By Rabria Moore
The Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement (CICCE) in partnership with the Oxford Film Festival hosted a virtual conversation Monday night about the documentary film, “I’m Not Racist…Am I?” giving attendees an opportunity to openly discuss and deconstruct racism with the filmmakers.
“If we enter into a conversation, and our intention is to be sanctimonious, to be right or to have some kind of leverage to start a fight, that’s probably not the most effective way to do this,” said film director Catherine Wigginton Greene. “If you’re truly trying to find a different solution, outcome, open eyes or connect with someone and try to have them see something differently because you believe it’s important to liberation and justice, then I think that’s a beautiful place to be.”
The documentary features 12 teenagers who come together to talk about structural systemic racism and how to interrupt it through a series of workshops and conversations with family and friends.
“The motivation behind making [the film] was to find some way to help people think about how to deconstruct racism,” said the film’s producer, Andre Robert Lee. “How to understand what it is first, then find some way to move into taking it apart, because race is a very complex system that we’re all caught up in.”
Throughout the process, the students learned more about themselves, who they are, how they “show up” and how much they did not know about racism. According to Lee, most of the students did not know how prevalent racism was, nor did they understand it from a systemic perspective.
“[Racism] is a program that is connected to laws, practices and policies that influence our lives,” Lee said.
The film was released in 2014, and the students featured have each since followed their own paths. According to Greene, the experience from this film allowed them to go into the world and look at American society through a completely different lens.
In their 2018 book, “Systemic Racism in the United States: Scaffolding as Social Construct,” authors Robbie W.C. Tourse, Nancy J. Wewiorski and Johnnie Hamilton-Mason talk about how individuals perpetuate systemic racism by conforming to the laws and regulations of society, helping racism operate without always being blatant.
Lee thinks that systemic racism prevails in many places in America because there has not been an honest discussion on how an entire culture was brought to the United States to work the land, and what that means for the country. He said that the university should challenge itself and engage in dialogue because it is an important step in helping the community find a way to move forward.
CICCE Assistant Director Sarah Piñón said she hopes this film and conversation helped individuals on campus deepen their understanding of self and others, through racial and other social lenses.
“Talking about race and understanding its impact on society and our own community is an important conversation to have now and continuing forward,” she said.
During the conversation that took place after the film screening on Facebook, Lee cautioned that all parties have to agree to not only show up, but also participate in a conversation that could end in chaos.
DeArrius Rhymes, founder and vice chair of the UM Black Caucus, said that having an open conversation is the first step to confronting racism, but also thinks that the benefits of the conversation depend on the individuals involved.
“If (the conversation) involves Black people or white people who have already identified as allies in the Black community, is it a lost cause?” he asked. “(A conversation) is definitely the first step, but I think the next step is making sure people who need to hear it are there too.”
For Rhymes, the spread of wealth, resources and knowledge about (race) will encourage greater strides racially, but he also believes that some people do not understand that the playing field has to be equalized.
A national survey, conducted by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, interviewed 1,000 Americans who were 18 and older to find out their opinions on race, policing and systemic racism. It found that only 43% of respondents believe that Blacks need help from the government to improve their social and economic position while 57% of the respondents are either undecided or opposed to systemic help.
The study concluded that many whites say Blacks are discriminated against, but those same individuals do not agree that the lack of opportunities for Blacks means more opportunities for whites.
Lee believes that things have improved, but he does not see an end to racism in his lifetime because of how deeply ingrained it is. Despite that, he said it is powerful to watch the younger generation confront racism. He hopes that future generations will do the same.
“Your generation is much more comfortable talking about it and fighting against it,” Lee said. “It’s not that you figured it all out, but you’re standing stronger in your roots and in your personal self-worth and belief, and I hope that continues to grow.”