Racism isn’t just going to die off with younger generations – which means we need to take a more proactive approach to understanding and dismantling racist systems and white supremacy. That’s why we’re so excited about the upcoming inaugural White Responsibility Teach-In, founded by educator-facilitator-advocate Jack Hill.
We’ll be there — showing our film I’m Not Racist… Am I?— along with some of the most thoughtful and dynamic authors, educators, and activists doing antiracism work right now.
There’s so much noise when it comes to talking about race and racism. And too much of it reflects a general lack of analysis and knowledge. But this conference is the real deal. Just take a look at the principles identified front-and-center:
ANTI-RACISM VISION & CORE PRINCIPLES History is important. Anti-racism requires a clear understanding of historical racism and white supremacy. It is crucial to see this history not as separate, but as a foundational element of American history.
Racism is the norm. Racism and white supremacy exist today and all members of this society are active participants in it. No exceptions. Owning this truth, and recognizing the presence of racism in ways that may be easy to overlook is crucial.
Anti-racism is our responsibility. The work of anti-racism, based in the knowledge of our past and the recognition of our present, requires intentional, deliberate action. We must challenge, check, and change our equity systems and structures for equity every day, and this requires a life-long commitment. It is the work to actively engage in dismantling systems of racism and white supremacy.
Every other day, it seems, there’s another racist act to stir outrage. Far too many of these involve terror in places of worship, at parties, during police stops, and more. Others involve the N-Word or blackface. None of these are surprising or out of the ordinary, of course. But we get exposed to them consistently on social media.
I often feel frustrated when these incidents go viral. Not because I don’t think we should call out racist acts. But I get worried that when we only pay attention to the most despicable acts by white people, the more we internalize the lie that those people are the racists and the rest of us nice, white people are off the hook.
The outrage becomes addictive. It spikes, weans, and then something else happens to spark outrage, and we go through the cycle all over again.
Well, last weekend, I happened to witness one of those moments up close when a group of white nationalists marched into Politics and Prose, a Washington, D.C., independent bookstore, and disrupted a talk with Jonathan Metzl on his new book “Dying of Whiteness.” With a bullhorn and their own videographer, they spewed an incomprehensible string of words before they started chanting, “This land is our land. This land is our land.” They were met with boos and some middle fingers, which made their faces smirk even more, and then they marched out right past me.
That’s the part I filmed — capturing their smug faces, a few (including one woman) trying to hide behind sunglasses, others proudly staring down the camera. One guy even winked as he passed me. He’s the one I can’t get out of my head.
The whole event lasted about five minutes. After an internal debate and conversations with others around me, I decided to post the video to Twitter.
Within 24 hours, the video had more than one million views, and most major news outlets were covering the incident. Tens of thousands of people on Twitter were talking about it; I was getting phone calls from reporters and messages from distant cousins and childhood friends. The trolls showed up, too.
Another dose of outrage.
In my everyday life, I get to work with a dedicated group of artist-activists. We make documentary films that deal with race and racism and we’ve never had anywhere near the number of eyes on our work that the video I filmed this weekend had.
Our film follows a group of teens through a yearlong exploration of race and racism, and we’ve been screening it around the U.S. as a way to spark a deeper level of awareness about racism and to build the kind of community connections necessary to take action and make systemic change.
It gets messy and complicated and emotional. But, little by little, we see people waking up to understand how racism has been institutionalized and learn the hard truth that one of the young people in our film states so poignantly, “You can’t get rid of racism just by being nice to all races.”
Every time we screen our film, wherever we are, at least one audience member will ask, “Well, we get it here. But what’s it like when you show it up North/in the Midwest/down South/out West where people are actually racist?” This never fails.
All the racists are always somewhere else and someone else.
And this is why I still feel conflicted about posting that video to Twitter. Do we look at those bigots and think that’s the only version of racism? To paraphrase a lesson in our film from the organizing group The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, if we rounded up all the racists and sent them to outer space, would that get rid of racism?
The answer is no.
Racism is a brilliantly designed, built-to-last system. Which means it’s going to take a long time and an almost unimaginable collective effort to take it apart and build something new. But we must try. And we can’t make progress if we don’t understand it as a system of laws, policies, and practices that benefit white people at the expense of people who are not white.
I’m going to reference our film one more time. I can’t help it. It’s filled with wisdom from some of the most effective antiracist educators around. Working with the students in the film and addressing the guilt that the white kids feel about the benefits they have, Dr. Liza Talusan says to them, “Guilt is a feeling. Not an action.”
If my viral video compels you to pay attention to anything I say, let me tell you this:
Outrage is a feeling. Not an action.
Feel that feeling. It’s normal and necessary. But, please, let’s take that outrage and use it to motivate ourselves toward learning more and taking action. Become an antiracist, not just an outraged voyeur. I’d like to see that go viral.
Following the massive success of Black Panther, Disney Studios plans to donate $1 million to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs at the Boys & Girls’ Club of America as a nod to the film’s emphasis of access to technology. Grossing over $400 million in box-office revenue worldwide, Black Panther has solidified its place in the Marvel Comic Universe not only as an iconic film but also as the most culturally impactful movie of its kind.
Black people across the world attended screenings for the “Black Panther Experience”, many dressing in dashikis, painting tribal art on their bodies, and hosting pre-movie events that included concessions, performance and networking opportunities. Influencers and celebrities around the country purchased entire theaters’ worth of movie tickets to supplement payment for underprivileged children. Black Panther proved to be far more than an experience — it was a testament to the power of representation.
In fact, Black Panther championed representation across multiple demographics, including women as innovators in technology. Shuri, the title character’s younger sister, is the brains behind the Black Panther operation. She designs his suit, his vehicles, his weapons, and she even performs life-threatening surgeries with the help of the technology she has mastered. Black Panther imagines a world of possibility for brown girls as leaders on the battlefield, in politics, and in the laboratory. And though this world is fictional, some of its elements have the potential to exist in reality, including a fully realized Africa with autonomy and access to wealth along with a world of women leading advancements in technology.
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In that vein, Disney decided to donate $1 million of the film’s earnings to the Boys & Girls’ Club of America to provide resources in STEM programs for underserved communities. It reflects the commitment declared by King T’Challa who, after battling his vengeful cousin, donated a community center emphasizing STEM research and programs in Oakland’s inner city.
Black Panther deserves a dissertation as proven by the hundreds of think pieces and reviews published in the wake of its premiere. One of the film’s primary themes is of social responsibility: who is responsible for the security of diasporic black people? On one hand, T’Challa believes that insolation is the best form of security. Wakanda, the fictional country where the story takes place, is untainted by colonial influence, having thwarted slave traders and completely isolating itself from the outside world as a means of self-preservation. Sharing resources means that Wakanda’s doors must open, leaving the country and its people vulnerable. Killmonger, T’Challa’s vengeful cousin (and potential heir to the Wakandan throne), takes a more radical approach through which he will grant black people access to advanced Wakandan weapons to reclaim their power and hold white colonialists accountable for the marginalization of black folks around the world.
Ryan Coogler, the film’s director, asks the audience what is more important: autonomy or security? And who is responsible for allowing black people access to either of those things? T’Challa realizes that both have profound benefits, and charges the political world with repairing the damage of slavery and colonization by providing resources that will both free and secure marginalized populations.
This fictional example of reparations is perhaps not so far-fetched. Disney’s STEM program with the Boys & Girls’ Club paves the way for the development of tools that ultimately allow marginalized communities to access the autonomy and security Black Panther asks its viewers to consider.
Since the release of the documentary film I’m Not Racist… Am I?, Point Made Learning (PML) has held more than 400 screenings and workshops across the United States. Facilitated by senior members of our staff, these events engage diverse audiences and help communities think, learn, and – most importantly – talk about race and racism in ways they don’t often get a chance to do.
Some of our events involve a screening of the 90-minute film, followed by a 30-minute Q&A. Sometimes we get a chance to go a lot deeper, when organizers make a commitment to plan a series of events that engage every segment of their city over the course of several days. It takes a ton of work to make that happen, but the impact can be far-reaching and significant.
For those of you thinking about hosting your own I’m Not Racist… Am I? screenings and workshops, we think that reading about what other groups have done might be helpful in your planning process. We’ve reached out to a few of the people who have been instrumental in some of our larger programs across the U.S. and asked them to talk about what went into planning and executing, what worked/what didn’t, and what they wish they’d known.
Keep reading to learn about our May 2017 programming in Des Moines, Iowa.
This past May, a number of community groups collaborated with Point Made Learning to bring I’m Not Racist… Am I? (INRAI) to Des Moines, Iowa. There, partnerships forged between church groups, high schools and Drake University made it possible for the film to screen three different times — twice at local high schools, and once at the Drake University auditorium. Among the audiences who watched the film were the faculty from every Des Moines area high school (approximately 600 teachers total), high school and college students, and community members interested in deepening the conversation about race and racism.
One of the screenings’ primary organizers, Sheena Thomas, got involved when members of Des Moines’ Anti-Racism Collaborative reached out to her because they were all part of a multi-church network called AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy). Thomas was able to secure grant money to fund the screenings, and she was able to recruit local stakeholders to join in the planning process.
For the Des Moines community, screening the film was about more than hosting a neighborhood movie night; the organizers intended for INRAI to help people tackle difficult issues that affect many groups in their area. For example, Thomas said, the local high schools have a major issue with out-of-school suspensions and the “School to Prison Pipeline” that primarily affects minority populations.
“That is a huge problem here,” said Thomas. “Iowa has one of the highest incarceration rates for minorities in the pipeline … so there is a lot of work to be done here, and that was a rationale for bringing this in to the schools.”
According to Thomas, many people “just don’t get” why issues of race and racism are so important. “They don’t have to live with it in any way, shape or form,” she said, “so it’s hard to get them to understand, to see things differently, from another perspective.”
Like the stone Sisyphus was pushing up the hill over and over, the issues of racism and white privilege will not go away without more and more education.
Films like INRAI are a major aid in reaching those people and helping them find the alternative perspectives of which Thomas speaks. She said, “The films generated enough discussion and provocation that people were still discussing it long after the showing, and I thought that was really good.” She added that one of the organizers’ goals was “to develop enough sensitivity so that we’d have some leaders who wanted to pursue doing something on the subject,” and that has been the case — after the events, young adults created a Race Education Committee, an adult group formed to discuss these issues, and the Anti-Racism Collaborative held a speaker series for AMOS members to attend.
When asked why hosting events like the INRAI screenings is important, Thomas was direct: “Like the stone Sisyphus was pushing up the hill over and over, the issues of racism and white privilege will not go away without more and more education. That’s why.”
Inside the Planning and Promotion Process
In our discussion with Thomas, she discussed what it took to bring the screenings to life. Here are some of the highlights from our Q&A.
PML: Once you had the idea, what were the steps you took toward making it a reality?
Sheena Thomas: The Anti-Racism Collaborative was very good about saying, ‘Let’s have meetings,” and setting dates, and getting things done before each meeting which needed to be done. We worked on who we were going to market to … then it was working on the marketing and working to get interviews for (PML’s) Catherine Wigginton Greene to do with two TV stations and the public radio station. Also, we had posters that we put up all over for the screenings, around the churches and shop windows, and around Roosevelt High School. And I was able to get a billboard — several billboards — as places for community publicity.
PML: If you could do the process over again, what is one thing you’d do differently?
ST: I would start the public marketing earlier, and it would have been better to have Catherine’s interviews air a little sooner to give people in the public more info and time to plan. Oh, and because I thought we might be overrun or overwhelmed with people attending, I suggested sign-ups online. That may have actually deterred people from coming.
PML: Was there anything that happened which really surprised you? What was it, and why was it surprising?
ST: Getting to know the members of the Anti-Racism Collaborative, the students of the groups at two of the Des Moines High Schools, the faculty and administrators in charge of school climate and their eagerness and thoughtfulness were surprising to me. Also, the total backing we received from staff and foundation at Plymouth Church was amazing. One of the people on the foundation was instrumental in helping us get our marketing done.
PML: Overall, what were the biggest challenges you faced as an organizer? How did you respond to these challenges?
ST: My biggest challenge was working on the organizing in and around my job. There was a lot of emailing that had to be done and which did impinge on my work time at my shop and on my home time as well. I was very grateful for the others who were also organizing on their own.
PML: What advice do you have for other people who want to hold similar events? Say, your top 3 tips…
ST: One: Start early — 9 months before the event was good in our case.
Two: Get buy-in from several groups and collaborate in the planning. And share the costs.
Three: Market like crazy and use the resources offered by Point Made Learning when doing so.
If you are interested in hosting a Point Made Learning film screening or workshop, please send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, check out our new I’m Not Racist… Am I? Digital Online Course — a valuable program for corporations and individuals who want to Look Deeper into race, racism, and bias.
Point Made Learning is the consulting and programming extension of Point Made Films, a production company focused on telling stories about the many layers of American identity. We use documentary film to facilitate productive discussions around the most uncomfortable topics we face in American society – starting with racism. We’ve taken an innovative approach to raising awareness and organizing communities through our unique combination of storytelling, real talk, and digital tools. We tell true stories and teach powerful lessons about issues that matter.