“I’m telling you, this place is the most racist place I’ve ever been to. September 10, it was Latinos and Blacks. And then September 11 came, and it’s Muslims. It’s a list. I top the list.” That’s Vera, student in the USA, in the film, If These Halls Could Talk.
She’s Palestinian, Israeli, not accepted by the racist Zionists, not accepted by the racist Americans, and not accepted by racist Arabs who see her passport is stamped Israel. Vera, like the other youth of color, is a powerful voice for the persistent racism of America, the white power-privilege of Americans who are not accepting, but who are judgmental, trapped inside the bodies of the dead historians, these white youth who are the benefactors of the history of genocide, slavery, enslavement, exploitation, divide and conquer, privilege, their own whiteness.
The Students: Jon, Julie, Will, Marilyn, Maiv Ntxhiav (Sia), Joe, Tyanne, Leif, Vera, and Carmela, and film assistants, Jahmelia and Marc. They were filmed in Berkeley, CA, and they are tackling some heavy issues around race, identity, white power-privilege-patriarchy-persistent racism in this new movie by an extraordinary humane and humble person.
Each one plays an important part to the whole, which is a compelling movie made by Lee Mun Wah. Here, the blurb, on TED Talks, laying out Mun Wah’s CV:
“Lee Mun Wah is an internationally renowned Chinese American documentary filmmaker, author, poet, Asian folk teller, educator, community therapist and master diversity trainer. He is the Founder and Executive Director of StirFry Seminars & Consulting, a diversity training company that provides educational tools and workshops on cross-cultural communication and awareness, mindful facilitation, and conflict mediation techniques. His most famous film about racism, The Color of Fear, won the Gold Medal for Best Social Studies Documentary and in 1995, Oprah Winfrey did a one-hour special on the film and Lee Mun Wah’s life.” TED Talk.
The reality is Mun Wah came to Vancouver, WA, Jan. 22 to talk to students, staff, faculty and administrators at the school I teach at and where I try and guide my young students toward a different narrative, history and paradigm. Make that school a Community College, the place the Obama Administration says will help change America. That same place where Bill Gates sees profits and future dumbdowned workers.
You will not see dumbdowned students in Mun Wah’s new film.
Mun Wah had a full day working with diverse groups and work-shopping with faculty and with students. The evening show, however, was all about the debut of this film and his own facilitation or debriefing or re-briefing of the material coming out of the documentary.
Bad turnout, beyond bad, really. And the people who SHOULD have been there, well, the white vanguard, the white faculty, male or female, hmm, empty, gone, watching Breaking Bad reruns? The school even provided free catered food, and alas, this is the state of things in academia – empty-empty seats.
The Reason: 1. Underpaid part-time faculty (seventy percent of the school’s faculty body), AKA freeway fliers; and overworked and overburdened and disconnected youth, or students of every stripe?
2. Lack of rallying of the school with these overpaid and over-bloated Amin, VP, deanlets really just pushing more work on us, more data collection to the dead-end defeat of education, more pomp and circumstance, more disconnection to the school.
3. We need better training, from pre-birth and onward. Our society is alienated, not happy, emotionless, disconnected, pushed into more and more boxes, i.e., technology boxes, and corporate America, education, and mass media, they all are bastardized by this sickness, this elitist belief that packaged education, delivered via i-Pad, well, that is the game to come.
People are not trained, birthed and helped to come out, to leave that digital womb. We need massive and quick change. Revolutionary change. Upheaval. Upturning the money-changers’ tables, their software schemes, all of it.
“He who writes” – Lee Mun Wah, as in his native tongue. Two months to find this name, his parents spent, before, well, before they named him Gary. Why? Because when his parents came to this country, his father had to change his name to Richard. If it’s not in English, names are not pronounceable. What would it take to change the world, he asks in the TED Talk. Children laughing at him when he shared in school what his Chinese name was, how it was pronounced, what it meant. He remembered in the first grade putting the lunch his parents packed for him – Chinese pork and chicken, all that sumptuous sauce — under his chair. Some child in the back said, “What’s that horrible smell?”
The smell of racism, out of the womb, something even more sickening than bigotry — self-loathing ignorance by the white class?
Lee Mun Wah as a child threw it away. He threw away a part of himself. Threw away his Chinese accent. He didn’t wear Chinese clothing in school. No one asked him to speak to them to learn Chinese words. “Ching-chong Chinaman,” the kids said, pulling up the corners of their eyes.
Then he talks about his adopted son, a Guatemalan youth: adoptive Chinese father and Dutch mother. At school, kids thought he was Chinese. Expected him to have all the answers, and he did. But when the students found out he was Guatemalan, the kids only talked to him about soccer.
Blending in. This loss.
This is what Lee Mun Wah talks about in this TED Talk, and he carried it over into his talks and workshops in Vancouver. He makes films. He does workshops. He tries to help people heal, and to understand differences, to understand language, food, culture, inner and outer expressions . . . all of those are part of people’s ancestors, people’s history.
Jon, one of the black students in this new film, this director’s cut, says, “There’s two ways to be numb—either you don’t accept it or you’ve been beaten up so much that that part of you is just numb. . . it’s like hitting dry skin, you know, it’s like, there’s no more life there.”
He says this because he knows what the Puerto Rican woman in the film is saying about the daily beatings, mental that is, from the white world around her. Constant racism, bias, bigotry, stupidity, by the dumb white race.
One of the white women, Carmela, who is Italian and from the Bronx, realizes that the talking Lee Mun Wah is eliciting from them in this film making, in prodding out the fears and anger of these young college students, is something foreign to her: “It’s not normal for whites to talk about race and racism constantly, constantly.”
Another black man, Marc, who is working behind the camera is called forth by Lee Mun Wah to participate, to crack open the held-back emotions of these students. As if all they had been saying for two days is coded language, sublimated words and ideas. No anger. But Marc has plenty. Saying that this anger is what he has left of a racist society, one that has taken away his past and his people, a society that has turned a black man into the enemy. He resents whites, and that anger he holds with honor, all that he has sometimes.
The idea of Obama and his blackness, or that he is a black man, well, Marc and Jon, another black man in the film, see Obama playing the game, playing the white man’s game, or being something he was not when he was younger – angry, intense, maybe. “He doesn’t act anything like the black men that I know,” Jon says.
This film is instructive, visceral, a real effort to put people, in this case, the white people who are participants, in the shoes and the mindset of people of color for just a short time. The anger, the fear, the resentment, the coding and suppression of self, or identity, that’s what these young adults unpack in this film. As outsiders, viewers, that is, we bear witness, and we have choices whether to bear and witness and go on, or change, and be changed, and fight for change, and make enemies of our own kind, this white broken tribe of capitalists and money changers. Tough choices in this corporate world, this Puritanical and Judea-Christian world where money and power trump everything, including mental and physical health, meaning, culture, even intelligence, the kind that makes a community whole, and shapes it, and holds it, and educates and feeds it.
These are youth looking at what has happened to themselves, how their own woman or man of color, their own ethnicity, has been stripped, colonized, corrupted: “This is blowing my mind. Do you realize that we as colored people have just catered to you for two days and we didn’t even know it?” Jon is in tears.
Jon, president of the Black Student Union at his school, is frustrated in his catharsis and epiphanies, tagged by how the four whites – two women and two men – have been catered to, hands held, guided instead of prodded and poked. How the whites’ lack of experiences, their lack of knowing, all those other lacking qualities, how their white dominating filter and lens are what they can only see and hold, and then, the men and women of color have been there in a sort of triage for white stupidity, angst, fear, lack of understanding, and the white kids’ own numb, emotionless inner selves, all products of a racist society that has made a civilization on the backs of millions of Native Americans, on the backs of slaves, on pillaging, eminent domain, stealing, corruption, broken treaties, incessant structure racism and chauvinism.
The eye opener is for many who will view this is that most people not of the white persuasion do not trust their own words and selves with the White Man/Woman, let alone their lives. Maiv Ntxhiav (Sia) says, “It’s really hard for me to trust white people. You only need me when you know I have the answer to that question. I feel like I’m being used.” She goes onto her experiences in college, where the various campus groups, like those housed in the diversity office, have to beg for money from the vanguard, the white majority: “To get funding for our events, we have to get the white people in there.” The funding is predicated on white people coming, or if not, “Our funding gets cut.
What is it to be a black man in this country? What exactly can you do, and will you look at the white man or white woman approaching you? This is bloody 2014, and these three young, smart, strong black men say they just do not dare to cross that white line in the sand – white people generally see other people on earth, in their own country, as not full human beings. Partial humanity. One false move, one hard glance, and a black man faces jail, police brutality, death:
“What are you going to say I did?” Marc asks. “All you have to do is make up a story. That’s how much power you have. That’s my life. In the blink of an eye, it’s extinguished. Because that one white person just made up a story.”
Lee Mun Wah illustrates this on a national scale, talking about Congressman John Lewis being spat upon, and when he protested, confronted him, looked for support, well, the white people around him said it didn’t. “Suddenly it ’didn’t happen.’ Texas school leaders decide the Civil War wasn’t about slavery it was about state’s rights, and “bam. The book gets changed.”
Lee Mun Wah asks, “History being re-written. What does it do? Can any person of color change a text book in America?” Recommended reading, even as far back as 1988, Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
This film is about a process of realizing, recognizing, and confronting the racist world of America. How the most racist place in America is not Sunday in America’s churches, but rather daily, in the thousands of school lunchrooms across the US of A.
Lee Mun Wah says, “Something came long before you, didn’t it? We cannot pretend. The only way it will get better is first we have to find out what is not working out. The work is to come outside of ourselves to try and understand what it is the other person is going through.”
This film and Lee Mun Wah generate those sparks, that new language of confronting the obvious that is sublimated, suppressed, covered up, washed over. This country may be in a new spasm of class warfare, and as we can see, maybe the African Americans that poll out in support of NSA or going after a whistle-blower hero like Edward Snowden – see Glen Ford’s piece here at DV – are confused, conflicted with this sort of black man as president, but the reality is this is a racist country, as is France, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, you name the white Caucasian or otherwise society. We have progressed so far in commercial America where maybe black Americans, part of the Consumopithecus Anthropocene species of our modern capitalism disease, are flipping their own history of exploitation, FBI crimes, hate-felonies by the USA, both the government and the governing Corps. Blacks polled in support of illegal, unethical, criminal surveillance of our total selves?
Actually, a diagnosis of collective African American mental illness, brought on by the sudden and unexpected advent of a nominally Black president, is the kindest analysis available. The alternative diagnosis is that Black folks were always closet reactionaries, who were just waiting for the emergence of a Black chief executive to show their true colors.
I’ll go with sudden onslaught of collective mental illness. The second theory is even crazier than the first.
Israel of all places? You’ve read about the racism and bigotry there –DV.
So here are some questions that demand immediate attention:
For many years we have been hearing about the heroic Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, we have also learned (from Jewish progressives) about Jewish ‘caring for the Other’, for ‘justice’ and for ‘equality’. How then, do we explain the clear discrepancy between the clear racism of the Jewish state and this Jewish ethical impulse? Furthermore, how can we explain the fact that Jewish Diaspora political institutions are amongst the leading advocates of pro-immigration policies yet Israel, as MK Ben Ari states, is “not an immigration state” — it is actually an anti-immigration apparatus.
Here, we detect a clear discrepancy between the Jewish Diaspora phantasmic, progressive mantra which attributes humanist and universal ethics to Jewish politics, and the reality of the Jewish state that is, itself, racist to the bone.
It is understandable that Max Blumenthal, David Sheen, and many Jewish Left persons and organizations are devastated by the scale of ‘new’ racism in Israel. But I ask myself, how would progressive Jews-only organisations such as JVP or IJAN react to 100,000 Sudanese attempting to join their ranks. Would they accept them? I think we all know the answer to that.
If Jews want to really oppose racism, they may want to consider cleansing their own political culture of any trace of exclusivism. But my guess is that, by the time they get round to this, they won’t be Jews anymore — they would have become ordinary people; they might even accomplish the early Zionist dream and become people like all other people.
The film, If These Halls Could Talk, is a story of mass hysteria of a white culture bred into their great-great’s offspring innate, inbred fear and revulsion of people of color. This film is a fishbowl of psychological drama, as Lee Mun Wah uses many cameras to capture the actors – normal, everyday people, youth – and their own fears of those people still in power, still in denial, still rotting inside with emotionless ids and egos, where their moneyed masters ply their goods, their Capitalist and Conquering goods, so the white offspring can be emotionally detached from their own participation in the killing fields, the school to prison pipeline, the massive theft of people of color’s wealth or potential to pass on something to children and grandchildren.
The system underneath or overarching this small but important psychoanalytical film is one of control, power, and viewing all others, those not white, as one-fifth or even nine-tenths HUMAN. What an absolutely devastating message to bring to campuses. If only they would come. Those Administrators, those faculty, those students.
If only we could know our history, confront the constant racism, sexism, ageism, constant hatred of radicals, constant berating of those who seek truth outside the curtained world of white dominion, well, that would be a new day under the sun.
“Until lions have historians, stories of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” –African proverb