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Racism, Injustice, and Powerful Stories: Eight Suggested Films & Books

”Wash yourselves and be clean!  Let me no longer see your evil deeds.  Give up your wicked ways.  Learn to do good.  Seek justice.  Help the oppressed.  Defend the orphan.  Fight for the rights of widows.” — Isaiah 1:16-17

In Christ, I am a Christian before anything else.  In America, I am a black man above everything else.  This racial identity was man made, dividing God’s people in ways rarely spoken out loud.  These thoughts and feelings, lurking in our hearts, are not even whispered for fear God may hear.  The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have rained down on the hot asphalt of our society, bringing back those old smells of racial injustices paved into our country.   

As Christians, we are called to intercede in our society with pierced hands and feet to bring healing.  Throughout the past two weeks, I have been encouraged by people from different races and ethnicities desiring reconciliation and seeking understanding.  However, in order to give proper aid, study is required.  Though far from a complete list, these films and books are great resources to start your own research.

TV and Film

Roots (2016)

A remake of the landmark 1977 series, Roots follows Kunta Kinte and his descendants from the Middle Passage through the Civil War.  Boosting greater historical accuracy and a grander cinematic scope, Roots captures the brutal bleakness of black people during slavery.

Fruitvale Station (2013)

Director Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan’s (Black Panther) inaugural team up was an autobiography based on Oscar Grant, a young black man killed while being detained by an Oakland transit police officer.  Starting with a grainy cell phone video of his murder, melancholy colors this film as it follows Oscar’s last day alive. 

13th (2016)

There have been several cases of white people calling the police on black people in every mundane setting from sitting by a pool to pointing out leash laws in parks.  Where did the idea of dangerous black men originate?  Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary takes a deep dive into America weaponizing ideas of black criminality starting after slavery into our current time.

Selma (2014)

Though the Civil Rights movement is hailed as a watershed moment in American history, Selma doesn’t deal in platitudes or assumptions.  Selma’s power lies in seeing Dr. King at his most tired and vulnerable.  The climatic and violent march scene features police attacking peaceful demonstrators, echoing today’s protest and paralleling how much things have remained stagnant.  

Books

Black Boy (1945)

Rather than looking at full frontal racism, Richard Wright’s memoir presents black disenfranchisement.  Wright examines his deep poverty, unrelenting religious upbringing (Wright became an atheist) and Communist Party association during the 1930s. 

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014)

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”  This statement encapsulates lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s belief of our legal system.  With Walter McMillian’s story serving as the book’s through line, he explains how many death row inmates and minors receive subordinate representation but inordinate punishment.  As the title suggest, it implores readers to understand broken humans and have mercy for our most vulnerable citizens.

Devil in the Grove (2012)

Segregation was not just separation; it went hand and hand with humiliation and annihilation.  This book captures the native fear black people felt in America.  In 1949, four black men were arrested for a phantom assault of a white woman.  The men were innocent, but this did not stop them from being convicted and jailed.  Reading more like a thriller than historical text, Devil in the Grove provides a visceral front row seat view of systemic hate. 

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2011)

On the surface, this is an unorthodox choice. Ironically, Dietrich’s trip to America and exposure to black persecution galvanized his faith (seeing personification of Jesus’ suffering) and served as a pillar to support his later stance against Nazism.  This is a bear of a book but it’s a worthwhile read, bearing great gifts of wisdom from a hero of the faith.  

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