The Multicultural Network screened the film American Denial at the Next Door Theater on May 11 to mark the YWCA’s annual “Take a Stand Against Racism.” American Denial, which first premiered on PBS in 2015, examines Swedish economist and social visionary Gunnar Myrdal’s in-depth study of race and racial attitudes in the United States in the late 1930s in conjunction with a look at racial attitudes today. In the documentary current writers and historians punctuate historic flashbacks and facts with incisive commentary on the disconnect between commonly held beliefs that white Americans hold and the reality of Black Americans’ experiences.
Hired by the Carnegie Foundation in 1938, Myrdal’s role was that of an outsider who interviewed people, both black and white, to gauge race relations in the wake of the Great Depression. Myrdal, working with his wife and a cadre of social science researchers, only one of whom was African-American (Ralph Bunche), identified the complex divide in American society. He heard white Americans reflecting the ideal creed of justice and equal opportunity at the same time observing the impact of discrimination on Black Americans in areas of housing, jobs, and education. His final report was titled “The American Dilemma.”
“America is continuously struggling for its soul,” wrote Gunnar Myrdal and American Denial confirms that this is still true. Racial bias is “in the air” and still pervasive despite civil rights laws and the success of black individuals such as Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. The great majority of the prison population is black or brown, though there are no more drug arrests for men of color than for white men, the film states. And black men make 78% on the dollar of what white men make.
Following the screening, Network Executive Director Aba Taylor discussed the film and facilitated a Q&A with filmmakers Kelly Thomson and Llewellyn Smith. They see the documentary as a wake-up call to the reality that the United States has not arrived at the ideal of equality we want to believe in, but needs to face the racial inequities that impact all of us. Thomson and Smith also encouraged audience members to just sit with what they have taken in and “be sure you really, really get what is happening” before you try to figure out how to fix it.