“We have now determined to maneuver into our home as a result “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America” of my father—my father—he earned it for us, brick by brick.”—Walter Lee Youthful (Sidney Poitier) in Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece, “A Raisin within the Solar”
A recurring visible utilized by speaker Jeffrey Robinson in Emily and Sarah Kunstler’s sobering documentary, “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America” is that of a ball reaching a tipping level, mere centimeters away from reaching actual progress till it’s compelled to slip backward. One of many key historic situations of this recurring setback is the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which occurred in Robinson’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, earlier than the civil rights chief had the prospect to ship a speech entitled, “Why America Might Go to Hell.” Quickly afterward, the houses within the Black neighborhood the place Robinson’s household lived to have were purchased up, prompting his father to make a cope with the developer. This resulted in Robinson’s household, not not like the one in Hansberry’s play, buying a brand new home in a white group, thus making certain that he and his brother would obtain the great Catholic training their mother and father desired for them. Robinson vividly remembers how their subsequent door neighbor was about to convey to them his cherished dessert of chocolate chip cookies, till she realized that his household was not, in actual fact, “the assistance.”
It was his “unicorn mother and father” mixed with pure luck that Robinson credit for the highway that led him to graduate from Harvard Regulation College and function as a deputy authorized director of the ACLU. Regardless of receiving the perfect education that the American training system might supply, Robinson was shocked by simply how a lot was overlooked of the historical past books, thus inspiring his titular one man present, which we see him acting on Juneteenth 2018 at New York Metropolis’s City Corridor Theater. Simply as Al Gore detailed the inconvenient fact of worldwide warming and the devastating effect it’s at present having on our planet, Robinson is sharing a mightily uncomfortable one which the following years have solely magnified. Each “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Who We Are” are names for pressing foundational modifications in how we dwell our lives, and neither movie is the dry lecture it would appear to be upon preliminary look. Robinson is matter-of-fact, considerate, and enormously compelling in illustrating hidden chapters of our shared historical past, such because the 1921 ethnic cleaning in Tulsa, which many individuals first heard of because of HBO’s good 2019 collection, “Watchmen,” with its daring yellow lettering that was later echoed in Black Lives Matter avenue artwork.
Emily Kunstler’s modifying successfully juxtaposes Robinson’s presentation with footage of him visiting topics in numerous corners of the nation, together with the pleasant Lessie Benningfield Randle, a 107-year-old survivor of the violence in Tulsa, which was sparked by the try of residents in Greenwood, an enclave dubbed “Black Wall Road,” to stop a lynching. Solely the steps to town stay, a chilling reminder of a trailblazing metropolis that was by no means rebuilt. Robinson argues that such atrocities, together with the estimated 4,000 racial lynchings that occurred within the century following emancipation, might solely have been allowed on account of “acquiescence or direct involvement” on the part of legislation enforcement. His commentary that modern-day police departments have been initially shaped as slave patrols serves as a segue to his interview with the mom of Eric Garner, who believes her son to be a sacrificial lamb. His homicide by the hands of officers is one every of the numerous fashionable tragedies that affirm how the legislation relieving the killing of an enslaved particular person from being deemed a felony remains to be being upheld.
The movie is assured to go away you questioning why a slaveholder like Andrew Jackson stays on the $20 invoice, why Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner”—a verse of which celebrates the homicide of enslaved individuals—is our nationwide anthem and why the request for reparations are ever questioned, particularly in mild of Lincoln’s Compensated Emancipation Act, which compensated slaveholders to the tune of $1 million for his or her “misplaced property.” One of my favorite photographs within the movie is that of some appropriately withered flower bouquets sympathetically affixed within the fence surrounding the area the place a statue of Accomplice Normal Nathan Bedford Forrest was eliminated, because of the efforts of activist Tami Sawyer. Robinson reminds us that John Ehrlichman of the Nixon administration didn’t mince phrases when admitting that the infamous “struggle on medicine” was merely meant to disrupt communities that the federal government felt was a menace, linking hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin. What prevents this movie’s stomach-churning historical past lesson from numbing our senses is Robinson’s skill to make himself a susceptible human presence on digital camera, comparable to when he admits to being disillusioned by his personal ends in Harvard’s Implicit Affiliation Take a look at, which indicated that he has a destructive impression of Black males like himself.
An emotional highpoint of the image happens throughout Robinson’s journey again to his former St. Louis Memphis Catholic College, the place he and his brother grew to become the primary Black college students to be enrolled there. His former basketball coach, Richard Orians, tearfully recounts how he tried to guard Robinson against the racist vitriol being voiced in Partitions, Mississippi after they traveled there for a sport. Robinson even offers an Accomplice Flag-waving man in South Carolina the prospect to state his case, thus eradicating any shadow of a doubt that his convictions have trumped any menace of information. Viewers who’re skeptical that white supremacy is being normalized in U.S. school rooms ought to look no additional than the proposed Indiana State Senate Invoice 167, which removes the appropriate of instructors to show that the Nazis and related political events are “of a low ethical character.” “Who We Are” ought to be made required viewing in each American college as we discover ourselves perched, as soon as once more, at a pivotal tipping level. The hope present in activists of all races demonstrating collectively within the midst of a pandemic is underlined by the joyous gospel music over the tip credit. It’s Robinson’s purpose to inform our eye in seeing the reality of our previous that’s so typically neglected. That is maybe most indelibly expressed by the fingerprints left in partitions all through Charleston by the enslaved individuals who constructed our cities, our economic system, and our nation, brick by brick.