As soon as Barack Obama won the presidency, conservative pundits began insisting that the election proved that there is no longer a real problem with racism in this country. The new film White Like Me puts that claim to serious question, highlighting the ongoing existence of “white privilege” and illustrating how racism continues to be used by conservative politicians to achieve their political and social agendas.

In a brisk 68 minutes the film, to be presented as part of the Salem Progressive Film Series, makes a compelling case that right-wing politicians and other conservatives have done a masterful job of using the mainstream media to largely reshape the public’s perception of what the government’s social programs do. In the thirties these programs were seen as helping poor deserving whites; now they are seen as primarily benefiting lazy minorities. Thus magically, over the course of decades, the role of big government is redefined until the Tea Party is born, with their mantra of Smaller Government and Lower Taxes, and their widespread denials (with some exceptions) that race is a factor in their thinking.

A viewer may be surprised to learn that a Gallup poll in 1963 revealed that most whites thought that racism wasn’t a serious problem then, even during the Jim Crow era and before the Civil Rights advances of the sixties and seventies. Now a large percentage of American whites express that same opinion, even as the “war on drugs,” begun in the seventies and still going strong, has incarcerated a hugely disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos.

Apparently many white citizens are permanently unable to see racism no matter what the circumstances.

Speaking at the screening will be Paul Krissel, Co-chair of the Racial Justice Organizing Committee in Salem, and Sandra Hernandez-Limelio, Program Coordinator for LUS Youth Organization and Mano-A-Mano. We asked Krissel what most white Salemites might not understand about white privilege. He answered, “We are not aware how every institution in our society is set up to perpetuate racism, even if we are not intentionally being racist. This is not just about our individual actions or attitudes; it is also about the very structure of our institutions.

Even if we are people of good will and intent, Krissel says, remain “pretty uninformed about the advantages we have in every area of our lives compared to our neighbors who are people of color. We need to take responsibility to learn more about racism and privilege so we can be more effective allies in the struggle for justice. This film can help in our learning.”

Directed by Scott Morris from a book by Tim Wise of the same title, the film alternates between documentary footage, talking heads, and lots of on-camera narration by co-writer Wise. Overall it’s an eye-opening view of a society with a wide and not entirely accidental bifurcation of perceptions about race.

Regarding recent racial developments, Krissel says, “This presidential election is bringing back the vocal expression of deep seated racism and exposing how far we are from being a just society. The racist demagoguery frightens me. All the more reason that people should come out and see this film, then become part of the solution.”


Salem Progressive Film Series

White Like Me, 2013

Dir. Scott Morris

Tuesday March 15, 7 pm

Grand Theater

191 High St. NE, Salem