Posted by: ginalazenby | November 8, 2013

the delicate conversation about racism …

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with Dr Shakti Butler at the San Francisco screening of “Cracking the Codes”

…..it’s not an easy subject to talk about but it is one which film-maker Dr Shakti Butler is making more accessible to people via a thought-provoking new movie called “Cracking the Codes”.

I had the good fortune to be in San Francisco and receive an invitation to a special screening where Dr Butler facilitated a discussion. This really is the way to see a movie. First off the evening opened with a prayer (the venue was religious prep school St Ignatius) which created a very receptive atmosphere for Dr Butler to talk about the movie and encourage the audience to engage.

For openers, Shakti asked us to consider our gifts, what makes us who we are and how we might be operationalising those gifts. In considering ourselves we moved on to thinking about our connection with others and the need most of us have to re-connect with our collective spirit. What kind of respect do we have for ourselves .. for others?  Respect is another word for Justice which is very much what the movie delves into.

We took a dive into how history informs who we are.  Where do we come from, how do we get to identify ourselves?  What is our family history .. what are the untold stories?  As the movie opened we heard a woman speak about when she first learned how her great grandparents were slaves. Imagine the impact that might have you on you if you made this discovery as a child … that this unspeakable cruelty was part of your family history?

Shakti talked about racism being so deeply embedded in the structures of society that asking yourself if you are a racist has absolutely no value at all … it’s better to ask “What is happening in the system and how am I helping to perpetuate that system?” America’s dream of meritocracy is actually a myth as it does not apply to so many people in a society where racism has been so internalised that white people are socialised to take their dominance for granted. This was a very delicate message sensitively explored with personal stories shared.

The prevailing says that you get what you deserve if you work hard but most people can’t see the system which limits opportunity for so many people who are not white.  There is so much hidden inequality that, contrary to popular opinion, where you end up financially and materially is not solely dependent on your effort. Shakti presented her arguments for how racial injustice is so deeply embedded in the structures of society in such a way that you don’t feel personally targeted …. just inspired to resolve to find a way to make a difference in any moment that you can.

I very much enjoyed the movie and found it deeply moving, especially the individual stories of coloured people who shared their precious recollections of when they first became aware of their colour and their difference.  What I appreciated was the opportunity to have dialogue to reflect on what we were watching. I could hear gasps of breath behind me at the searing pain which some of the movie interviewees recollected in their stories. It was brave, uncomfortable and very well presented so you could not help but be engaged deeply. This is what cinema should be today – a community space to hear important stories and for us to talk about what they mean to us and what we can do.  Visit the website of World Trust founded by Dr Butler and read about their work and brave films. Highly recommended.

I’d be very interested in your feedback too if you see the movie

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