Witnessing #IAmNotYourNegro

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Blown away. Shaken to my core. Embraced in all my pain about race in this country and finally, a vehicle to give voice to it, intelligently. That is #IAmNotYourNegro ‘s impact on me.

The magnitude of the impact of this film is immeasurable. The power of James Baldwin’s emotional and intellectual dissection of race relations in the U.S. and how it foreshadows present times is haunting. It will resonate with those of us who grew up with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne and Stepin Fetchit images-and the grainy black and white police dog films. This film made masterful use of cultural media references which are emblazoned on our brains (archival film and photos), revealed in a way that demonstrates the high art of film editing. It juxtaposed White America with Black America in a way that caused gasps in the audience (e.g. smiling Doris Day; cut to a black lynched body).

So, beyond the pleasure of seeing of documentary filmmaking of the highest order, what were my key take-aways?

1. Was Barack an illusion?

2. “They needed us to pick the cotton and now they don’t need us anymore. Now they don’t need us and they’re going to kill us all off.” — James Baldwin. Discuss.

3. The power of intellectual comprehension as an escape valve.

1. Was Barack an illusion?

If you adjust for the current state (the way we adjust GDP dollars for current value), are race relations any better in 2017 than they were in 1968? I mean, of course we have Blacks with advanced degrees, a few CEO’s, some TV/movie/record deals…but, adjusted for the passage of time, is our progress an illusion? Barack won his way into office, creating a huge backlash effect that has resulted in this current “so-called” administration, which has me longing for the Nixon/Reagan/Bush — any damn other “Republican.” Two steps forward, five steps back. There’s an interesting account of comments from Bobby Kennedy, where, sometime in the 60’s, he says “If they do well, maybe in the next 40 years maybe one of them can become President…(paraphrased)” Really? Maybe we’ll do well enough? Thank you massa for bein’ so good to us. Then the person they allow is President Obama, who we love but whom we also know is not your prototypical Black American.

An illusion of progress? I have eloquent letters that my father wrote to his employer in 1965 inquiring about why he was not given promotions and was passed over time after time. Fast forward to 2015 and I’m writing the same damn letters. Excuse me for being cynical about progress. My Father would be proud of my resistance.

2. “They needed us to pick the cotton and now they don’t need us anymore. Now they don’t need us and they’re going to kill us all off.” — James Baldwin. Discuss.

When I drive through the Tenderloin in San Francisco, or the homeless camps/tent cities under the highways in Oakland, I see a mass of people who seem like an excess burden on this American society. Seems like we were brought here for economic reasons, but there was no plan for a) eventual freedom b) incorporation into mainstream society. My son Brandon, studying eighth — grade U.S, history, has come across comments from Jefferson, Lincoln and others who saw the greatest challenge to freeing the slaves was “What happens to them when they are free? Do we send them back?” No one seems to have figured that out, thus we have the “Negro problem”. Kill us all off? Mass incarceration.

3. The power of intellectual comprehension as an escape valve.

One way to cope with the massively oppressive facts above — with the “inconsolable pain” as James Baldwin described it – is to write about it. James’ pain came from seeing his friends Medgar, Malcolm and Martin all gunned down. Something great that happened at Felecia Horowitz’s screening of the film in San Francisco last Saturday — that was that we heard Shaka Senghor speak about the power of words. “Art is a great form of rebellion. Words and unapologetic use of them are powerful.” James Baldwin’s words, shared as the narration for “I Am Not Your Negro”, seek to unpack his intellectual wrestling with these truths. Shaka and others have taken up the pen and are writing in brave new ways about the Black American experience. It’s so cathartic for me to unpack in a similar way, seeking to process current times with a mind towards historical facts. This is why I think the election of this current administration is so horrifying for my White friends, but so “Yeah, I’ve been disappointed before” for me. (Refer back to my prior blog “Status: Checked Out.” It’s me seeking sanity in an insane circumstance.) This film was perfect for me, for this moment of seeking to comprehend the incomprehensible. Here’s to hoping it enlightens you in a similar way. Go. See. #IAmNotYourNegro. Now.

Gail Moody – Byrd is currently Center of Excellence Lead, Digital Governance, at SAP, where she advises 25 social media teams globally on strategy, structure and performance. She earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA in Economics from Spelman College. Gail was named AdAge Top Digital Marketer in 2013 and 2014 a FierceCMO Woman to Watch in B2B Marketing in 2014. The views expressed here are Gail’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of her employer.

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