A new documentary produced by local filmmaker Brian Grimm is opening at City Stage for a two-night run this weekend.
Grimm has been showing Racial Taboo at civil rights museums and colleges around the southeast. But he also frequently fills up his own living room with strangers -- who typically stay for hours-long, passionate, post-film discussions.
His intention, he says, is to spark conversations about racial stereotypes held by black and white people about the other race. And as I learned after talking with Grimm, he makes liberal use of comedy in his film to defuse what can sometimes be a delicate -- and volatile -- minefield.
KG TRACK: “I watch Fox News in Detroit. They should call that show The Minority Crime Report. [laughter] I watched it for fifteen minutes and got scared of myself.”
[laughter fades out…]
RLH: That’s Kyle Grooms, a black comedian who – clearly – doesn’t shy away from talking about racial stereotypes. And that’s one of the reasons Brian Grimm uses Grooms in his documentary.
BG: When we put truth out on the table, we can shed a light on it and we can talk about it… So one of the reasons we’re bringing comedy in is to shed light on truths. The second reason we’re bringing comedy in is, frankly, race is not exactly a comfortable subject for everybody – including myself -- to talk about.
RLH: Now, just to be clear, because this is radio, you are -- how would you describe yourself?
BG: I’m a conservative guy. I’m a Republican.
RLH: And you’re a white guy.
BG: And I’m a white guy. When I looked at, historically, well, what does prejudice look like? Well, it’s white vs. black. And then, well, it’s kind of more white males. And then… it’s white males in their 50s that – oh – they look – oh – that’s me.
RLH: With that realization, Grimm launched what became a multi-year journey to make a film and broaden his understanding.
BG: In my own life I’ve had a challenge with being able to talk to black people about race. And I wondered where my fear came from. So I went to talk to a few of my liberal friends to meet some of their black friends and they didn’t have any black friends.
RLH: Grimm cites a statistic based on a Reuters / Ipsos poll. About 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race. And, as is often the result of inquiry, Grimm learned about racial complexities that he’d never even heard of before.
BG: I remember the first time I was sitting in a car with a big black gentleman who asked me – he said, ‘Are you prejudiced?’. And I looked at him and I said, ‘I gotta be honest here,’ and it lasted forever. And I looked at him and I said sheepishly, ‘Yes. Yes, I am.’ And he looked at me with this big grin and he said, ‘Yeah, me too.’ I learned at that point that it’s okay to be honest.
I’m aware of a lot more things like white privilege. There is a definite bias… if a black person goes into a store and goes shopping, they are followed. I go into a store. That never even occurs to me because it never happens.
RLH: And you use the term “white privilege”. There are going to be a lot of white listeners that have never heard that term before, don’t really know what it means… or if they have heard it, they take issue with it. What do you see as white privilege?
BG: It’s not something you can see. It’s not houses or cars. It’s not that kind of privilege. It’s the privilege of not having to think about so many things when you go to a store, when you go into a bank. It’s all those things that you don’t experience because you are a person of color.
RLH: Other questions haunted Grimm, too. Why is black unemployment historically double white unemployment? What will happen to the black community if a recession worsens? And why didn’t he learn about key parts of African-American history in school?
BG: At the end of the civil war, there was a period of reconstruction during which there were several civil rights bills passed through 1875, roughly. And what we saw after that period is a series of those things being taken away primarily by the Supreme Court – or new laws being passed primarily to restrict voting rights. I saw this response to actual freedoms so once voting in the black community goes up – the number of laws to restrict it increases. So there was a privilege and then it was taken away. And I never saw that cycle taught in any history class that I remember.
RLH: Grimm says he wants more people to see the film who can influence public policy today.
BG: I think people that are making legislation really do not have an understanding of what’s going on in the black community… In many cases the people who are making the decisions about all of our lives really do not understand or know all of the lives that they’re affecting.
This Friday’s showing of Racial Taboo will feature a post-film discussion led by a panel that includes Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, the leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties of New Hanover County, District Attorney Ben David, and Deborah Maxwell, President of New Hanover County’s NAACP chapter.
For more information on the film or to get tickets, visit the website: