Four African American University of Akron students who are working on their doctorate have made claims that they have experienced racism while pursuing their degrees at the University. While the University has written it off, the students have stated examples where one sorted a professor’s papers while white students researched, given only two chances on comprehensive exams rather than for the white students three or four, and being the only one punished harshly for cheating while the other white students got off easy. Now, with every claim of racism nowadays, these claims are not taken seriously. For an alleged “post-racial” society, African American president and all, the way the normative “we” looks at these circumstances are racist. Even though it is 2012, we need to put circumstances like this into context.
Fifty years ago, the civil rights movement as we currently know it was making its way into national consciousness, and film was beginning to reflect that more and more. In 1964, an independent film called “Nothing But A Man” was released. The film was the first film that featured an African American cast with an African American storyline presented to audiences that were integrated for the first time. The film starred Ivan Dixon, Abbey Lincoln, Julius Harris, and Gloria Foster. The film is about Duff Anderson (Dixon), who works on the railroads until he meets a preacher’s daughter/schoolteacher, Josie (Lincoln). They start to date, even though Duff bothers Reverend Dawson (Stanley Greene), her father. At the same time, Duff tries to visit his son, who is four and living in another town with a nanny, and has recently met his father, Will (Harris) for the first time, who is a womanizing drunkard who has Duff afraid that he will end up like him. He decides to marry Josie. Once married, Duff gets tested by his circumstances. He begins to work in the factory, but speaks out when he doesn’t like the way he is treated disrespectfully and encourages his peers to stand up for respect. His boss confronts him on this, and being in the American South in the early 1960s with Jim Crow as social gospel, and he is unemployed. He tries to find work in other factories but can’t find any. Josie gets pregnant and he needs to work. He finds work at a gas station, but, in his same drive for respect, encounters racism again and, well, you will have to see the film.
It’s hard to picture that these same issues of discrimination in the workplace and racism would still resonate fifty years later. It is hard to grasp that so many of us want to not deal with these issues and argue for equal human dignity, but these realities still exist and we are still unequal. Our unfortunate disadvantage is that we do not have films like “Nothing But A Man” to show us experiences we do not consider as valid and perspectives that make claims hold weight. In the past four years let alone fifty, we have had many opportunities to change and validate perspectives that make up the great American quilt. Why not now?