Jeffrey Robinson, the central figure of Sony Pictures Classics’ Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, says that despite a long-held belief across the nation that America has been a post-racial society, only now is the country being forced to reckon with that false narrative.
Joined by filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, Robinson, a former ACLU deputy legal director whose bracing presentation on anti-Black racism and white supremacy forms the core of the film, said during Deadline’s Contenders Film: Documentary awards-season event that the reality of America’s racial mythology is only now being examined in a meaningful way.
“The South may have lost the Civil War, but they won the peace,” Robinson said, “by creating this narrative that allows us to think…any disparities that you see in our country are based on Blacks just not working hard enough, whites being more industrious. And those are very easy things to believe, especially when it doesn’t require you to look at why these disparities are really existing.”
“That’s an answer that lets you go home at night and sleep very comfortably, but it’s just not the truth,” Robinson added. “And the truth is hiding, but it’s hiding in plain sight.”
Robinson said that enduring false narrative about race in America has been an effort to keep control, now and in the future. “If the narrative is there is no more racial prejudice, that it ended many, many years ago, and everything has been a level playing field since then – if that is the narrative, then it’s like, ‘Well, it must be the Black community’s fault that all these disparities exist, and we don’t have anything to do with it.’
“But that narrative is based on a myth,” he explained. “And people want to hold on to their myths very strongly. And I would suggest that that’s what’s going on in America right now, is people are scared to lose their myths.”
Referencing the 2020 protests that erupted following the murder of George Floyd, Sarah Kunstler said seeing Black and white protesters uniting in equal force and well as the current pushback against increasing attempts to limit voting rights signals a tipping point in shattering those long-held myths.
“It seemed to be a moment where both were people of all races in this country were saying ‘Enough is enough. We will not take this anymore,’ ” she said. “You know we’re at a critical moment because of the reaction to try to push back that moment, to try to stem the tide. How do we know we’re at a moment of change? We’re know we’re at that tipping point because the of the resistance that movement is getting.”
The documentarians – the daughters of legendary attorney and civil rights activist William Kunstler – were compelled to bring Robinson’s message to life on the screen.
“Jeff does such a great job in his presentation of drawing this line from 400 years ago through to today in a way that really helps you understand the world we live in, in a new and different way,” said Emily Kunstler.
Check back Tuesday for the panel video.