This is a show about oppression and the damage it does to us. Most important is the adult oppression of children. Everywhere in the world children are hurt very early by the irrational behavior of adults. This causes severe patterns of distress resulting in hurtful behavior.
Later in life we re-enact these distress patterns on our own children or on each other e.g. in sexist, racist, nationalist, totalitarian, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, homophobic, age, handicap or class oppression.
In most of us these patterns have become so chronic that we become defensive when challenged and end up blaming the victims. We dare not face the fact that in such systems we are both victims and oppressors.
There are few places in the world where the main ingredients of oppression are as blatant as in the relationship between blacks and whites in the USA. From this tragedy we can all learn something about ourselves.
Watching this show, it is important to understand the damage we go through in a segregated society.
Black or white, we are born naturally open and curious with no inborn racial biases. Then things go wrong. We hear things like "Niggers are dirty, stupid and lazy. They belong on the bottom."
For the loving and affectionate child this is irrational, confusing and hurtful. While we are hurting our mind no longer thinks rationally and a rigid scar is created on our thinking. After years of such hurtful messages we end up accepting and internalizing these limited definitions of ourselves and our society.
As seen through the eyes of a foreigner this show is about how such racial attitudes cripple our character, whatever our color. Though there is plenty of racism in Europe, I was fortunate to have my childhood in Denmark during years when I was not severely hurt by social insecurity and racist conditioning.
I was also fortunate that the first people I stayed with in America were not white. Most European visitors stay first with white Americans, who warn them, "Don't walk three blocks this way or two blocks that way," and immediately frighten them into accepting white fear and rigid segregation.
My experience was just the opposite. The first American home to take me in was a black home on the south side of Chicago. With all their love, warmth and openness, I immediately felt at home and saw whites only as cold distant faces on TV or in hostile suburbia. Later, traveling into the white world, I was no longer as vulnerable to its racist patterns of guilt and fear.
I hitch-hiked 118,000 miles and stayed in over 400 homes in 48 states. I had arrived with only $40. Twice a week I sold my blood plasma to earn the money I needed for film. Traveling in such a deeply divided society inevitably was a violent experience:
4 times I was attacked by robbers with pistols, 2 times I managed to avoid cuts from men with knives, 2 times frightened police drew guns on me, 1 time I was surrounded by 10-15 blacks in a dark alley and almost killed, 1 time I was ambushed by the Ku Klux Klan, several times I had bullets flying around me in shoot-outs, 2 times I was arrested by the FBI, and 4 times by the Secret Service.
I lived with 3 murderers and countless criminals..... ...but I have never met a bad American!
That I survived I
owe to my stubborn belief in these words by Jose Marti:
I hope you will share
my love for this country while you see the show.... ....and afterward
work together - black and white - to undo the hurt we do to each other
and thus heal the division and violence we inflict on our society. To
begin our painful journey toward that goal, let us take a boat trip together....
In my vagabond years in the 70's most Americans seemed to feel good about themselves and I found hardly any Klan-activity.
But the increasing mistreatment of children I have seen since then, seems to go hand in hand with the rise of the clan.
Today I meet people far worse than the Ku Klux Klan.
One night recently I picked up Tommy, this dirt poor hitchhiker in Mississippi, who told me that he and his two brothers had personally killed so many blacks, that they had lost count of them.
- I don't know
if he killed the first two I got blood on me from, I know he busted his
head open real bad.
- Still? What
year is this?
- Right here is where this guy fell after my brother stabbed him. That may be the cops. Right here is where he fell. I'll show you where he got stabbed at. He got stabbed right on the other side of this telephone pole, right here. And then he ran ten feet and fell. Let's go before the cops are coming 'cause they are bad here at night time.
- What did
he actually say?
- He walked over there and he says, 'Hey, did you meet your maker?' and he stabbed him. The guy's eyes rolled to the back of his head and Pete twisted the knife and then he pulled it out. The blood, when it came out, it hit me and Butch.
- How did it happen
- Butch started beating him in the head with some bottle that he had. And then Pete started kicking him and stuff - and when they had him on the ground bleeding and where he couldn't move, Pete just stomped him until he died. The only thing I've never seen Pete do, was go out and run over the niggers that he used to go out and run over. But I've seen blood on the car and....like I said, I took T shirts and shirts and stuff like that out from under the car after he ran them over. I've seen him beat up many, many niggers many times and leave them for dead.
- How many would
As always with violent
people, I asked about his childhood.
(His father, who also had killed blacks, had once ripped out the womb of Tommy's mother, his brother told me five years later.)
- From as early
as I remember I've got whippings from my mom. She used to come in drunk....
She would hit you anywhere she could hit you. When she whips you with
a board, if you move and it hits you somewhere else, you shouldn't have
It is important always to give such children of pain all the love and affection we can muster.
In my travels I have often been amazed how little caring it takes to make these encapsulated and discouraged people raise their heads again and feel better about themselves.
People, who feel good about themselves will not hurt other people or even think badly of them. Only people in deep pain wish to harm others.
All the violent racists I meet these days have without exception been mistreated or humiliated in childhood.
The cross burnings and swastikas are just their inept cry for our help and attention, and it takes so incredibly little nurturing from us to help them out of their oppressive patterns. Five years later I found some of Tommy's victims, such as April's family, who had been stabbed by Tommy in their sleep.
Their shattered lives needed similar nurturing not to be be destroyed by the paralyzing fear and unforgiving hate they had developed toward fellow citizens.
Knowing how easily such hatred perpetuates itself led the new black government in South Africa to pardon all racial crimes committed under apartheid.
My friend Tommy is beginning to understand that since he has never had anybody to help him heal his pain, he had turned it outward against blacks in such a horrifying way that he could describe how they tortured and murdered every one of their victims and dumped them in Mississippi's rivers and swamps.
- Did you usually
get rid of them by throwing them in rivers and swamps?
No whites can fully comprehend the enormous psychological pressure of constantly being told that you are worth less than us.
The worst damage we inflict is when our victims begin to believe and internalize our low expectations of them.
Everywhere in the world effective oppression will make the oppressed collude with their oppressor, but nowhere have I seen it so crushing as in the US.
Cruel invalidations such as "You ain't shit, nigger" I constantly hear reverberate in underclass families.
They instill in each other our deep racist feelings for them and the gloomy prospects of being banished to a permanent existence in the shadow of white society.
The hope, I found among blacks in the 70's, has everywhere today been replaced by self-blame. Wilma, with whom I often discuss such issues all night in her little shack between my campus lectures, expresses in black words what my white audiences today think, but dare not say:
- They are holding
me down, I know that. My own kind are holding me back. I am afraid of
them. My life is endangered by my own people.
In the hope and optimism
of the 70's, I would never have believed that racism could worsen so much
that I would one day sit and defend the victims against themselves.
But today we have become so isolated from each other that blacks - whom we now ruthlessly bombard with Bill Cosby fantasies about how they are free - for the first time in history have difficulties identifying their oppressor and therefore without hesitation look for the cause of their growing pain within themselves.
And once we succeed in convincing oppressed people that they are their own worst oppressors, everything falls apart.
Neither their earnings nor sense of self worth are great enough to recreate the nuclear family we constantly hold up as the only model, and the sense of hopelessness and failure drives families apart.
When everything shows that whites no longer feel so good about themselves either, it is perhaps as difficult to find real love under the crystal chandeliers of the self-made millionaire as among those confined to "shacking together" in the glow of the kerosene lamp. For nobody who felt really good about themselves could possibly oppress so devastatingly as we do today.
And the victim is not only the black family, but increasingly the children.
We middle class whites, who love to mention that one of our best friend is black -- to attain moral stature and black recognition -- and who love to denounce the more primitive racism of others -- we continually forget that bigots like the Ku Klux Klan are deeply victimized "losers" who have themselves been so shut out of the American dream that they are without any power to affect the overall quality of black life today.
Students in black universities often laugh at the Klan speech in my show, for they know all too well that their pain and exclusion is not caused by a few hooded nuts out in the woods, but by us - the great majority of "good" law-abiding citizens - who are today silently forcing millions of blacks into ghettoes, isolation, despair - and finally prisons and death.
In our white guilt from not living up to our own lofty democratic ideals and Christian values we escape into Bill Cosby shows to cover up for our ultimate crushing of the black family.
Today more than 70% of black children grow up without a father and one in ten without either parent - twice as many as when I first came to America - and three times as many as under slavery.
Therefore the grandmother increasingly becomes the life saver for many.
Black students, who here around year 2000 manage to succeed and get into college in spite of this - the black family's worst oppression since the slave auctions - often tell me that precisely the grandmother was their saving angels.
Copyright © 1997 AMERICAN PICTURES; All rights reserved.