Kevin Epps

Kevin Epps
Kevin Epps gave a Davies Forum talk ages ago, but there is one thing he said that I have been mulling over since then, and I still don't have a complete answer to my own question.

Kevin appeared a tad nervous during his talk, and he quickly opened the floor for a Q&A free-for-all. It was pretty amazing. What better way to address what your audience wants you to than to just ask them? He discussed copyright issues (especially for young media makers who haven't made a name for themselves yet), gentrification of the Bayview/Hunter's Point area, and how he uses media to serve his community.

Which is where my question comes in.

In countless media studies and Sociology classes, we have analyzed how the media portrays African Americans, and the portrayals are very rarely positive. The media teaches society, especially white society, to be afraid of African Americans. Who are the people getting busted on Cops? Black people. Who is getting busted for crime on shows ranging from the nightly news to CSI? Black people. What is take-home message from all of this media? Be afraid of black people.

I promise I'll get to my question eventually.

Before he gave his talk, I watched Kevin's documentary Straight Outta' Hunter's Point. While it was one of the first films of its kind that has documented what it is like growing up and living in a black ghetto, I found myself coming away with the same message that I get from all other media: The ghetto is scary, if you go to the ghetto there is a high chance you will be harmed, and don't forget to be afraid of black people.

"How do you work to portray your neighborhood in a truthful way without perpetuating white people's fears of African Americans?" (I told you I would get there eventually)

His off-the-cuff answer was one I did not expect. "Well, some of the people from the neighborhood would probably be glad if you were afraid to go there. Then you wouldn't move in and try and gentrify the place!"

I am sure he said more than that, but that comment is what has stuck with me. Part of me agrees with him - gentrification is pushing more and more people of color out of San Francisco on a routine basis. Anything that combats that should be a good thing.

But, on the other hand, racism is not going to go away if white people continue to be in fear of African Americans. Can't we find a way to avoid gentrification without perpetuating fear of an entire group of people based on their skin color?

I struggle between two sides of the argument, between those who argue for integration and those who argue for segregation. There are people of all races on both sides (and some in the middle), who defend their cases based on a variety of arguments, some of which I agree with, some of which I do not.

I still haven't reached a definitive answer as to what my actions, as a white ally, should be. Instead of sitting here and pondering what the residents of the neighborhood would prefer, maybe I should come down from the mountain of academia and do as Kevin did: Ask.

1 comment:

indil said...

This post made me realize, after countless hours of watching Law and Order, that the majority of criminals on that show are white and not minorities.

Is that a good thing if, in the real world, more minorities are convicted than whites? I don't know anything about crime statistics, but let's say for the sake of argument that the ratio of white criminals to minority criminals was disproportionate to the ratio of the number of whites to the number minorities. Put simply, say the number of minorities is 1/10, but the number of minority criminals is 1/5. Would it then be stereotypical to portray more minority criminals on Law and Order than white criminals? The ratio on the show would match the ratio in the real world, so it's not instilling a prejudice that you wouldn't get from real-world statistics.