Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro is worth a watch.
Despite the archival footage, this movie has none of the feeling of stuffy history. It would be less piercing if it did. Instead, it showed time after time how the things that have kept Black people oppressed in the United States are the same in 2017 as they were in 1967. Particularly poignant for me was the moment Baldwin talked about the sadness and rage that comes from watching young Black bodies pile up, “not from anything they have done — they were too young to have done anything,” and the photos of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin appeared on the screen.
Maybe that’s the teacher in me. I see adults responding differently to the boisterous behavior of three-year-olds with different-color skin. We interpret the same movement as confusion in one child and defiance in another. On bad days, we become enraged when we perceive that our control is slipping, and we come down like a ton of bricks.
In addition to the straight-up tragedy of it, Tamir Rice’s photo is so hard for me to see because I’ve been a teacher who lost control. When people with hard jobs who have positions of authority get tired or scared, we go to ridiculous lengths to win power struggles. When we are white teachers and they are Black students, we send them to the office more often than we do their peers or over-identify them as needing special education.
If I were a white police officer, my unconscious bias would not be yelling at kids and apologizing a few minutes later. It would be armed.
From this NPR story:
Director Raoul Peck: “It became scarier and scarier because I realized I was making a film where the reality was galloping even quicker than I was making it. At the time, my concern was, how do I put these important words of James Baldwin on the front row? You know, how do I make them accessible to the new generation? And as I was editing this film, we started to have those images of young black men being killed — of the resistance, of Black Lives Matter, of young people again going on the streets to protest. And it was incredible to see. It’s happening again, almost the same words and the same anger. And then you see that, my God, nothing have changed fundamentally.”
Later, from that same story– and this is what I am taking most to heart:
“Baldwin put the onus of change squarely on people in positions of power and privilege. ‘What white people have to do,’ Baldwin said once, ‘is try to find out in their hearts why it was necessary for them to have a nigger in the first place. Because I am not a nigger. I’m a man. If I’m not the nigger here, and if you invented him, you the white people invented him, then you have to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it is able to ask that question.'”