I'm Not Racist... Am I?

Feb 7, 2018

A month-long community conversation about racism is going to take place in Charlottesville. And it starts Friday, February 9, with the screening of the documentary, I’m Not Racist… Am I?. The screening is happening, with the filmmakers present, at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. Some local schools, universities and libraries are also hosting the film, followed by public conversations about racism with the help of trained facilitators. WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini has this report.

[Background music from the movie]

“I’m Not Racist… Am I?”

[CLIP- TEENAGER: That is really hard.]

That’s the name of a movie that follows twelve New York City teenagers taking part in several workshops on structural racism over the course of one year, all the while witnessing their resulting internal struggles. Here’s Elizabeth Shillue, from the grassroots organization Beloved Community Cville.

ELIZABETH SHILLUE: Somehow it struck a deep cord within me; I thought about it for two weeks straight. It wasn’t just the topic that interest me - I’ve been exposed to a lot about racism, as many of us have - it was more the way in which the students in the film interacted with one another and their family members. They were willing to be vulnerable and take risks, and trust, and it resonated with me. They leaned into the discomfort of the conversations and grow as a result. And I immediately wanted to share it with other people in my hometown.

So she organized a first screening at the Paramount in 2015; and now, a second screening will take place there on Friday – which already sold out. Catherine Wigginton Greene, from Point Made Films, directed this movie. The making of the film, she says, also changed her.

CATHERINE GREENE: It really helped me clarify some things in terms of thinking about aspects to power, and the difference in thinking about - just because I have nice feelings about people of other races does not mean that I am doing the work required to dismantle a racist system.

That is one of the aspects addressed in the film.

[CLIP - FACILITATOR: People often connect being guilty with being in action and it’s not. Guilt is a feeling that we have. So, people I heard earlier like “Oh I feel guilty, I didn’t want to say something because I’d feel guilty about making someone cry, I feel guilty for saying this word…” Move past it people. Guilt is a feeling. I was feeling hungry at noon: I fixed it. I don’t think deconstructing racism is a feeling: it calls you to take some action.]

The film features a workshop called ‘Undoing Racism,’ by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. André Robert Lee, the producer of the film, had attended one before doing the movie.

ANDRE ROBERT LEE: I walked out of that room transformed, and I also became more curious about what it means to look at race from a structural point of view. For so long, as a lower income African-American male, I had internalized a lot of blame for my family's circumstances. Then I also felt a sense of dread, "Wow, this is a much bigger problem that I even imagined. If it is a structural problem, what should we begin to do about it?"

Well, starting an actual conversation is a first step – and that’s the goal of this screening. One will also take place at the Curry School of Education later this month. Here’s Martin Block, the Chair of the School’s Diversity Action Committee.

MARTIN BLOCK: We've been doing a year-long dialogue and community building on race and racial issues after what happened in August 11 and 12 in Charlottesville. As part of that theme, when this movie became available we said "this would be a perfect match for us, talking about racial issues." It's difficult to talk about these things so we wanted to have as many opportunities to talk about it as possible.

Joanna Williams, the Chair-elect of the same committee, has even in mind to do a survey to assess the film’s impact on the audience.

JOANNA WILLIAMS: There have been several recent scales that have been developed for use with young people in particular to assess: do they have awareness of structural inequalities that exist, and do they have a sense of agency in terms of being able to engage in them? So I, right now, have a relatively brief survey about 10 to 15 minutes proposed to give to people before they view the film. A couple of weeks after we'll give them the same survey and then we'll wait a couple of months and give them the survey one more time. It doesn’t get at the hows and whys, but we’ll assess whether or not there’s any change.

Change does not happen overnight, of course; it’s a process, says producer André Robert Lee.

ROBERT LEE: We're not going to fix it after one screening; but we are doing the work by engaging in difficult dialogue.

After Friday, the movie will be screened twenty more times in a dozen more venues around Charlottesville and Albemarle county. You can check the list of local screenings on belovedcommunity-cville.com.

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"I'm Not Racist... Am I?" is a 2014 movie following twelve NYC teens on their journey to understand structural racism. There will be a community-wide screening in Charlottesville and Albemarle throughout this month in various locations, which you can check out here