THE Space and Time Between "F*** the police" and Rodney king

Does White America know what it means to be black in America? A documentary that I have wanted to make for a while is one that focuses on White America's views and understandings of what it means to be black in this country. I was motivated by the CNN documentary series, "Black in America". That series essentially presented various stories from Black Americans for the purpose of illustrating what life is like for Black Americans. The problem I had with that series was the historical redundancy of it. Black Americans have been telling our experiences since we were here as slaves; from Fredrick Douglass to Toni Morrison. Our forms of expression have been extremely varied; from the jazz of Louis Armstrong to the rap of Kendrick Lamar, from the speeches of Marcus Garvey to the sermons of Martin Luther King Jr., from the essays of W.E.B Dubois to the comics of Aaron McGruder. Black America has consistently been making our experiences known only to have them either dismissed, misinterpreted, or sanitized into something safe and non confrontational for mainstream consumption. What does not often happen is any form of change to the issues being addressed. Few things provide a better example of that fact than the NWA song, F*** the Police.

The recently release NWA biopic, Straight Outta Compton, tells the story of the superstar rap group including the creation of their controversial revenge fantasy/anti-police brutality anthem, F*** the Police. The film dramatizes their run-ins with police groups and other government officials because of the song. The film also recreates the LA response to the Rodney King verdict. What the film doesn't examine is White America's response to the controversy behind the song and how it related to their response to the Rodney King situation. Not counting the expected racist response of "He got what he deserved," a lot of White America seemed to be shocked by the double standard of police treatment on display in that grainy video footage. The frustrating thing about those responses (other than the fact that it did not result in any substantial change to policing policies) is that that they are seemingly a contradiction. When the song was released in 1988 the controversy that surrounded it was so widespread that even the vice-president of the United States talked about it. The song was all over the news. What was not often being discussed in the controversy was the motivation behind the song. It is not hard to figure out what the song is about, the first lines of the first verse of the song is pretty much the thesis of it, F*** the police / coming straight from the underground / A young nig** got it bad cuz I'm brown / and not the other color so police think / they have the authority / to kill a minority. Despite that, just three years later, when the motorist Rodney King was severely beaten by four LAPD officers after a high speed chase, the controversy surrounding that incident seemed to not reference the NWA song at all. It was as if police brutality was a brand new phenomenon that had never even been heard of before. Why? Was White America's collective memory so short that in only 3-4 years the Black American suffering through racist policing had become a forgotten thing of the past?

When the journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates was a guest on Jon Stewart's last few weeks of The Daily Show, he made a comment about the possibility of a portion of society being willfully ignorant about certain social issues. Coates was talking about the removal of the Confederate flag in Charleston, SC and the claims of "heritage" among the supporters of the flag in response to the discussions of it representing state supported racism. However, Coates' theory of willful ignorance among a substantial portion of White America could easily be seen as the reason for disbelief after the recorded beating of Rodney King, just as much as it can be seen as the reason for disbelief in the recorded killing of Eric Garner by the New York police almost 23 years later.

That willful ignorance could also be the reason why a lot of mainstream America seems to think that the Black Lives Matter movement is both aimless and pointless. One does not have to search hard to find news articles and videos questioning BLM's "lack of stated goals". Even Oprah has accused them of lacking a form of leadership. What is ironic about the ease in which that perception of BLM has spread is that it is just as easy to find the answers to those questions. BLM has been quite explicit about their intentions. They have explained why they confronted Bernie Sanders. They have explained why they plan on confronting all candidates.

They have made specific demands in relation to political action.  Granted, their tactics may not be traditional, but they are also not unexplained. The bigger question is, where is the mainstream ignorance coming from?

In an interview last year Chris Rock mentioned the idea of wanting to do a 60 Minutes styled investigative piece about race with no black people in it. That sounded very similar to the documentary I mentioned wanting to do at the beginning of this piece. While it should be obvious that as a filmmaker I would want to beat Mr. Rock to the punch on making that film, more important than that I would want to see the results. Does White America have an idea what it means to be black in America? Have they been listening to Black America explain it?