January 1, 2024 – This movie, streaming on Netflix, is based on the 2016 book “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by historian Ibram X. Kendi (an executive producer of this movie) a book so powerful it has been banned in many areas of the Old South, right along with books about the Holocaust and books about disfavored genders.
This movie doesn't cover much new ground in the debate over racism. There are those who subscribe to the idea that racism is pervasive in society, basically what is taught in college level “critical race theory” courses, and then there are those who say racism is no longer a significant factor. I have even heard racism discounted, unchallenged, on a TV show as liberal as Real Time with Bill Maher, several times.
An early example of promoting racism to justify slavery was written by 15th Century royal chronicler Gomes Eanes De Zurara, at the behest of Prince Henry of Portugal. Zurara, writing about early Portuguese expeditions to Africa, depicted Africa natives as beastly, with no understanding of morality.
The idea that blacks are immoral, and indoctrinating blacks to Christianity, as justifications for slavery is part of the racist and slaver's playbook, as is the criminalization of blacks. Christianity, and the Bible, have also been used to justify slavery.
Thomas Jefferson gets some harsh criticism in the movie for his ownership of slaves, and his belief in racist ideas. Even the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, gets his lumps in this movie, along with many other “white saviors” it argues are glorified at the expense of blacks who fought for freedom. As poet, novelist and academic, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers says in the movie, “The notion of the white savior is really a counterpart to white supremacy.”
One of the ideas put forth in the movie is that there is a strong opposing reaction in American society to progress by black people. The rapid progress of blacks during reconstruction was followed by Jim Crow laws and the murder of thousands of blacks. The passage of major civil rights acts in the 1960s by Democrats caused the South to shift from Democrat to Republican, and Republican appointees to the Supreme Court have gutted voting rights laws, passed in the 1960s. The election of President Barack Obama led to his opponents, especially white supremacists, to help elect a racial opposition president, Donald Trump.
The movie points out that for a long time, most slaves in Europe were white Slavic people. In fact, the word slave is derived from the word Slavic. The movie argues that there were a number of white people who were slave-like indentured servants in America.
The film cites Bacon's Rebellion of 1676 to 1677 as the catalyst for laws such as the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705, which hardened the racial lines of slavery. This rebellion, along with another one in Maryland, scared slaveholders because it brought blacks and whites together against the government. I was reminded of the assassination of Fred Hampton in 1969 who similarly threatened the white power structure in Chicago by bringing poor whites and blacks together.
It should be noted however, the Bacon's Rebellion itself was racist, the point of the rebellion was to force Native Americans out of Virginia, after Colonial Governor William Berkeley refused Nathanial Bacon's request to do so.
According to the movie, the criminalization of blacks and depictions of them in the media as being dangerous, leads to unarmed black people being killed by police. Similarly, the depiction of black women being over-sexed and morally loose has been used to justify their rape.
Anti-racism, the movie argues, is about trying to change society in a way that makes it as easy for Black people to live in as it does for whites. Scholar, author and broadcaster, Dr. Kellie Carter-Jackson says in the film, “Black people know what they want. They have ideas about what freedom and liberation will look like. And it doesn't look like this radical utopia. It looks a lot like the world that white people live in. The world that white people living in never question.”
The movie has a lot of illustrations as line drawings or pastel paintings. There are also re-enactments and animations in these same artistic schemes, all through the movie. This movie's look is quite distinctive. Perhaps the most famous anti-racist participant in the movie is Angela Davis. She is joined by more than a dozen other authors, academics and artists, including Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, author of the book on which this movie is based. This movie rates a B.
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