On January 6th I watched a video of a police officer being beaten with all manner of weapons, including a pole wrapped in the American flag, until he was unconscious. An angry mob around him passionately chanted “U.S.A.” as they beat him. It’s an image I’ve been unable to shake…the irony of it all. For years I’ve heard my father proclaim in his thick patois accent “America a go dung di gully”. I always thought he was being hyperbolic, succumbing to media sensationalism. I hadn’t really given much thought to why he, who 20 years ago upended his comfortable life to move his entire family to start over from scratch in another country, would proclaim his new country’s downfall. Perhaps like my father, I came to realize that in so many ways America is not living up to the ideals we moved here for.
I hadn’t been able to avert my eyes from the feed of videos, pictures, bad takes, and endless analysis of the insurrection at the US Capitol. What stands out most to me is how easily it happened. How easy it was for an angry mob to chase America’s elected leaders in the highest levels of government out of their offices. It was easy for that mob to weaponize their privilege to storm what should be one of the most secure compounds in the world.
Privilege is the access or opportunities a person or group of persons have that is not shared by others. In modern American cinema, the kind of privilege that we saw on January 6 — white male privilege, is the freedom to tell their unique stories without the context of historic oppression from another group. Black stories in American cinema don’t have that privilege because of the long tail of racism in this country. Black stories, if they are authentic stories, have to present the context of racism. It’s because the legacy of that oppression is so much a part of the black experience in American life — even in 2021. Whether rich or poor. Regardless of where you live. Most times in subtle ways and sometimes not. To tell a black American story without the context of the legacy of racism is to tell fantasy. As an immigrant, I can tell you that this phenomenon is uniquely American.
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