Three days after I spoke in New Bedford on the legacy of slavery, the New Bedford Whaling Museum hosted a screening of Traces of the Trade and a panel discussion on the economics of slavery in Massachusetts, organized by Mass Humanities.

One attendee of this screening, Alan Howard, has written a review of the documentary, which is posted in the film’s discussion forum.

Alan’s review is thoughtful and perceptive. It is obvious that he appreciates the film and its focus on the difficult history of slave trading in the North, as well as the fact that the film raises, but does not attempt to answer, troubling questions about our own society. He specifically praises the film for offering viewers the historical and contemporary context for our problems with race, which he says are often missing, and he expresses his hope that the film will help to promote interracial dialogue.

Alan also objects to certain aspects of the film. Echoing a concern I raised directly in the film, he refers to portions of the experience, in which Katrina encourages family members to process emotions, as sincere and “powerful,” but at times “self indulgent.” He also objects to Katrina’s attempt to portray family members as, in his words, “attempting to resolve what each defines as the race problem“; he believes it is “naive” to approach the country’s problems with race from an individual or family perspective.

Alan also objects to the scene in which Juanita Brown, then a consulting producer on the film, is asked to step from behind the camera “to offer feedback from an ‘African-American’ perspective.” In Alan’s words:

What troubled this viewer … was the feeling that this producer was being asked at that moment to speak for her entire race, past and present.

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