Video Series Focuses on Systemic Racism

The folks at Race Forward have released a video series focusing on systemic racism. The videos, featuring DJ and blogger Jay Smooth, are great. They are mostly a minute or so long and cover a wide range of topics such as employment discrimination, housing, and disparities in infant mortality.  The videos include citations, but we thought they could use some augmenting with some additional scholarly reading for people who might want to use them in the classroom or just to do a deeper dive on the many topics they cover.

Here is Rinku Sen, President of Race Forward, introducing the series:


Next up, the wealth gap.

The Superbowl Ad You Won’t See, but Should

The National Congress of American Indians did not have the funds to run this ad during the Super Bowl. You should watch it and share it anyway.

Want to get involved? Here’s how to contact the DC team, the NFL, and the DC team’s hometown paper: DC Team Roger Goodell & NFL @NFL @NFLcommish Washington Post DC’s hometown paper is still using the R-word in its coverage of the team.

More ways to take action at


~ originally posted at Films for Action 

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

There is an amazing series airing on PBS this fall, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.” The documentary series is produced and narrated by Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and made possible, in part, by JustFilms of the Ford Foundation, The Hutchins Family Foundation, as well as corporate sponsors.  I mention the sponsorship at the top because you can see how the deep-pocketed funding pays off in this well-crafted, beautifully told, and thoroughly researched series.

The episodes include a wide sweep of just over 400 years of history, beginning with The Black Atlantic (1500-1800), The Age of Slavery (1800-1860), Into the Fire (1861-1896), and the most recent, Making a Way Out of No Way (1897-1940). Still to come are Rise! (1940-1968), and It’s Nation Time (1968-2013).

Each episode blends Gates’ avuncular narration and interviews with leading scholars and experts on African American culture with solid scholarship and a compelling visual style. These are also travelogues as we follow Gates re-tracing the steps of the African diaspora, across the Atlantic, to the American south, and then North and West through the great migration.

The tone of the series is on emphasizing the rather profound resilience, innovation, and resourcefulness of the African American people. Yet, it simultaneously takes an unflinching look at the centuries of white oppression that changes shape over time but remains a brutal, nefarious, and life-threatening constant. In my view, it strikes just the right balance between these two, always emphasizing how African American folks were able to “make a way out of no way,” while never pulling any punches about the unrelenting nastiness of white racism and the cruelty of institutional oppression.


(More Famous Quote Posters from PBS)

There are so many people in the US – the overwhelming majority, I think it’s safe to say – who do not know this history. To our great, collective shame this history is not part of the K-12 curriculum, and most adults will only learn it if they choose to take a “Black History” class in college.  My hope is that this remarkable series might be incorporated into more curricula, as it was clearly designed to do.

The series airs on PBS through November 26, check your local listings as they say. And, many clips and several full length videos are available online.

White People, Guns and the NRA

Today, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful, pro-gun lobbying organization, held a press conference in which the head of the organization, Wayne LaPierre, offered a stunningly tone-deaf set of proposals in the wake of last week’s events at a Newtown, CT in which 26 people died when an armed man opened fire in an elementary school.
LaPierre today proposed several actions as a response including: a national database of all people with diagnosed mental illness (38 states already have that) and an armed volunteer guard in every school. To say that the proposal is unrealistic, is to understate the reality.  Early estimates are that the proposal to place ‘armed volunteer guards’ in all 99,000 schools in the US would cost an estimated $18 billion dollars. (No word on the estimated cost for the pernicious database.)

Mike Bloomberg, mayor of NYC and outspoken proponent of gun control, called LaPierre’s speech a “paranoid, dystopian vision” of our society. I don’t always agree with Bloomberg, but he’s right in this instance. LaPierre’s claim that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with gun,” is not only offensive in terms of gender, especially given the heroic women who died trying to save their young students in Newtown, it also belies the NRA’s racial assumptions.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is through the brilliant animation by Trey Parker and Matt Stone featured in Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” (3:19):

“Articulate While Black”: Interview

In a recent interview, Stanford Professor H. Samy Alim discussed his new book, Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language and Race in the U.S. (Oxford University Press, 2012, co-authored with Geneva Smitherman). In case you missed it, here’s the short clip (about 7:00, with an ad I couldn’t remove).

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Alim and Smitherman make an interesting argument about “code switching” – that is, moving from standard ‘white’ American dialect to a ‘black’ dialect. This facility with language is both a lightening rod for figures on the far-right in the U.S., such as Rush Limbaugh, and at the same time, lends Obama legitimacy in the eyes of many because it ties him to the legacy of Dr. King.

“Unaddressed Racism” : Alice Walker on Travyon Martin’s Killing

This is a long (45 minute), but good, interview from Democracy Now with Pulitzer Prize-winning author, poet and activist Alice Walker about the root causes of the Trayvon Martin killing. Worth a listen:

Walker observes that “We are a very sick country. And our racism is a manifestation of our illness and the ways that we don’t delve into our own wrecks. … As a country, we are a wreck.” Powerful words.

Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about racial injustice

Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer who recently gave an inspiring TED Talk about racial injustice. Stevenson founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive, unfair and racist sentencing. This is a rare TED Talk for confronting issues of racial injustice, and well worth watching (23:14):
Stevenson’s talk even includes an oh-so-gentle challenge to the audience at TED to “be more courageous” and talk about issues of racial injustice with more regularity. Yet, the online comments that follow the video quickly get mired in white-framed thinking, where one person derails the conversation away from racial injustice. Still, bravo to Bryan Stevenson for his work, and good for TED for including his talk at this elite venue.

Documentary: More Than a Month

As we come to the end of Black History Month, the shortest month made longer by a day this leap year, it seems fitting to talk about this documentary. In this film, Shukree Hassan Tilghman, a 29-year-old African American filmmaker, goes cross-country on a campaign to end Black History Month altogether in his film,“More Than a Month.” This short clip (1:56) gives a brief intro:

Watch End Black History Month? on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

In an interview, the Tilghman explains what lead him to make the film:

A growing feeling that African Americans continue to be seen as “Other Americans.” Watching how folks were treated during Hurricane Katrina and listening to pundits refer to those victims as refugees intensified that notion. I thought that this ideal of “other” is reinforced in society by things like Black History Month. That, combined with the new idea that we live in a “post-racial” America, led to an interest in exploring these themes.

You can find the film via PBS’ Independent Lens series.