Combatting White Supremacy with Narratives Not Our Own

The vast majority of white people wouldn’t identify as white supremacists. The vast majority of whites think white supremacy is ugly and unacceptable. It is also true that a significant portion of the white community does not have close relationships with people of color. Additionally, it can be easy for white Americans to see minority-generated art (such as movies and TV) and assume it is made for a minority audience and is not for them.  But when we have few friends of color, and seek out little or no stories that are about people who don’t look like us, we are allowing our stories to be supremely white.

When we aren’t regularly seeing stories about people in different walks of life, we unconsciously think that everyone’s story is like ours. We become confused and sometimes angry about the way others react, or we say thoughtless things that we don’t realize are insensitive and insulting. The more we immerse ourselves in a variety of stories, the more readily we can empathize with people of color and think more effectively about our own actions and perceptions. Especially for people who are limited by geography and do not live in diverse parts of the country, seeking out the stories of others is a very simple way to broaden your understanding. If you were upset by the events in Charlottesville and want to fight semblances of white supremacy in yourself, here are some suggestions for movies and TV that you can watch in the coming months to help make your narrative less white:

Television 

Queen Sugar

I think this is hands-down one of the best shows on TV right now, and a lot of us haven’t heard of it. In its second season, Queen Sugar airs on OWN and is produced by Ava DuVernay (director of “Selma” and the upcoming “A Wrinkle in Time”). It’s a contemporary story set in New Orleans about three siblings and their extended family, and their struggle to maintain the family sugar cane farm. The storylines and characters are very complex and the show does a fantastic job of addressing social issues in ways that nearly always feel natural and relatable. The first season is streaming on Hulu, the current season is available for purchase on OWN’s website (or on demand).

Queen Sugar

Black-ish

A sit-com on ABC, this show is funny and at times exaggerated  while also addressing issues of race and socio-economics in poignant ways. It’s about a successful black family in the suburbs navigating the differences between how the parents grew up (in a poor neighborhood and a hippy commune) and how to raise their children to understand race in America in light of their current affluence. I appreciate that the show depicts a wide range of modern black experience in humorous and heartfelt ways.

Luke Cage

This is a recent addition to the Marvel universe on Netflix. Luke is a super hero whose super power is being super strong and bullet-proof (an intentional play on the vulnerability of black men who live under constant threats of violence). The show is set in Harlem where the community is being pulled in many different directions between crime and renewal. Luke is caught in the middle as he tries to protect his neighborhood against violence and corruption. The show is quite gritty and has some adult content, so check the viewer warnings and decide if it’s right for you.

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This Is Us

This show was wildly popular so many may have already watched it. It’s a show that has a blended cast and talks about issues of race very thoughtfully. The cast is phenomenal and the writing is great. The family is predominantly white so for audiences who are unfamiliar with diverse narratives, it is a good entry point into more diverse entertainment. Use this show to start paying attention to how black characters are portrayed, how many scenes/lines they have compared to the white characters, whether they are portrayed as equals or as weaker/inferior, etc. The first season is streaming on Netflix.

Movies

Hidden Figures

This movie does a wonderful job of striking a balance between gritty realism and inspiration. Based on real people and true events, the film tells the story of black women working at NASA during the space race. It’s informative, it’s very engaging, and it’s appropriate for young audiences as well as adults.

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Creed

I’m a life-long “Rocky” fan, and director Ryan Coogler does a terrific job of breathing new life into this franchise. Actor Michael B. Jordan plays the son of Rocky’s rival and friend, Apollo Creed. The film has strong black characters and explores powerful themes of family and hope. One of my favorites in a long time!

Get Out

This is a technically a horror film so it’s not for everyone, but I normally can’t do scary movies and I was fine. The genre of horror at its best is meant to focus on a social issue and magnify it through the lens of fear. (The majority of horror films fail to do this, so don’t hear this as a blanket endorsement for all horror.) Writer/director Jordan Peale creates an extremely clever exploration of the appropriation of black culture and black bodies. He reverses the typical trope of the black side character being the first to get killed off, and forces the audience to confront our perception of black men as aggressors. If you can hang in there for a few scenes of violence and some suspense, it will be worth it. Check out Ivan’s full review here.

Fruitvale Station

Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut, this film was ahead of its time in discussing police violence. Based on the true story of a young man, Oscar Grant, in San Francisco killed by subway security in 2008. The film tells his story and the events of his final day. It is sobering subject matter and simply shows Oscar as human. An early role for Michael B. Jordan, this is a helpful choice for exploring the topic of the relationship between the black community and police.

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Please think about trying some of these suggestions, and please know that this is only scratching the surface. My hope for you is not that you will watch a handful of these options and then feel that you know all black people. I hope that this will spark on-going interest to learn more and to also seek out personal relationships with people who don’t look like you. This is one simple step out of many that we can all take to move towards being a more hospitable and unified country.

Note: I’ve enjoyed a few comedies, “Ugly Betty” and “Jane the Virgin”, which are Hispanic-centered. This is an area of American entertainment that needs to keep growing. Unfortunately there are very few options for Asian American media. “Man in the High Castle” on Amazon has one of the largest Asian casts out there, but it is also sci-fi and is therefore limited in its exploration of current cultural issues. “Master of None” (Netflix) from comedian Aziz Ansari is a brilliant look at first-generation children of immigrants as well as broader racial/social trends. (The show will be fairly edgy for many viewers which is why I am not widely recommending it.) As audiences our money and viewership matters and we can join with others in asking for more stories and representation than is currently being produced. Keep paying attention to how different people are portrayed and put your support behind art that is complex and equitable. 

 

Dear me, who am I?

In the early part of the book of Exodus as Moses is standing in the face of the burning bush, communicating with the presence of God, he asks an important question, “Who am I…”

King David, slayer of Goliath, man after God’s own heart, receives a promise from God that will echo throughout eternity and he responds with a question in prayer, “Who am I…”

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Isn’t this the ultimate question? Maslow places self-actualization as the top priority of existence. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.” Look around at any given university and you’ll find a multi-generational mosaic of people scratching their temples, drawing maps of their hearts in search of just who it is they were created to be.

There may be no bigger question out there for humans to ask and there may not be a better film that so thoughtfully depicts this search for identity (also in a university setting) than “Dear White People,” first time writer/director Justin Simien’s satirical romp into American race relations.

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Writer/director Justin Simien

This is a film that needs to be studied. There is no wasted motion or dialogue, it all has purpose and creates this comprehensive look at some of the most relevant issues around maturity, identity, culture, and race.

The movie chronicles the experience of four black college students at a fictional Ivy League institution. One device to love about this story is that while it pokes fun at the narratives Hollywood sells as the black experience (you must play a slave to win an Oscar, you must be one-dimensional to earn box-office dough) it presents complicated, multi-layered black characters, an unfortunate rarity in the celebrated films in the current landscape.

There are no easy answers in “Dear White People.” The characters are complex, but the broad culture they find themselves a part of is even more bewildering. They are navigating a mine field of driving a post-modern society while feeling the weight of the culture they now have to carry and define.

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The thesis of the film can perhaps best be found in my favorite scene. Sam, the leader of the Black Student Union, is trying to make her way to a protest of a housing randomization policy the organization believes is an attempt to disrupt black culture and unity on campus. On her way she is confronted by the school’s dean who calls her out for hiding the fact that she is biracial. She is also being pursued by her hidden white boyfriend who may be the only person who truly sees who she is. Ahead, waiting impatiently is her biggest cheerleader in the BSU who also has feelings for her. As her heart is being tugged in all of these directions she approaches the protest and as she looks down and reads the protest signs the expression on her face reads, “Is this really who I am?” In the same moment she receives a call from her mother…her father is ill and is not doing very well. The tension is real. In this moment we are thrust into an incredibly authentic experience of someone on the road to self discovery.

Amidst this personal struggle, our characters are also constantly faced with the question of is racism still relevant? Ask the president of the college and he will say that all of their struggles are not black struggles but universal student problems and insists that they don’t have a diversity issue on their campus. At the same time, though, the protagonists are feeling like their culture is not valued.

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Some respond with outrage and protest, while others try their hardest to fit in to many of the sectors of white culture.  Each is a quest to feel valued and more often than not these efforts are ignored or written off as unnecessary. They are conflicted and hurting but no one sees it, sometimes they themselves don’t even see it.

The conclusion of the film may seem outlandish or unrealistic, but if you pay attention to the credits, the issues are brought into reality. This is a sign of effective satire but also an answer to the question of where we are at with race relations in America. I’d love for “Dear White People” to be more fiction than non, but look at what happened on that bus in Oklahoma just this last week.

How can we pay more attention to tension all around us? Especially the inner-tension people of color feel on the road to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. The image of God is in us all. How can we affirm that image in those that cannot see it for themselves? There are many more questions “Dear White People” poses. Please see and study this film and start asking them.

Comment or contact us if you would like to see this movie and we will provide you with a free Red Box code to rent it!