I've been researching local videographers for a little project. Getting recommendations was easy - after all, everyone knows someone with a camera and an empty pocket. Finding someone who can tell a compelling story in a short amount of time has been much harder. Desperate for inspiration, I turned to some of my favorite short films. I think you'll enjoy them, too. (And if you know any enterprising videographers, get at me)
There's a lot to love about Minnesota - the pristine lakes, rivers, and streams (we've got over 90,000 miles of shoreline, dontcha know), the festivals, the clean streets, and our ever-inventive ways to stay busy through long winters come to mind. But we also have serious issues. Knowing that Minnesota has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation when it comes to things like education, jobs, and incarceration doesn't exactly put my mind at ease.
I recently traveled to Washington, DC for a training. Being there opened my eyes to an entirely different dynamic: race and class and nationality, all mixed together. I ducked into the Chinatown Panera to receive an important call. Having just come from a meeting, I was wearing a smart navy blazer - weave on point, eyebrows on fleek. Seriously, I looked good. Inside, the security guard, a West African man, briefly glanced at me as I purchased a self-serve coffee. A young Black American woman came in, followed by an older white woman. She approached the steps to access the seating area.
"WHERE ARE YOU GOING? You can't sit at the tables unless you're a PAYING customer!"
The security guard then turned to the white woman, saying, "Sorry for the inconvenience ma'am, steps are this way."
The young Black woman turned on her heels, incensed. "Why shout at me about being a paying customer when you know you can seat yourself and order your food from the table? Why are you falling all over yourself to help this white lady? She's my AUNT. I'm treating her to lunch! Why are you typecasting?"
Instead of digging a hole deep into Panera's tiled floor and throwing himself away for being so discriminatory, the security guard doubled down. "I'm not doing anything wrong! You people come in here, this is for PAYING customers. I have to make sure you can PAY."
It was bad.
I caught up with the woman briefly, offering to back her up with a complaint to the manager. I asked, "Does this kind of thing happen often around DC?" Her answer: "Hell, yeah."
Granted, I'm aware of the tensions that can exist between Black Americans and African immigrants. My first year of college, an Ethiopian friend of mine once complimented my hardworking nature by telling me my "Nigerian side won over". (What? As if my Black American ancestors weren't forced to work for free, for hundreds of years). My interactions with recently-immigrated Africans versus US-born Black Americans have been fraught with confusion. This is further complicated by my having a Nigerian immigrant father and a Black American mother. I recall being called "African Booty Scratcher" by Black American kids and people mocking my name. But I've also had Africa-born folks swear up and down to me that the racism experienced by Black Americans is self-created and totally in our heads.
Still, witnessing the Panera ordeal was surreal.
The inter- and intracultural issues among Minnesotans of color are complex. Really complex. For some reason, I'd assumed that the "crabs in a bucket" school of thought wasn't as prevalent in places where people of color aren't in the extreme minority. The Panera incident shook me out of my naive stupor.
I loved seeing so many people who looked like me walking around DC. The men and women wearing suits, having big conversations, making power moves. I thought, "That could be me, changing the world." But what of the scores of people who also looked like me, but were sleeping on the sidewalks in the shadows of our nation's monuments? Or being wrestled to their feet by surly Black and brown police officers after sitting for "too long" in the metro station?
What of the people who look like me, but who are unable to convince others of their innate humanity just by virtue of wearing a designer blazer - even if it DID come from a thrift shop?
In Minnesota, I am Black, period. I am never allowed to forget it. But when you live in a place where being Black isn't treated as some freaky anomaly, what are you to people? And more importantly: how do you respond when the person mistreating you looks just like you? What, then?