‘I Am Not Your Negro’ hits race nerve

HOLLYWOOD, CA-Some things may change but yet they remain the same. Race relations in America is one of those dynamics. More distinguishable is how black people are treated here in this country. As much as America likes to brag about its improvement on race since slavery, there are still a lot of harbored hatred for the Negro.

Today, Muslims and immigrants are facing the backlash of storefront racism that black Americans have long experienced. Just look at what has happened around the country in the last several years, particularly since the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.

Hundreds of reported hate crimes has taken place since Trump beat out Hillary Clinton for the highest office in the land, something the Justice Department is carefully monitoring.

“Earlier this week, the FBI released its statistics on hate crimes committed in 2015.  These numbers should be deeply sobering for all Americans,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said recently in a released statement. “Among other alarming trends, the report showed a 67 percent increase in hate crimes committed against Muslim Americans.  It also showed increases in the number of hate crimes committed against Jewish people, African Americans, and LGBT individuals.  Overall, the number of reported hate crimes increased six percent – a number that does not account for the many hate crimes that may go unreported out of shame or fear.

“Beyond these 2015 statistics, I know that many Americans are concerned by a spate of recent news reports about alleged hate crimes and harassment.  Some of these incidents have happened in schools.  Others have targeted houses of worship.  And some have singled out individuals for attacks and intimidation.  The FBI is assessing, in conjunction with federal prosecutors, whether particular incidents constitute violations of federal law.”

The great writer James Baldwin. Courtesy photo
The great writer James Baldwin. Courtesy photo

What’s happening now is a re-opening of an old, ugly wound that America has not healed itself from. Director Raoul Peck’s masterpiece on the writings of James Baldwin’s take on race in the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” dives head on in this dilemma. Well, it’s not really a dilemma for black people to solve.

It is a matter of white America coming to grips about its blatant trampling of human rights when it comes to its African American citizens and to people of color.

To Baldwin, it is white America who have to figure out the meaning of nigger, and why does that word mean so much to them.

When all else fails, whites have historically used the word “nigger” as some sort of whitewash atonement to ignorantly cleanse themselves of being in the same air space of blacks.

Yet when it became convenient to them, white men and their white male privilege card, were the ones going backdoor to slave shacks to rape black women.

Meanwhile, as the white master was getting his “Jungle Fever” thirst quenched long before Spike Lee’s movie came around, the white woman stood around tending the house and minding her business. The white female didn’t dare get in the way of her white husband having his sexual appetite satisfied by this dark creature with bush-like hair and the features of a goddess.

The white man has always taken things when it comes to the Negro. He took his woman, he diminished his self-worth as a human being, tried to destroy his legacy and wreck confusion in his community. He then snatches away his life like swatting away a fly on a piece of bread.

Lynchings, bombings, and the use of the gun, black people have always been regulated to violence at the hands of an unapologetic white America. Sooner or later, though, the debt collector on America’s racial sins towards black people and people of color, will come calling as Baldwin lays down triggers of this societal chaos.

Drifting back into the past as Baldwin recalls the haunting murders of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and the eventual take down of the Black Panther Party, and in and and out to the present with footage of the Rodney King beating and today’s rallying cry of police brutality, Peck gives us a chilling film that is extremely timely as we examine our nation’s race affairs.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Those affairs are no more clearer than they were in the 1950s and 60s, when riots raged all over and the dividing of race in the form of Jim Crow laws, didn’t help make America great. Instead, the race friction inked a long-lasting stain that is still being felt.

Baldwin, one of the great writers of all-time, white, black or otherwise, highlights this pressing matter. In one of his most pointed lines in “I Am Not Your Negro,” which screened at AFI Fest 2016 and hits theaters everywhere Feb. 3, 2017, Baldwin rebukes this word and the power white America has used in lowering the equal rights status of black people just to empower themselves in order to be treated like false gods.

“I’m not a nigger. I’m a man, ” Baldwin quips in the film.

For all of the progress this country has made in the stride to open its hearts to diversity, the persistent issue of racism hovers over it like a dark cloud ready to rain down bigotry and separatism at the drop of a hat.

The black man and the black woman exists under these murky conditions in America. That’s the way it has always been.  Now that Mr. Trump has been elected President, that dark cloud has gotten a bit more darker to a lot of people.

It is a more angst time for some people who believe the re-kindling of white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan has been revived thanks to the divisive rhetoric spewed by Trump on the campaign trail.

So when you consider the timing of the release of “I Am Not Your Negro,” just a couple of weeks after Trump officially takes office, the subject of race and race relations in this country will probably take on heightened awareness.

That awareness includes spreading the word about voting rights and the oppression of minorities. Peck makes you feel every nuanced detail of pain, struggle, pride and heartbreak in “I Am Not Your Negro.”

Peck takes us on a thoughtful journey of reflective contemplation by Baldwin, who has built up great admiration for the three civil rights leaders and is deeply enamored by their skills to organize, unite and force America to change its wicked and racist ways.

It is his detailed anguish over the murders of Martin, Malcolm and Medgar that Baldwin releases his most powerful thoughts on being black in America. He doesn’t hold back, rather one might make the argument that Baldwin unleashes.

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1084 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.