Frances Causey is an award-winning filmmaker who lives in Tubac. She began her career at CNN before becoming an independent filmmaker. Her work has been shown on The History Channel as well as other broadcast outlets.
Her most recent film, "The Long Shadow," looks at racial equality from her viewpoint as a white woman who grew up in the South. "The Long Shadow" is available to watch free online through June 7, at: https://bit.ly/36QUJTl.
On June 4, there will be a live Q&A. More details on the link above.
We asked Causey to answer some questions in light of what has happened in the United States over the past 10 days.
Assess what's been going on in our country the past week.
I think we are seeing a tragic "perfect" storm of sorts. It's the combination of disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the African-American community, the outrageous death of George Floyd (among dozens of others) who was killed before our very eyes, and 400 years of systemic oppression of Africans and later African-Americans in the form of great disadvantage in our society in education, housing and most importantly economic opportunity.
How did we get here?
We got here because we have refused to deal with the effects of slavery and Jim Crow on the African-American community at a national level. We have repeatedly swept the debilitating effects, particularly economic, of anti-black racism under the carpet, magically thinking these effects would disappear. Though we have changed our laws, anti-black racism has survived because we have not enforced many of these laws. For instance, let's take housing. Most Section 8 (voucher) public housing is built in poor neighborhoods with subpar schools. Though builders receive tax credits for building this housing, the cycle of poverty is reinforced as a poor tax base leads to less resources for schools that receive funding from property taxes and so on and so on. Also, we have failed to change hearts and minds. Anti-black racism is passed from generation to generation. You cannot systematically enslave a people for 365 years and expect to eliminate the effects in a generation or two or three. We only ended the legal discrimination against African-Americans in 1965. Think about that.
How does “The Long Shadow” speak to this?
I really tried to approach the problem in a systematic way, looking at the genesis of institutional or even national political discrimination. For instance, before World War II, public housing was fairly integrated. After World War II, it was U.S. government policy that re-segregated housing! Because the South (remember the Civil War?) was such an organized, political voting bloc they put that power to work in the form of nationalizing discrimination throughout our nation's history, right up to today.
Isn't it too easy to blame it on white privilege — and what is that anyway?
At the least, white privilege means that as a white person you won't have terrible consequences simply because of the color of your skin — you aren't likely to die trying (allegedly) to pass a $20 counterfeit bill as George Floyd is accused of. But on a more fundamental, more basic level it means as a white person on average you will live much longer than a black person and for every 10 dollars a white person has, a black person has one dollar. These are the facts and they are the result of years and years of denying inequality between black and white.
What about the looting? Opportunists or justifiably angry? Both?
All reasonable (and most are) protesters can agree that looting and destruction are not the right way to go about forcing change. But the anger is real and I think it spills over and then extremist groups, primarily white-supremacist groups (a much bigger problem than is acknowledged) join in the destruction in order to scapegoat the African-American community. I think there are anti-left groups that are anarchists that join in too but if you believe social media traffic there are more far-right groups present. Bottom line is that for legitimate protesters, there is a justifiable amount of anger that the status quo isn't changing things fast enough.
When this is over, won't we just find ourselves in the same place?
I’m not sure the genie isn't out of the bottle with this one. How much more suffering can the African-American community endure? You cannot have that much pressure without an explosion.
How can we be sure that doesn't happen?
We need to form a national commission to investigate the impacts of slavery and Jim Crow. We have done this with Japanese-Americans after we wrongfully interned them during World War II. We can do it again but the political pressure to do so will only come from a sustained movement on par with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. White Americans who continue to deny a problem exists in the first place must come forward in good conscience and support this type of effort. From these discoveries and effort much information will flow about the exact changes that need to take place so that we finally, once and for all, live up to our national ideals of equality and justice for all.
What’s the closest example you’ve seen — whether in a school, a community or a church — of true racial harmony. What did it look like and how did they get there?
I think perhaps the best example of integration has been our military after World War II. Counting your brother or sister as equal in the line of battle was/is a matter of life and death. So it was done — I would guess — as a matter of practicality and success. Wouldn’t it be great if our society came to the same conclusion today?
Racism didn’t start or end with slavery, and let’s just grant that it might with us forever. How does a country move forward with that hanging over it, particularly with our history?
So much of what we need to do to move forward is at the mental and spiritual level, honestly. As Americans we all need to be educated, accept responsibility for our past and present oppression against African-Americans. Thus, hopefully this will change hearts and minds and that will improve African-American lives, both materially and societally in our nation.
Give a short thought on each of these phrases:
•“I’m color blind. I don’t have a prejudice bone in my body.”
Well, if you are truly colorblind that is awesome! But I’d say for many people they have not stopped to examine their racist thoughts. Have you really stopped to examine your thoughts when you flinch as a black man crosses to your side of the street?
•White privilege? I grew up poor in a broken home. I didn’t feel privileged.”
Right. I totally get it. But regardless of personal circumstances, in our society — with its level of unconscious anti-black racism — white people still have an advantage when it comes to accessing housing, educational or employment opportunities.
•“It’s America. Black people have the same opportunities as everybody else.”
I refer to the above answer.
•“Diversity programs in education and the workforce, quotas and affirmative action have given minorities too much unearned power.”
The real numbers reflecting the inequality between black and white simply don’t support that statement.
•“We’re in Green Valley. It’s 95 percent white. Why does this matter here?”
The question itself smacks of a certain inherent white privilege, no? What about those in Green Valley who have children in interracial marriages? Those who have African-American friends in other parts of the country they care about ? If you are truly an American patriot how can you not want our nation to live up to its ideals of “liberty and justice for all”?