“Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America” hits San Diego arthouse theaters this weekend just in time for Black History Month.
In “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America,” ACLU attorney and deputy general counsel Jeffrey Robinson recalls that as a child in 1968 he was filled with hope for racial justice.
“There was the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act,” Robinson says in the film. “We were winning on the buses and at the lunch counters. We were seemingly at a tipping point where we were either going to move forward with this incredible momentum on racial justice or back off.”
Once again, the nation is at a tipping point and again, says Robinson. The nation is in danger of falling back.
The documentary intercuts footage from Robinson’s 2018 town hall meeting in New York City with historical footage, interviews and his own story of growing up as a black person in America.
The film argues that white supremacy is deeply embedded in American culture and this has led to a history of racial inequality and oppression.
“Who We Are” reminds viewers of events they are likely familiar with, like the brutal murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, but also the history that should be better known regarding our Founding Fathers, the Reconstruction and the Tulsa Massacre. Race.
The film quotes George Orwell’s “1984” novel: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
The fact is, if significant events and information about American history are not taught, it becomes impossible to learn from them and impossible to see our current place in history with a sense of context.
In a way, the movie feels like it was made for a white audience, which is not a criticism.
Robinson begins by asking if anyone in the audience has even owned a slave, then assures the audience that “slavery is not our fault, we didn’t do it, we didn’t cause it” so that the tone is not accusatory. try to assign guilt.
But then, he adds, “but that’s our shared history.” He wants the public to open their eyes to a part of this history that has often been hidden.
He also makes sure to define how he sees the term “white privilege” as not taking away any struggle or achievement from white people, but as a way to emphasize that the rules of the game have not been level playing field.
Robinson’s tone is calm and reasoned, even when speaking with a white Southerner holding a Confederate flag and insisting that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.
There’s a hint of exasperation and he’s definitely driven by passion, but he keeps a very civil tone to the speech he presents. It’s a tone that can help not alienate the kinds of people he really needs to reach in order to make sure that this time America moves forward and doesn’t back down.
Robinson cites the 1968 Kerner Commission report, which found that our nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” This warning went unheeded more than 50 years ago. Now Robinson asks the audience, what are you going to do to make sure we don’t go back?
“Who We Are: A Chronicle of Race in America” opens this weekend at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas, Angelika Film Center at Carmel Mountain and AMC La Jolla.