In the new documentary, “Who We Are,” Jeffery Robinson, the former deputy legal director for the ACLU, walks through U.S. history with a keen eye on the not so obvious instruments of race-based oppression.
Robinson joined Lisa McRee on “LA Times Today.”
According to Robinson, the United States has had a series of tipping points that moved the country forward or backward throughout its history.
“We are at a point where America is reckoning with issues of racial justice in ways we have never done before. Part of that is the internet. Part of that is the immediacy of people getting information. But we are at a point where we are either going to roll forward in ways that we have not done up until now or we’re going to roll back. And if we roll back, I don’t know what we’re rolling back to, but our children and our grandchildren will not appreciate it,” Robinson explained.
The documentary explores the origins of policing in America and how it relates to slavery.
“Policing originated, especially in the South, in slave patrols. The first slave patrol that I could find a record of was in 1705 in South Carolina. Going back to the Constitution, the very beginning of our constitutional democracy, Article 4 of the Constitution says if enslaved people escaped, they’ve got to be returned. So the document that formed our country made attempts by Black people to be free unconstitutional and illegal. Understanding that tells you something about the mindset of the people that were forming the country on this issue,” Robinson said.
“Who We Are” takes viewers to the site of two different Confederate statues, one that was being removed and people were celebrating and another where someone was defending the statue’s existence.
“I wanted to engage with this gentleman in South Carolina who was holding a huge Confederate flag. And instead of yelling at him or being angry at him, I wanted to engage with him to get him to tell me what he thought. If you’re going to have these conversations, you’ve got to not with a weapon, but with facts, with history,” he said, “He’s saying that this battle flag, it’s really just a soldier’s battle flag. Virginia had one of the most racist histories of all of the colonies and states in America. That flag represented at exactly what we think it represented: defending the institution of slavery.”
One of the survivors of the Tulsa Massacre is interviewed in the documentary. After combing through America’s past and present, Robinson shared his hopes for a better future.
“The state of Black America is not healthy, and that in large part has to do with anti-Black racism here. But in spite of everything that I chronicled in this film, we are still here and we are now at a new tipping point where we have a chance to do it right. At this time, it ain’t on our ancestors or our grandparents or even our parents. This time it’s on us. So I would say to everybody listening: turn to your children and your grandchildren and tell them how much you’re willing to do to ensure that they live in a world, in a country that’s not infected by racial bias,” Robinson said.
“Who We Are” is now streaming on Netflix.
Watch the full interview above.
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