“Quick Takes” offers a mix of news, opinion, and research related to race, privilege, and inequality.

Today’s “Quick Takes” includes the death of Lena Horne, the blocking of a federal racial discrimination settlement, a controversy over President’s House in Philadelphia, the depiction of slavery and black citizens in elementary textbooks, and the role of privilege in college education.

Readers are encouraged to share these stories and to comment at the end of the post.

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James Baldwin

Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it.

At the height of the civil rights movement in 1965, the great American writer James Baldwin penned an essay for Ebony magazine entitled “White Man’s Guilt.”

Baldwin’s words are rooted in the struggles of a time different from our own, but he offers timeless reflections on history, memory, and inherited responsibility. His essay also resonates with our own era because it concerns the same history, the same racial inheritance, with which we struggle today as we seek to come closer to healing the racial divisions of his society and ours.

Here is an extended quotation from Baldwin’s essay, which brilliantly deconstructs a response from Americans to their own history which, unfortunately, is still all too common:

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Tuskegee Syphilis StudyI’m often asked to discuss whether there are distinctive attitudes within the “black community” in such areas as education, medical care, and the government. The question can take a relatively benign form, wondering where such attitudes might have originated and how they might be addressed. At other times, I’m told angrily that blacks are responsible for their own problems, and that our history of race is irrelevant, because blacks supposedly do not value education or hard work, or that they fail to exhibit constructive attitudes towards authority figures in such areas as law enforcement, the justice system, the medical community, and education.

There are difficult issues involved in this topic: are there, in fact, distinctive attitudes among black Americans towards civic or community values and institutions which are held in high esteem by most white Americans? If so, how widespread are these attitudes? Where and how might these attitudes have originated? Is there a connection to our long history of slavery and racial discrimination? What steps might be taken to begin to address this situation?

On the first issue, there is a new study available in the February issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine which suggests a significantly higher degree of mistrust among black Americans towards medical research than among whites.

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Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North will be re-broadcast in the Boston area on Sunday, February 1 at 9:00pm on WGBX (known locally as PBS channel 44).

Students from Prom Night in MississippiThe Los Angeles Times has a review out about films exploring the subject of teenagers and race at the Sundance Film Festival.

The films covered include Prom Night in Mississippi, about the practice of holding racially segregated high school proms in Charleston, Miss.; Don’t Let Me Drown, a drama about racial and other tensions in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001; Push, a brutal yet hopeful examination of the cycle of poverty and despair in Harlem; and Toe to Toe, a drama about racial prejudice set at an elite private school.

Prom Night in Mississippi is perhaps the most shocking of these films, especially for those previously unaware of the ongoing practice of racially segregated proms in smaller towns in the Deep South.

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Tomorrow, the Boston Globe offers a review of Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, entitled “Facing up to a family’s past as slave traders.”

The review is occasioned by the screening of the film tomorrow night at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, as part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. The film will be screened at 8:00pm, and afterward, Katrina Browne and I will participate in a question-and-answer period, along with editor Alla Kovgan and co-producer Elizabeth Delude-Dix.

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Laura Flanders, who hosts “RadioNation” on Air America Radio, has a video interview with Katrina Browne, the producer/director of Traces of the Trade, at Fire Dog Lake this afternoon.

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White Privilege ConferenceSeveral of us from Traces of the Trade attended the White Privilege Conference in Springfield, Mass. over the past few days, where we offered a screening and discussion of the documentary and solicited feedback.

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Philadelphia City Paper
Traces of the Trade is featured this evening in a thoughtful article, “Slavers in the Family,” which serves as a cover story for tomorrow’s edition of the Philadelphia City Paper.

The article, by Sam Adams, carries the subhead, “How Philly native Katrina Browne confronted her ties to America’s original sin, and why the nation should follow her lead,” and features interviews with Katrina Browne and Tom DeWolf. This coverage is motivated by screenings of the documentary at the National Constitution Center on April 24; as the article explains, the screenings were originally to be held as part of the Philadelphia Film Festival, until a conflict arose with the Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

As I indicated, this is a particularly thoughtful article. Adams does review the film itself, describing it as “gripping” and “a fascinating and largely unknown story,” but he focuses on the family’s introspection about the legacy of the slave trade and delves into Katrina’s and Tom’s backgrounds and motivations as coverage of the film and book rarely do.

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Inheriting the Trade in the Christian Science Monitor The Christian Science Monitor has a review of Tom DeWolf’s Inheriting the Trade in tomorrow morning’s edition, entitled “An Honest Look at a Slave-Trading Family’s Past.”

The reviewer, book editor Marjorie Kehe, finds particular value in Tom’s “spirit of honesty and the willingness to confront the ugly parts of human experience,” concluding that while Tom offers no easy answers to the difficult questions he raises, “honest self-examination remains an excellent place to start.”

The online version of the review also offers an audio interview which Kehe conducted with Tom.

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