Filmmaker Ken Burns explains how America has always been a racist country

Editor’s note: We’ve enjoyed Ken Burns’ documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”  Now Ken is weighing in on another topic.

“When considering major themes in American history, which he often covers, filmmaker Ken Burns put racism at the top of the list,” according to RawStory.

“’I think the American question of freedom is a big one, the tension between individual freedom and collective freedom is a big one, but I think the sub-theme of American history is race,’ Burns told ‘Late Show’ host Stephen Colbert.

“’We were founded on the idea that all men were created equal, but oops—the guy who wrote that owned more than 100 human beings and didn’t see in his lifetime to free any one of them; didn’t see the contradiction or the hypocrisy. And so it set us on a journey where we are constantly having to struggle not with race, but racism.’

“According to the filmmaker, Trump taking two days to disavow the Ku Klux Klan is just one of many signs that racism still exists in America.

“Burns’ new documentary is about Jackie Robinson, recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, an All-Star for six consecutive seasons from 1949 through 1954, and the winner of the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949. Robinson’s legacy represents an end to the baseball color line—60 years of segregation in professional baseball.

“’Jackie Robinson was the first African-American baseball player in the white major leagues,’ Colbert told the audience, and whose legacy, like many historical figures, said Burns, is ‘smothered in mythology.’

“’We thought it might be possible to liberate him from the barnacles of sentimentality that attach, because what Jackie Robinson has to teach us now is exactly the same as when he was alive,’ Burns explained. ‘There’s nothing new under the sun. Human nature doesn’t change, it just randomly superimposes itself on the random chaos of events.’

“Ken Burns’ Jackie Robinson documentary talks about Confederate flags, stop and frisk, the experience African Americans have driving, and the burning black churches—essentially Black Lives Matter.”

“So, if we’re curious, but are not comfortable talking today, having a courageous conversation about race, let’s look at Jackie Robinson’s life and see how many of the same tropes that are part of our life today Jackie addresses. [He’s] not only the most important person in baseball, but the most important person in American sports.”

The rest of the article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

One thought on “Filmmaker Ken Burns explains how America has always been a racist country”

  1. When Ken Burn’s (first, wasn’t it?) documentary aired on PBS (again, my memory has lost its ability to recall with total certainty incidental facts associated with long ago events;) I was mesmerized by the totality of excellence of his product, reproducing without electronic gimmicks, a captivating and reasoned, partial re-telling of this country’s near terminal malady, our very own civil war. I was student-teaching at Chico High School upon the documentary’s premier and all grading of student essays and class lesson plan preparation was neglected and pushed to the outer, darker, limits of my one bedroom apartment. Of course I taped the program, hoping the content would be a valuable resource for engaging students in the future. And my master teacher under whom I worked with was a fountain of knowledge, gained through high intelligence and an objective formula which produced conclusions of interest and value. He was the most desired teacher to study under, teaching at the school most envied among that class of future teachers, due to its proximity, Les Fredrickson. We still communicate and I am always impressed by his writing, and range of sourced knowledge.

    That said, I must agree with Burns’ lead-off swing of his fact bat, that our United States remains besotted with various degrees, perhaps shades is a keener modifier, of subtle to overt, genetic racism existing buried or bellowing in our personal and collective consciousness. Perhaps some Americans need instant replay to get Burns’ gist, but I, long ago, came to the unwelcomed conclusion of the continuing refractory, soul eating disease of racist attitudes existing within the populace. At the molecular level this racism may have descended, or be more overtly observed and expressed, with rippling flags of the Confederacy attached securely to the sides of small trucks with gigantic, off road, tires. Hardly dim to view, the red flag-a-fluttering purposely and proudly announces many attitudes still held. All persons are burdened with various irritants, but my interpretation of such flags a flying, disguised as symbols of pride and decoration, proudly and loudly, proclaiming the end result of the drivers thinking processes, whatever the pattern of formation. In these particular circumstances, despite certain, hot-tempered rebuttals, we are faced with a noisy, egotistical display of personal preference tilted, a bit or a bunch, akin to a flat, straight curve ball versus a ball dropping off a table just as one’s bat reaches the spot the ball once was. A swing and a miss.

    Is the driver of the truck host to evil vibes? or simply a victim of a bat poorly manipulated, fouling the ball of nurture and nature to the net behind the plate. My guess is that he or she is just a person, a product of their environment and learning sources, neither of which has rid the body of adverse reaction to the muted colors of life, painted with rheumatoid hands, vivid as a Clown fish amidst the patches of vivid coral, motionless but for the current’s flow, waiting for breakfast to float by.

    Admitting to existing remnants of racism in America merely represents acknowledgement of Humans and the imperfections of the societies they create. Degrees of racism exist, of course, but it’s not particular Only in America. Racism is a sour note, but omnipresent where ever one journeys to upon our fading green planet. Racism’s origin came before life bloomed in Middle Earth, preceding even the arrival to our imperfect, sandy shores of the Nina, the Pinto and the Santa Maria. There may be civilizations, past or present, whom believed themselves pure and free of such malady in their entirety, but mingle with the mayhem of the market place and I’ll bet you find a touch of bigotry here and there and most importantly, everywhere.

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