Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Racism in the Raw: Obama campaigners run into reality

With so much going on in the presidential primaries this story did not get much notice: Racism alarms Obama backers - Washington Post. The central fact of the story, that folks doing grass roots campaigning for Senator Barack Obama have encountered overt racism, will come as a surprise to some people, but not to others.

Try making a movie about race in America today and you learn a lot about how people really feel. You find that there's a fair amount of racial prejudice just beneath the surface. Scratch the surface, for example, just by bringing up the subject, and you can get you an earful. So you have to expect the same to be true for a black person taking a run at the presidency. While some white folks are clearly quite happy to vote for a black president, for others it may just be too much, and that's a sad reflection on our country.

When Dare Not Walk Alone played in Los Angeles last month, here's what the Film Journal critic said: "The racial politics of the current presidential election make this film all the more significant." So, does this make Dare Not Walk Alone a political film?

That's a hard question to answer because politics, like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder. The film does not preach. There is no narrator making statements. This is not a Michael Moore style documentary. Jeremy Dean lets the events and the people involved speak for themselves. (As Variety noted "Dean's ability to explore history through such a local nexus creates a uniquely intimate document.")

But that doesn't mean some of what is said in the film is not controversial. When a black US congresswoman compares parts of St. John's County, one of the wealthiest counties in Florida, home to the nation's 'oldest city' and The Players Championship, with Haiti, you can bet that riled some white politicians in the county. But then a former politician [white] describes the deplorable lack of proper sanitation. And the camera captures some scenes that are not staged and not very pretty. In the end, most people are going to get the idea that things are far from rosy and the filmmaker is not just making this up.

Is life like that for all African Americans? No. Do all white people think black people complain too much? No. Do all black people think white people can't be trusted? No. Will carrying an Obama sign while white teach you something about race in America? Probably, it pretty much depends where you are carrying it.

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