Statues commemorating the Confederacy remain in some towns in the US South, though its principles promoting slavery and oppression of blacks are in disrepute. Some towns have removed these statues in the face of heavy opposition. A former Mayor of New Orleans describes how his thinking evolved toward a decision to remove the statues in his city, and the issues it brought forth.
Mitch Landrieu, former Mayor, New Orleans, LA, and author, In the Shadows of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History
We’ve all heard stories of segregated America circa the 1950’s, but historian and author James W. Loewen says not all of those racist institutions have been completely eliminated, even now. Loewen explains ‘sundown towns,’ towns where minorities were not welcomed after sundown, and he says some of them are still unofficially ‘sundown’ due to their lasting reputations.
James W. Loewen, author, Sundown Towns: A hidden dimension of American racism
Even though America’s founding fathers established in the Constitution that all men are created equal, and slavery was abolished not long after, many still question if we truly do live in a society guided by true equality. While some people would argue that we do, studies have shown that may not entirely be true. Paul Kivel, activist and author of Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work For Racial Justice, states that there are persistent levels of racism that are deeply-rooted in American society from the education system to job markets and housing. Racial discrimination and marginalization still seem to play a large role in determining an individual’s ability to reap benefits and be successful in American society.
One reason that racism is still found in society today is that some people believe we live in a post-racial era. Kivel believes this idea stems from the fact that the United States had a two-term black president. Since Obama was elected as president, it has been hard for some people to understand that placing a person of color in a position of power was not the beginning of a post-racial society. Bruce Haynes, professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis and author of Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family, explains that this is a flawed belief because it is more of an exception in current culture rather than a much broader rule. Simply because one person of color was given an advantage that made them capable of maneuvering upwards in politics; it’s not an indication that all people of color have similar opportunities for success. Haynes explains that there are instances where white skin enables an individual to walk certain paths, while black skin often cannot. In order to achieve a post-racial culture, all people need to become less racially biased in all instances, not just in a few.
So, what should people be doing in order to be an ally to people of color? Kivel explains that it is usually people of color who are educating the public on movements, but that there has never been a majority of white individuals, in powerful positions working together. He states that silence in the white community is doing more harm than overt racism. Yet, it is difficult for people to identify an appropriate way to be more active. Kivel explains that one way to begin overcoming the issue of silent complacency is to not let other people’s comments that have racist undertones be overlooked. At the time that it happens, the person may not understand the problem with their comment, but by addressing the racist statement that individual may later reflect on the comment, or it could even encourage others who heard the interaction to think about the repercussions of their own comments in the future. Despite the strides that have been made to combat racism, it is more important than ever to continue to fight the racism and silence in the United States.
Paul Kivel, activist and author of Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work For Racial Justice
Bruce Haynes, professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis and author of Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family
Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.
For a few months now, most experts have said this awards season would be full of wins for Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, The Post, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out and Lady Bird. Then, the Golden Globes threw a wrench in the plan by giving a number of awards, including best drama, to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. But with Three Billboards comes a lot of controversy. The movie focuses on Frances McDormand’s character, Mildred Hayes, who rents three billboards to call out the local police, who haven’t solved the abduction, rape, and murder of her daughter. But this story takes a back seat for long stretches to tell the story of a supremely racist police officer, who has illegally tortured a black man in custody. On one hand, many contend that Sam Rockwell’s character, Officer Dixon, is never forced to reckon with his racism, or even denounce his actions, before the movie tries to make him a sympathetic hero. In an age of increased scrutiny on police officer’s behavior toward black citizens, this movie tries to tackle a racist cop without including any black characters in its main cast. There are several black characters on the margins of the story, but none that really take center stage. Others argue that the movie is about the toxicity of these racial biases, that we’re supposed to disdain Dixon and the town that refuses to hold him accountable. as one character in the movie says, violence only begets more violence. Three Billboards features a lot of violent characters, and ultimately, none of them are entirely good people.
I don’t think anyone would argue that Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell don’t deliver exceptional performances. But the movie’s script has left it open to debate over whether it is denouncing police brutality or accepting it as a part of American life.
Controversy can be a good thing for a film, but it will be interesting to see how the awards conversation around Three Billboards forms. Will the controversy allow it to thrive, or will its questionable race relations sink its chances? Only time will tell…and Oscar nominations will be released on Tuesday.
Synopsis: Researching your ancestors is popular these days. It can be exciting if your ancestors were famous or if they had some connection to a historical event. However, it can be painful if your family played a part in one of the darker periods in our history, such as slavery. We talk to a man whose family held slaves and hear how he went back in history and to his family’s home town to confront his past, to meet the relatives of those slaves, and to find out what life was like then and now for the two Tomlinson families.
Host: Gary Price. Guest: Chris Tomlinson, journalist, author of “Tomlinson Hill: The remarkable story of two families who share the Tomlinson name – one white, one black,”