By Sheryl Estrada
An educational video, which has been shown thousands of times nationally, has outraged some parents in Virginia for perpetuating “white guilt.” The video has been banned by the Henrico County school board.
During the first-ever Black History Month program at Glen Allen High School last week, Professor Ravi K. Perry from Virginia Commonwealth University showed students “Structural Discrimination: The Unequal Opportunity Race, School.”
The African American Policy Forum (AAPF) created the video in 2010 to explain how structural racism has created race-based obstacles, such as slavery, segregation and racial profiling.”Affirmative action helps level the playing field,” is stated at the end of the video.
It has since been shown across the country in settings ranging from public schools and college campuses to churches, businesses and foundations. The AAPF has also created a simulation game based on the video.
A joint statement released Monday by the AAPF and the National Association for Ethnic Studies (NAES) said the video presentation at the high school was in part a response to a controversy last fall when a song that included multiple utterances of a racial epithet against African Americans was played over the public announcement system at a football game.
The animated video builds on observations made by President Lyndon Johnson: “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”
The NAES and AAPF said that despite illustrations of actual policies, historical events and contemporary racial inequities in the “Unequal Opportunity Race” video, it “has been demeaned as a’white guilt video’ by a vocal minority in Henrico County and by national outlets such as Fox News.”
The video shows several runners on a track for a relay race. White runners are not obstructed, whereas Black runners encounter impossible obstacles and cannot catch up.
“They are sitting there watching a video that is dividing them up from a racial standpoint,” Don Blake, the grandfather of one of the students in the assembly, said in an interview. “It’s a white guilt kind of video. I think somebody should be held accountable for this.”
Craig Johnson, a radio personality, also weighed in on the controversy and blamed President Barack Obama.
“Dr. King gave his life so that America would be a place where we are judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin,” Johnson said. “Now we have poverty pimps being led by our current president Barack Obama, who all they talk about is the color of skin.Force that person to stand on that stage and defend that video. I’m telling you … I will mop the floor with that person.”
In regards to race and this heated election year, President Obama said in an interview with NPR in December thatRepublican presidential candidate Donald Trump is exploiting the anger and anxieties of working-class men to support his campaign. President Obama noted that some of the anxiety is in reaction to him being the first Black president and having doubts about where his loyalties lie.
Glen Allen is located in Henrico County, northwest of Richmond.According to U.S. Census data, Glen Allen is 63.8 percent white, 25.6 percent Black, 6.3 percent Asian, 3.9 percent Latino and 0.2 percent American Indian.
The median household income from 2009-13 was $70,387, compared to the state’s average of $63,907. Glenn Allen High’s student body is 63 percent white, 21 percent Black, 8 percent Asian, 4 percent Latino and 0.3 percent American Indian.
After the backlash, Henrico School Board Chairwoman Michelle Ogburn apologized on Wednesday to parents and others who were offended by the video. She called the video “divisive” and said administrators across the district have been instructed not to use it.
But according to Luke Harris, co-founder of the AAPF, refusing to be open about these structural inequalities only furthers the problem.
“The real problem is the fact that structural forms of racism are enmeshed in the fabric of American life,” said Harris, who is also an associate professor of political science at Vassar College. “If we really are committed to building a harmonious racial future, we need to dismantle that social reality rather than punish folks who are shining a light on it.”
Perry, president of the NAES, said he’s not apologizing for showing the video.
“Usually when there is criticism that means you must be doing something right. I will never apologize,” he said in an interview. “There is nothing to apologize for. I feel as though the principal of Glen Allen … the administrators should be awarded.”
Perry, who identifies himself on his Twitter profile as a millennial who is a scholar activist, created the Black History Month program in consultation with school officials to facilitate a dialogue with students about contemporary racial issues. The video was presented along with other materials.
“This censorship of material that highlights historical and present-day policies constitutes an alarming capitulation to those who would prefer our youth to remain blissfully ignorant about the foundations of contemporary racial inequality,” said AAPF Executive Director Kimberle Crenshaw.”Honest engagement with the continuing legacy of our history should not be held hostage to those who can only relate to this information as a personal indictment.”
The NAES and AAPF are hosting a live policy forum from 12:30-2 p.m. Friday titled, “#FightForOurHistory: Standing Against Censorship in Henrico County.”