ARE WE LIVING IN A POST-RACIAL AMERICA?
Last week, I caught an article published in The Guardian that pretty much requires a post. Now I’m not a huge news junkie (in stark contrast to PYRITE’s Director of Photography and news-a-holic RJ Blazen by the way), and I don’t give a ton of trust to any one media outlet in today’s climate — but I do give The Guardian props for often tackling news items that other outlets completely pass up. In this case, the headline read, “Racism Is Still With Us — Let’s Stop Lying to Ourselves.”
I will make two points here and promise not to go down a 10-page rabbit hole or anything, so bear with me. First, to the entire topic of “post-racial”, at least here in America, I think it’s a bit disturbing that any person would truly think of us as post-racial.
Racism has unleashed tons of collateral damage on humanity over the past few hundred years, and you don’t clean up all that mess and move on in a few decades. Age-old opinions and perceptions die hard, and from my own personal experience, it’s a blatant disconnection from the people affected that continues to feed the racism beast.
And that disconnect hits from multiple angles, of course including those who are racist, but also from those who are not racist but make the magical proclamation that we are in now living in some post-racial utopia.
A few years back I had a conversation with a relative (a very non-racist relative by the way), discussing my indie film on racism in Chicago, PYRITE, and whether or not we still need movies about racism today.
In her opinion, it just wasn’t an issue anymore. Now I would LOVE for that statement to be true, wholeheartedly, and would gladly move PYRITE into the “period piece” category, where its subject matter just no longer rings true in current society (kind of the point in making a film like that in the first place,to help us reach that point).
But sadly, it’s nowhere near reality at this juncture.
Her rationale behind the post-racial statement was basically this — “I hang out with my friends from different backgrounds, and in my crowd, it’s just not an issue anymore.”
Most semi-reasonable people (unreasonable just enough to still harbor prejudice), if mixed in with other cultures in any kind of real world setting and over enough time, will gradually see their original opinions and prejudice fade away.
There’s a reason the term is “prejudice” — you’re pre-judging something without any true perspective to guide you. So in the case of my relative suggesting that racism is over, her own world had little to no racism present in it, and she wasn’t looking outside of that to see what else might be out there. Sound familiar?
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It should, because from the other end of the spectrum, that’s essentially the same problem you’ll see from racists who have little to no exposure to the people they love to hate.
One bad personal incident (given the weight of 1000), coupled with watching enough news reports, can be more than enough to send people down the path of racism — but what you see on the news has little to no relevance with our everyday life on this planet.
If it did, it wouldn’t be “news”, at least not under the current media model we’re living under. So we see people living completely disconnected from the groups at which they direct their prejudice. It’s a disconnect from reality, and it’s a similar disconnect that my relative experienced — not seeing where racism still exists… not being around the people feeling the brunt of the problem.
Perspective has always been the biggest shortcoming here. What does an actor do to gain perspective for a role he or she is about to play? They try to immerse themselves in everything related to that role, they try to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. They seek perspective. It helps bring another layer of reality to his or her performance.
For people living with racism and prejudice (or thinking that we’re post-racial), that lack of perspective still stands tall as the biggest obstacle in taking down racism. Which brings me to my second point, coming from this quote in The Guardian article:
“It is not individuals but institutions that are perpetuating racial inequality.”
There’s an irony with the subject matter here that such a statement would even be made in the article (a rabbit hole I promised to avoid,so I will), but beyond that, let me ask just one question…
WHAT MAKES UP AN INSTITUTION?
Yeah, that would be individuals. PEOPLE. And yes, institutional racism is the most serious of problems we face on the racism front, but we absolutely cannot keep dis-empowering ourselves by talking about institutions, corporations, etc. as if they are giant robots we’ve created and can no longer control.
If you want an institution to change its ways, then work to change the ways of the people within that institution. It’s not rocket science. The more we try to complicate the matter, the more helpless we are made to feel.
On a daily basis, we all interact with PEOPLE, and that’s where change happens, that’s where we either progress or regress.
You’ll hear much more on this from me in the coming weeks and months here, but reading that article in The Guardian flipped the switch — it’s time to start spreading the philosophy of empowerment, not of helplessness — and that’s the double truth.