Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Filmmaker Plug: Aaron Greer

In a post I wrote months back, "Segregated Sunday" I received a tip from Lesboprof (thanks Lesboprof!) to check out a film "Not Color Blind, Just Near-Sighted."

After doing a google search, I was able to find the filmmaker (an Assistant Professor at The University of Alabama in the Department of Telecommunication and Film).

So let me introduce you to Professor Aaron Greer, filmmaker and academic (click here for his official university webpage).

I was able to get a copy of Professor Greer's film--the one that Lesboprof mentioned--and I have to say, it is fantastic! It's a 5-minute short, but it really gets at the heart of the difficulties of monoracial categories and the ways in which multiracial people are faced with these types of quandries in their everyday lives--in Greer's case--with just trying to get a driver's license in the state of Alabama when he identifies as a bi-racial person.

Apparently, your options in Alabama at the DMV are "w," "b," "h," or "x" (in case anyone doesn't know, "x" is for "foreigner" and if you have been figuring out the racial codes, yes, there is no "a" for "Asian" or even an "o" for the dreaded "Oriental," which means if you are an Asian American in Alabama you are marked by an "x" -- talk about reinforcing the whole "Asian as foreigner stereotype!" And there is no designation for American Indians either. If there is anyone out there reading this who lives in Alabama or who used to reside there, I'd really love to find out if this is still the case--I tried looking on-line for the racial codes used there, but couldn't find anything, and the thought of trying to call a DMV office in Alabama is not something I feel up to doing.

I digress.

Getting back to Professor Greer, besides this film short, I think his other films are worth noting, especially a recent feature length he just directed and produced, Gettin' Grown (click here for a website where you can learn more about the film).

If you are an academic out there, especially if you are in a department of film and/or communication, try to see if your college will buy a copy of one of his films so you can use them in your classroom. I think he's a powerful filmmaker and hope to see more of his work in the future.


Genepool said...

I'm not sure what the big deal is about the drivers license. I'm guessing they simply don't have the room to list each and every individual ethnic group. And why wouldn't A stand for Arabic?! Sheesh. Seriously though, there is a picture on these I.D.'s, I don't see why any racial identifier would be needed at all.

In the California prison system we similarly separate inmates into racial categories and then further into gang affiliation. Asians, Pacific islanders and American Indians all fit into the "other" category although these groups do not cell together necessarily or even share the same recreational areas, Asians preferring to share rec space with black inmates and American Indians hanging out on the white/southern Mexican side of the yard or day-room. Mind you, they decide for themselves how they are segregated and have strict rules for interaction that, if violated, can get them "tuned up".

Also, the "other" category lends these groups no less power or representation on the yards. They have the same number of Mac reps (inmate-staff representatives) and are afforded the same respects as larger groups.

I am very curious how integration will affect these arrangements. The supreme court has decided that this sort of integration is unconstitutional and has mandated that inmates no longer be housed on the basis of race. Well, we never did that to begin with, inmates segregated themselves and when we start telling them they have to live with someone of another race its going to be a serious problem for a while.

My point is, (yes I sorta have one)that while racially identifying inmates in this way was convenient, it led us, as a department, toward allowing themselves to segregate themselves to begin with. In other words, it helped divide them as human beings. Racial harmony through direct contact aside, (these ARE inmates after all) do you think you would be more or less inclined to commit crimes against another race if you knew you would likely be housed with someone of that same race? Or have to face a cell mate you have come to respect after committing a race-related hate crime against his "people"? These are the everyday quandaries inmates face in THEIR everyday lives.

In any event, I will try to find an online version of this movie and give it a look-see.

Jennifer said...

Hi Genepool,

As always, I appreciate getting a glimpse into the California prison system, from the inside so to speak, and it's interesting the points you make at the very end about whether people would be more inclined to not target people for violence if they thought they'd be sharing a cell with someone of that person's race/ethnicity/national origin.

But in terms of the driver's license issue--I do think it's a big deal. I guess, let me put it this way--the idea that they don't have room on the form doesn't seem to make sense--If you buy into the racial pentagram theory, then you have 5 categories and you add a 6th for "other" and maybe a 7th for "M" (as in multiracial). The codes, could be B, W, L (because I prefer Latino to Hispanic), A, O, and M (for multiracial or multiethnic).

But you know, I'd actually push this further and say: why do we need to have racial categories signified by a letter on our driver's license? You are right--a driver's license, to a large degree, is a photo identification. Although it's not always clear (often never clear) what someone's "race" is by just looking at them, the question I'd ask is, why do we need to know? Couldn't we just ask, and if we don't believe people when they tell us, doesn't that say something about our beliefs about race?

At any rate, I think it's disturbing that this is going on and it only fuels my own stereotypes of the South--which I actively try to work on, but sometimes it gets hard--esp. when I hear dumb stuff said in my Southern home town.