout the truth clearly if you are willing to listen.
One of the pieces I found intriguing was Jeffrey Robinson, Harvard educated, admitting that some of the history he had never known either. For those of us who think we were taught the truth in school, we were not. The film does a brilliant job of giving the many instances of history that have been left out of the history books. Not only are the many deaths by police officers, provided by anecdotal interviews but we are shown the Old Slave Mart Museum where slaves, even children were kept shackled. We are shown the history of lynchings in America and how long they continued in this country, to 1950. From there, we are shown how this led to Nixon and the War on drugs, leading directly to ghettos and prison populations rising. We are shown the cause of the Tulsa Massacre and the reason so many fear police officers. All of it is eye-opening, terrible, and heartbreaking.
What I found most interesting was the dialogue about racism and the knowledge that Jeffrey Robinson shares. He outlines unconscious bias but also shares that taking the implicit association test, he discovered he had a negative viewpoint of himself and black men. He also outlined so much of the financial reasons that slavery and other practices to dehumanize black people were used. It made white people money and so it’s easier to keep up oppression than change behaviors that would love the government money. His explanation of white privilege is the best explanation I’ve heard but what truly demonstrates it, is that his own family had to have white friends help them buy their house for them to be able to live in a white neighborhood. Those kinds of practices are sad and must change.
While I truly feel this film is one that everyone should see, I also believe you need to be willing to listen. The truths that are shared may not be palatable but they are the truth. Prejudice, political power, and social power have kept discrimination and racism in place and while some small changes have occurred, there is still much to accomplish and the racial divide has not changed very much. If this film teaches you anything, it should tell you to be part of the solution, part of the change, not hiding from the truth.
If you enjoy documentaries and you want to learn more about the impact of the Black people on this country, if you want to know more about the truth of racism in America, I highly recommend this film. It is revelatory, it is truthful, and it is powerful how much we truly do not know about the racial divide in this country. You will learn if you listen. A black person shouldn’t have to be lucky to escape poverty and death, they should be given the same opportunities as white people have and I hope this film convinces you of this truth if nothing else. 50 years from now, will it still be the same as it is today? If you want it to change, watch this film.
Rating: 5 out of 5 truths
Official Website: WHO WE ARE: A Chronicle of Racism in America | Sony Pictures Classics
Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America
Interweaving lecture, personal anecdotes, interviews, and shocking revelations, lawyer Jeffery Robinson draws a stark timeline of anti-Black racism in the United States, from slavery to the modern myth of a post-racial America.