“Racism, another story of America”, on Netflix: the origins of the living racist thought

“At the heart of racism is denial, the constant search for ways to deny the persistence of racism,” explains American historian Ibram X

“Racism, another story of America”, on Netflix: the origins of the living racist thought

“At the heart of racism is denial, the constant search for ways to deny the persistence of racism,” explains American historian Ibram X. Kendi. Director of the new research center on antiracism at Boston University, he is the author of several essays on the theme. The documentary by Roger Ross Williams, offered by Netflix, also uses the French title of one of them, Stamped from the Beginning. The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Alisio, 2021), winner of the prestigious National Book Award in 2016.

A bestseller across the Atlantic, in which Ibram How can we explain that, despite centuries of struggles and victories, the anti-racist fight has not yet been won?

Between historical research and anti-racist educational manual, Roger Ross Williams echoes this formidable work. He methodically deciphers the construction of mystifying narratives about black people – invention of race, myth of assimilation, legends of hypersexuality, myth of the white savior (such as Presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln), mythology of the black criminal… –, which make African-American thinkers and activists invisible.

Deep and subliminal anchoring

Patiently, crossing texts, current images and representations through cultural works (cinema, painting, television series, literature, advertising and social networks), Roger Ross Williams demonstrates the deep and subliminal anchoring of fabricated prejudices and their perpetuation in constantly renewed forms. It shows how these stories allow those who are in a position to tell them and who will benefit from them to trigger and justify the domination and unleashing of racial violence.

The power of the film lies in this ability to make visible what the process of racial hierarchy transforms into a tacit norm, here as in so many other latitudes. The director judiciously reverses the focus: the demystifications are carried out by more than a dozen black intellectuals, sociologists, historians, writers, often teachers; and the viewer's attention is focused on figures such as the writer Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897), the poet Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) or the pioneering investigative journalist Ida B. Wells (1862-1931). in their field.

The care taken in the staging, whether on the musical choices or on the fact that the fourth wall is permanently broken, culminates with the animations of the American studio Awesome Modest, which produced anti-racist imaginations. Because, with this imagery and these narrations, punctuated by the vibrant speeches of the writer Maya Angelou (1928-2014), the civil rights activist William Haden, or even the member of the Black Panther Party Stokely Carmichael (1941 -1998), Roger Ross Williams and Ibram slavery, segregation, lynchings, mass incarceration, police violence…