“I Am Not Your Negro” Probes the Country’s Racism Very Deeply

Last night my wife and I saw “I Am Not Your Negro.” I felt it was quite powerful and effective, although perhaps the film-maker Raoul Peck tried to pack too much content into an hour and a half. It definitely needs to be seen more than once.

The main lesson I took away from it was how little has changed over 50 years in the deep layers of racist crap in this country. I remember that time, the ‘60s, quite well, and watching Peck’s short clips of them brought back those memories vividly. Interspersing them with recent scenes from Ferguson, MO, etc., made the point very clearly, in my view.

At one point he shows Bobby Kennedy saying that black people (I imagine he actually said “Negroes,” since that was the term usually used then) had come a long way but still have more to go, and that there could be a black President in 40 years. To which Baldwin reacted by commenting that although Kennedy had appeared only recently and was on the way to being elected President, black people had been in America 400 years and still hadn’t reached nearly the eminence of the Kennedy family.

I think the film proved that crystal-clearly. To keep making Kennedy’s point, as many naïve people still do—“You black people have to recognize that you’ve made a lot of progress in this ‘greatest country on earth’”—is really obscene. Racism in many forms is still deeply engrained in the country’s psyche after 400 years, and it doesn’t look as though that will ever change unless something really drastic changes, despite all the statistics people can quote about rising average incomes of black Americans, etc. (There was a devastating clip from a 1950s government film aimed at corporations, pointing out how rich blacks were getting and how much money the companies could make by selling to them. That's the capitalists' view of "progress against racism" in a nutshell.)

There was a clip of Barack and Michelle a couple of seconds long at that point in the film, but nothing about Trump. There didn’t need to be; it is obvious from Trump’s frequent bragging that he would solve all the poor black people’s problems, such as their "getting shot every time they walked down the street in the hellish ghettos," and his bragging that “I really did quite well in the election among the blacks,” along with his incredible proposed budget, that his becoming President simply shows how deeply racism is engrained in the society. Nothing has really changed in 50 years in the soul of the country, indeed.

qedd© Jon Johanning 2011