BlacKkKlansman: Tracing the History of America’s Systemic Racism

Intro by Brandon

We need to talk about racism. As we recorded this, protests are still going across the country over racism and police brutality toward black people. In polite, white society, racism is the elephant in the room that we don’t want to talk about. Some people are claiming that racism doesn’t exist outside of a few hate crimes—holdovers from the old racist mobs of the early 20th Century. Others have been telling us for decades that racism is a pervasive system that’s much more far-reaching.

Spike Lee made this film, BlacKkKlansman, to connect the dots between the old-school KKK tactics of violence and the new wave of racism that’s infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives. While many mainstream films about racism portray it as a far-off bit of history that got wiped out decades ago, Lee is not afraid to show us how racism is alive and thriving in the modern era. He does this by showing us a turning point in the history of American racism, where racists changed their tactics to operate under the guise of legitimacy and legality.

This film hit a little close to home for many white people who have been reluctant to admit that they’ve benefitted from a system that was designed for them, and you see that in some of the negative reviews that this film garnered, which we talk about in the episode. For many white people, talking openly about racism is extremely uncomfortable, because we intrinsically know that privilege carries an ethical responsibility—it requires change, and many don’t want that. But having open conversations about race and racism is the first step in healing, and that’s why this film is so important right now, and it’s why we wanted to do this episode right now.

Maria and I talk pretty candidly about systemic racism in America, and that is the main focus of this episode. Being that this is a podcast about movies and mental health, we also spend some time talking about the mental health impact of racism, including prevalence rates of PTSD in black people versus white people. But the main goal of this episode is for Peculiar Picture show to join in on the conversation about race and inequality in America. That’s something I hope you’ll join us for in this episode of Peculiar Picture Show, the podcast that talks about movies, maladies, and mental health.

Show Summary

Overall Thoughts: Lays out the framework for systemic racism in America

B: Saw movie in theaters; recording episode on Juneteenth—I have a lot to learn about Black history; film has some interesting conversations because this was pitched by Jordan Peele, and I was nervous about it being a comedy, but it works; some parts were painfully real; negative reviews by some people expecting a thriller and didn’t realize how historically-driven this was

M: First time seeing this; we should be uncomfortable; some parts are just exactly what’s going on right now—very relevant

Like: Racists are real-life villains who will accept no compromise

B: Performances much better than I expected (a comedy); subject matter; gives a message extremely well; gives two different viewpoints about how to “fix” systemic racism (from the inside or the out), but doesn’t tell you if it’s right or wrong, because the victims of racism are people who believe either viewpoint

M: The message, particularly the David Duke parts; the ending

Dislike: White people get really uncomfortable talking about race

B: Lots of white people being uncomfortable and criticizing the movie—lots of false equivalence; Boots Riley criticized this film for being too sympathetic to police    

M: I agree with Boots Riley somewhat about the film not being damning enough against police; a little implausible that Ron was ordered to protect David Duke 

Mental Health: Racial trauma can cause lasting mental health issues

B: Racial trauma causes mental health issues; white people tend to think of racism as overt, but micro-aggressions count; white people constantly invalidate these micro-aggressions and gaslight BIPOCs when they bring this up

M: Movie takes place in the 1970s in Colorado; KKK in Colorado was very much part of the government and the police force; most of the monuments that glorify KKK/Civil War people were built in the 1900s to intimidate; Benjamin Stapleton was the mayor of Denver and hand-picked by the KKK to infiltrate politics/appoint KKK people to government positions, including police department positions; toxic masculinity and the police force in the U.S.

Quotes

B: White people are a lot more aware of this system and their privilege than they let on. You just kind of instinctively know, even though nobody wants to admit it.

B: The film gives you two viewpoints of how to affect change. In the end, the racists don’t care which of those viewpoints you have. The racists target both of them. And that was a powerful message, where we are not going to make peace with the racists or the racist system, no matter what we do here. 

B: Hell hath no fury like a white person mildly inconvenienced.

B: The point of the film was not to spend time humanizing these characters; it was to show the evil acts for what they are, because we hear these stories about horrible people doing horrible things, but we don’t really connect those to the real people standing behind the acts, and that’s what this film did. It gave us a clear picture of some of the bad things that people were doing and then pointed to the real people in the real world today who are doing those things. 

B: There needs to be some expectation and understanding that if you are a member of a group that oppresses others, even if you are not personally oppressing others, you need to take some responsibility for fixing that problem. And so simply coming back and saying “Not all men” or “Not all white people” does something to solve the problem. Basically, it’s you saying, “I will take no responsibility for this issue.”

M: We’re supposed to be uncomfortable. That’s the point. For a very long time, for the entire time this country has existed, Black, Indigenous, People of Color have been oppressed for so long and so uncomfortable, we need to be uncomfortable now. That’s the only way we’re going to see any change.

Resources

Books, movies, resources:

Average lifespan of a trans woman of color: (Note, upon researching, there are other sources that claim this to be inaccurate; one thing’s for certain—trans women of color aren’t researched enough to validate or invalidate the statistics.)

Racial trauma article

Stapleton/Denver/KKK

American Civil War

Police and domestic abuse statistics

Boots Riley vs. Spike Lee

Next Film

Get Out (2017)

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