WHITES SHACKLED THEMSELVES TO RACE AND BLACKS HAVE YET TO FREE OURSELVES
By Lance Gaiter
Whites Shackled Themselves to Race and Blacks Have Yet to Free Ourselves looks at the cost the American descendants of African slaves have paid for continuing to see ourselves—and this country—through the Black/white racial frame to which whites shackled themselves centuries ago. It describes the first steps to free ourselves from their “race” shackles and its attendant definition of the Black race, which consists of negative stereotypes tied to skin color. It discusses how to redefine ourselves to ourselves as the vital American cultural force that we have become. It insists that we use that elevated self-image to teach ourselves to live and thrive in the foundationally racist America we have, as opposed to the “colorblind” inclusive fantasy to which some pay lip service. Only then can we move beyond our singular focus on politics as a means to progress. In America, politics is necessary, but it inevitably focuses on “them,” on convincing the majority, redeeming them, changing their behavior and perceptions, or forcing them to confront their history of race hatred and its legacy. Actively or reactively, politics focuses on “them.” A focus inward—on teaching ourselves our own, unique American history and the indelible American culture it’s bred—can provide us with the pride of cultural primacy that is the birthright of every Afro-American child. It can move us beyond forever reacting to the race shackles clamped on us centuries ago and provide what every major culture boasts—a self-determined pedestal on which stand, built on the men and women who came before, and independent of others’ conscious or unconscious race-based preconceptions, prejudices, or hatreds.
Marc Lamont Hill Opens Coffee Shop / Bookstore in Hometown Philadelphia
Noted author, professor, and social commentator Marc Lamont Hill is the proud owner of Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books. Named in honor of his late uncle, Bobbie Lee Hill, and located in the Germantown area, the store features an array of sandwiches, soups and desserts including bread pudding and sweat potato pies provided by Black vendors.
Hill’s Uncle would engage him in conversation on race during visits to his home. “His house was the first place I went where I heard a critical analysis of the world,” says Hill in an interview with the Philadelphia Tribune. Hill also credits Black owned book stores with helping to further his educational horizons. He recognizes stores like Black and Noble in North Philadelphia, Hakim’s Bookstore and Gift Shop in West Philadelphia, and the now defunct, Basic Black Books as places where he developed a sense of identity and discovered the world.
Currently serving as a professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University, Hill plans to be present at the shop to serve and engage customers. The shop plans to host author readings, as well as film screenings and poetry slams.
The number of bookstores throughout the country has diminished greatly, especially those owned by Black folks. “We went from having hundreds of Black owned bookstores in America and now there are only 54,” said Hill in the Philadelphia Tribune.
Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart
On March 11, 1959, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway and changed the face of American theater forever. As the first-ever Black woman to author a play performed on Broadway, she did not shy away from richly drawn characters and unprecedented subject matter. The play attracted record crowds and earned the coveted top prize from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. While the play is seen as a groundbreaking work of art, the timely story of Hansberry’s life is far less known.
Launching American Masters Season 32, the new documentary American Masters – Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is the first in-depth presentation of Hansberry’s complex life, using her personal papers and archives, including home movies and rare photos, as source material. The film explores the influences that shaped Hansberry’s childhood, future art and activism. The documentary premieres nationwide Friday, January 19 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and will be available to stream the following day via pbs.org/americanmasters and PBS apps. Filmmaker and Peabody Award-winner Tracy Heather Strain (Unnatural Causes, I’ll Make Me a World, American Experience: Building the Alaska Highway) crafts the story of one woman who believed, like many of her generation, that words could change society. Family, friends and colleagues, including Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, her sister Mamie Hansberry, Lloyd Richards, Amiri Baraka and Louis Gossett, Jr., share their personal memories of Hansberry, offering an intimate look at a woman who was, as Poitier says in the film, “reaching into the essence of who we were, who we are, and where we came from.”
Narrated by acclaimed actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson (The Fighting Temptations, A Raisin in the Sun) and featuring the voice of Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose (A Raisin in the Sun, Dreamgirls) as Hansberry, the documentary portrays the writer’s lifetime commitment to fighting injustice and how she found her way to art—the theater—as her medium for activism at a crucial time for Black civil rights. American Masters – Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart also explores her concealed identity as a lesbian and the themes of sexual orientation and societal norms in her works. The film title comes from Hansberry’s view that “one cannot live with sighted eyes and feeling heart and not know or react to the miseries which afflict this world.”
This documentary is part of American Masters’ year-long Inspiring Woman online campaign which includes podcasts, a web series now streaming on pbs.org/inspiringwoman, YouTube and Facebook, and story submissions. People can share stories of inspirational women in their own lives via text, images or videos on the Inspiring Woman website or via Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #InspiringWomanPBS.