*A provocative PBS documentary, “American Denial,” examines racism partly through the prism of Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 groundbreaking research of Jim Crow racism in the Deep South to show that despite electing Barack Obama as the first African American president we are far from having a post-racial society in the U.S.
“We are still haunted by our own biases,” Lou Smith the Producer and Director of the documentary said.
Myrdal and African American political scientist Ralph Bunche began in 1938 traveling extensively throughout the South and released in 1944 a 1,483-page study on race called “An American Dilemma” that sought to explain what they called the “Negro Problem.” The two who would later become Nobel Peace Prize winners concluded in their research that it was not the Negro causing the problem of racial problems. They discovered many white people in America had their head in the sand about being responsible for racial bias. This film shows a similarity in America exists today.
“He was shocked to his very bones by what he saw,” documentary producer Christine Herbes-Sommers maintained.
Herbes-Sommers, President of Vital Pictures, says that Myrdal raised the question about how can a country so devoted to the American creed of opportunity and liberty for all tolerate such a system of injustice for African Americans?
“That is what we explore in the film. We explore that question,” Herbes-Sommers said.
Smith and Herbes-Sommers collaborated on the documentary for four years, assisted by several scholars and experts who discuss their research and in some instances their own experiences to bring home the point “that we are living largely with denial and denying the existence as it effects our outlooks, our institutions and that we do that at our own peril,” Smith, co-founder and project director at Blue Spark Collaborative, said.
You can take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) by going to http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/implicit-test. This test taken by more than two million people revealed that even the most consciously tolerant may hold prejudices.
American Denial premieres on PBS’ Independent Lens on Monday, February 23, at 10 p.m. ET.
Hear more of Tené Croom’s exclusive interview with Christine Herbes-Sommers and Lou Smith
By Tené Croom
On Twitter @TcTene