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Tag: "racism"

This Day in Labor History: March 3, 1931

[ 13 ] March 3, 2014 |

This post is a special request from Anna in PDX to help her work out some thorny issues she faces in her local. If this series can be of use to your local or organizing needs, drop me a line.

On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed the Davis-Bacon Act, establishing a requirement for the government to pay local prevailing wages on public works projects. Even since its passage, it’s been tainted with an accusation of racism, which will be the subject of today’s post, as we try to untangle the complex knot of race and labor in American history.

The law was prompted by Robert Bacon, a congressman from New York who allied with former Secretary of Labor (1921-30) Senator James Davis. A contractor in Bacon’s home district built a new VA hospital. Rather than hire local workers, he brought in low wage African-American laborers from Alabama. Bacon worried about the government undermining local wages and he sought to put a stop to it. It took the Great Depression to make Bacon’s bill a political possibility. Congress rejected it the first 12 times Bacon introduced it, but the desperation of the Depression created a political force that would lead to the construction of America’s labor law regime. One of the first victories in this was Davis-Bacon. The Hoover Administration itself requested that Congress take up the bill once more in order so that it could seem like it was doing something about falling wages. The law only covered government contracts greater than $5000 (amended to $2000 in 1935) and did not force contractors to hire union labor. As federal labor law often does as well, many states created little Davis-Bacons to cover state contracts, helping to raise the standard of living for construction labor.

James Davis and Robert Bacon

From the time of its passage, opponents portrayed Davis-Bacon as a racist law intended to protect white workers from black competition. Race and labor can’t be separated in this country. The racism that has divided this country since the beginning has also divided workers. Labor deserves no more but also no less blame in perpetuating this than other American institutions, including corporations who openly used race and ethnicity to divide workers, paying black workers lower wages and constructing white workers and black workers as competition against each other. Davis-Bacon intended to stop employers from undermining local standards of living, which they often did by taking advantage of the nation’s inherent racism to bring in workers of color. Today, one certainly cannot blame these black workers for taking jobs significantly better than the cotton plantations of the Jim Crow South, but I don’t think it particularly useful to condemn unionized northern workers for protecting their own jobs either, even if those protections by definition took on a racist tone. After all, feeding their families was a completely legitimate priority.

One however can shake their head at how labor used racist rhetoric to justify what could in principle have been a very reasonable bill. AFL president William Green in supporting Davis-Bacon noted in talking about why it was needed in Tennessee, “Colored labor is being sought to demoralize wage rates.” The debate in Congress over the bill also took on the racial overtones of American life in the early 30s. Alabama Rep. Clayton Allgood said in support, “Reference has been made to a contractor from Alabama who went to New York with bootleg labor. This is a fact. That contractor has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country. This bill has merit, and with the extensive building program now being entered into, it is very important we enact this measure.” Some wished it could be extended to protect “white” labor from immigrants as well. Fiorello LaGuardia was among those expressing these sentiments, noting “the workmanship of this cheap imported labor was of course very inferior.”

The law’s wording was pretty vague and both unions and employers have fought over its meanings ever since. For the building trades, Davis-Bacon directly benefited them and they fought for its vigorous use. For contractors, “prevailing wage” was totally undefined and frustrating. It never proved easy to determine or enforce when determined. The Department of Labor was tasked to determine just what the prevailing wage was for a region, but the formulas were increasingly complex and had to cover individual job classifications. In 1979, the General Accounting Office issued an appeal to repeal the law, citing four decades of it not working well.

In 1956, Congress extended Davis-Bacon to cover highway construction, the only controversial piece of the Federal-Aid Highway Act. Southern senators like Harry Byrd sought to reduce union influence by trying to exclude Davis-Bacon from the bill. In 1964, Davis-Bacon was expanded to add fringe benefits, including medical insurance, pensions, vacations, and sick pay into the calculations. This expansion also increased the reach of the law to include the states and municipalities receiving large federal grants for capital construction projects, ranging from schools to roads.

I think the debate over the origin of the law is a separate question over its value today. There is a whole history of terrible racist laws in this country, not to mention good laws passed with racist intent. Are we going to overturn hunting and fishing regulations because they were enacted to save the nation’s game for rich white people to use and overturned hundreds of years of subsistence food traditions by Native Americans, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, poor whites, and European immigrants? No. Neither should we eliminate Davis-Bacon. Is the law racist today? That’s the key question. And the answer is no.

The argument is basically concern trolling by businesses when what they really want is to avoid paying workers a living wage. Business hopes that by saying that labor law is racist, they can undermine unionism nationally. While northern African-Americans did often have very good reason to be suspicious of white labor unions in the past, today they are among the most union-friendly groups. Research consistently shows that unions have not hurt African-American employment over the years and that today they join unions to protect themselves from wage inequality (see Jake Rosenfeld and Meredith Kleykamp’s “Organized Labor and Racial Wage Equality in the United States,” American Journal of Sociology, March 2012) The NAACP supports the continuance of the Davis-Bacon Act. That support is a lot more important to me than the law’s overtones in 1931.

Opponents also claim Davis-Bacon openly favors union labor. Call the whaaambulance. It actually doesn’t favor union labor per se. It favors paying people the same wage rates unions have negotiated in areas where they control enough of the labor market to do so. Right-wingers use whiny arguments about taxpayers, noting that Davis-Bacon can increase public construction projects by 20 percent. Of course, usually it is less high than this, but those higher costs go back into the community through returned tax dollars, higher purchasing power, better schools, and happier citizens.

Also, high wages are needed for the building trades. Construction is seasonal labor. Without high wages during the work season, you aren’t going to convince young people to join these professions. You are going to lose skilled labor to build your house, fix your toilet, etc. These people have to live and eat and feed their families and I don’t think we should be giving any support for undoing some of the last legislation that helps provide workers with real benefits on the job. Employers should not be able to undermine local wages by importing cheap labor, just as they should not be able to decimate communities by a global race to the bottom to increase profits.

This is the 95th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Today In Republican Jim Crow Nostalgia

[ 32 ] February 24, 2014 |

NRO’s Kevin Williamson uses the Arizona Jim Crow bill for gays to lament the courts overturning segregation in the 1950s and 1960s.

Barry Goldwater, who set the great precedent for Arizonans’ shocking liberal sensibilities, had been an instrumental figure in the Phoenix desegregation effort but opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because he believed that by expanding the federal mandate it would lead to cumbrous and byzantine federal micromanagement of social affairs, and about that much he has been proved correct. The concept of “public accommodation” has been so inflated that as a practical matter no private sphere exists outside the home when the question of discrimination arises. That situation does not inculcate mutual toleration and respect, but the opposite.

Ah yes, public accommodation is so awful that it might be unconstitutional for private business to discriminate against people because they don’t like them. I haven’t heard such a violation of our rights since Texas had to stop arresting people for having anal sex.

Sure, Williamson follows this by saying that the situation blacks faced was unique and that the feds had to do something, but it’s completely unclear what the functional difference is between Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and new Jim Crow for gays in the 2010s. Actually, there is one key difference–Williamson knows he’s not supposed to say what he just said so he tries to deflect it, even though he completely opposes anything today that would address racial inequality. He says it’s not 1964, but I think that might be disappointing to him; certainly the changes of 1964 were disappointing to the founders of his publication and to many who write there today.

In any case true oppression for Williamson is federal courts doing anything to stop discrimination. I’m sure that applies to Texas and North Carolina suppressing the black vote after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. If you’ll notice, that’s the federal courts getting involved in state decisions in order to facilitate discrimination. But that’s totally OK.

Because Racism, Lethal Edition

[ 76 ] February 21, 2014 |

In the wake of the George Zimmerman acquittal, Lisa Wade discussed some data which contrasted justifiable homicide rates in stand-your-ground states to those without. Not terribly shocking, “In SYG states, 13.6% of homicides were ruled justifiable; in non-SYG states, only 7.2% were deemed such.”

With the hung jury on the murder charge against Michael Dunn for the killing of Jordan Davis, Wade reproduced the attached figure with additional commentary. While there are some legitimate complaints about the way the data are illustrated, it’s striking nonetheless. Bluntly, SYG laws make it easier for whites to kill blacks and get away with it. What else do they do besides sell more guns?

More critically, though, it’s only marginally easier for whites to get away with the murder of blacks in SYG states:

 

At the previous post, I argued that these data — made to feel real by decisions like these — show that we are “biased in favor of the white defendant and against the black victim.” Stand your ground laws make it worse, but the far right column shows that:

…white people who kill black people are far more likely to be found not-guilty even in states without SYG and black people who kill whites are less likely to be found not-guilty regardless of state law.

Or, to put it more bluntly, we still value white men’s freedoms more than black men’s lives. On average, of course.

Michael Dunn is a self admitted racist. As he will be going to jail for being found guilty on three counts of attempted murder, he’ll have plenty of time to explore these sentiments in his new, less segregated environment. In a jury of 12, the probability of including a middle-aged white male holding the enlightened, progressive views of a Michael Dunn can’t be discounted as vanishingly small. In general terms, empirical research demonstrates that race matters in jury decisions and all it takes is one stubborn Michael Dunn to lead to a mistrial.

In the Dunn jury, the initial poll was eight for conviction, two for self-defence, and two undecided. This eventually coalesced around the 9-3 split that led to the mistrial. With what we have available in the public record, we don’t know if the initial two were enthusiastically applying the letter of the SYG law (which is tenuous considering no gun was found in the Davis vehicle and Dunn continued shooting when the Davis and his friends were driving away in an attempt to get the hell out of there) or if there were more iniquitous motivations at work. But judging from the data, we can’t rule that out.

SYG laws are bad policy and need to be revoked, but they merely amplify the underlying racism still present in our society. That’s a more difficult problem of course, but perhaps one benefit of SYG is that it receives attention.

Fans and Players

[ 195 ] February 9, 2014 |

Last night, Oklahoma State’s star basketball player Marcus Smart went into the stands and shoved a Texas Tech fan. The initial reaction was typical–Smart’s a bad apple, he’s blowing his career being stupid, etc. See Myron Medcalf who claims, “It’s too early to know exactly what happened with Smart and that fan.” So let’s be sure to write that blog post condemning him before we know what happened!

Because you see, it’s typically much more complicated. Dave Zirin with a great run down here. Turns out this “fan” is a notorious jerk, so much so that Dick Vitale knows who he is and viscerally dislikes him. And he’s a racist. In fact, Smart claims this dude called him the n-word, which the guy is only sort of denying. But there’s larger issues at play here. Zirin:

5 – I have over the years spoken to a ton of former college basketball players who have stories about having racial slurs tossed at them by fans. They are conditioned before games to never go into the stands, and just keep their anger in check, no matter the cost to their mental and physical health. They are also pressured not speak about it to the media after games, to keep up the illusion of college athletics as some kind of innocent, wholesome endeavor. This dynamic, as much as anything, speaks to the utter powerlessness of so-called student athletes.

6 – Moments like this are exactly why the Northwestern football players felt compelled to form a union. So-called “student-athletes” have no power. They have no grievance procedure. Right now, as we speak, Marcus Smart is being told that the best thing for him, his family and his future NBA draft status, would be to just apologize and take whatever slap-on-the-wrist the Big 12 or the NCAA hands down. The most upsetting part, given the economics at play, is that this is probably good advice. It might not be great counsel for Smart’s mental health, but it is for his wallet.

7 – In a just world, Marcus Smart would not be suspended at all. Instead the NCAA would enact a FIFA style response. That means they would either bar Jeff Orr for life from ever going to another Texas Tech game, or, if it is found out that “the n-word” gets dropped from the stands in Lubbock like it’s open-season on black players, then make Texas Tech play in front of an empty arena for the rest of the season.

8 – A lot of former players are saying the equivalent of former NFL player Donte Stallworth who tweeted, “You don’t get a free pass to say/do whatever you want to athletes because you’re a fan… just save that faux tough guy ish for the internet. If you talk about a players family, fire a racial slur or throw a drink on them, right or wrong, you shouldn’t be surprised at retaliation.” Players are tired of enduring this, and they should not have to.

9 – One person tweeted to me that Jackie Robinson would never have gone into the stands when called a racial slur. This “Jackie Robinson: model minority” nonsense needs to be unpacked. First of all, that was 1947. Times have changed. Second, Jackie Robinson, a husband and a father, would have risked organized violence, as in lynch mobs, if he had pursed a physical response against fans. Third, Jackie Robinson was a 26-year-old Army veteran and a college graduate from UCLA. He also carried the hopes and dreams of masses of people with every at-bat. To ask a 19-year-old Marcus Smart to act in accordance with Jackie Robinson is a ridiculous weight to ask Mr. Smart to carry. And lastly Jackie Robinson, if you read his searing memoir, I Never Had It Made, had real regrets about not going into the stands and pummeling racists with what he called “my despised black fists”. Jackie Robinson died way too young at age 53. He and his family always believed that his early death was connected to the stress that he had to carry precisely because he kept it all bottled in on direct orders from the Brooklyn Dodgers organization and on society’s orders, shaped by the pre-civil rights times in which he played.

I do hate how conservatives (or anti-people standing up for themselves) have turned Jackie Robinson into whatever they want him to be, i.e. “a model for the race” which in reality means someone who never says a public word against the racism they face from fans. As Zirin says, it’s not 1947 and there needs to be a real way to deal with this. The NCAA doesn’t care, Texas Tech certainly doesn’t care, the players have absolutely no power to do anything. They are unpaid labor serving as a free minor league to professional sports leagues, often at significant cost to taxpayers and students. Marcus Smart could quit right now, go play in Europe for a few months with compensation, and then go declare for the draft. But then he’d been seen as even more of a bad apple. Instead, wherever he plays next on the road, opposing fans can use whatever racial epithets they want and there’s really nothing anyone is going to do about it.

Lynched Black Women

[ 161 ] February 6, 2014 |

Laura Nelson

Black History Month isn’t just about MLK and the civil rights movement. It’s about remembering the horrible things that white people did to black people through American history. Here’s a good post detailing the lynching of black women. Some examples for your Thursday:

Laura Nelson
Laura Nelson was lynched on May 23, 1911 In Okemah, Okluskee, Oklahoma. Her fifteen year old son was also lynched at the same time but I could not find a photo of her son. The photograph of Nelson was drawn from a postcard. Authorities accused her of killing a deputy sheriff who supposedly stumbled on some stolen goods in her house. Why they lynched her child is a mystery. The mob raped and dragged Nelson six miles to the Canadian River and hanged her from a bridge.(NAACP: One Hundred Years of Lynching in the US 1889-1918 )

Ann Barksdale or Ann Bostwick
The lynchers maintained that Ann Barksdale or Ann Bostwlck killed her female employer in Pinehurst, Georgia on June 24, 1912. Nobody knows if or why Barksdale or Bostick killed her employer because there was no trial and no one thought to take a statement from this Black woman who authorities claimed had ”violent fits of insanity” and should have been placed in a hospital. Nobody was arrested and the crowd was In a festive mood. Placed in a car with a rope around her neck, and the other end tied to a tree limb, the lynchers drove at high speed and she was strangled to death. For good measure the mob shot her eyes out and shot enough bullets Into her body that she was “cut in two.”

Marie Scott
March 31, 1914, a white mob of at least a dozen males, yanked seventeen year-old Marie Scott from jail, threw a rope over her head as she screamed and hanged her from a telephone pole in Wagoner County, Oklahoma. What happened? Two drunken white men barged Into her house as she was dressing. They locked themselves in her room and criminally “assaulted” her. Her brother apparently heard her screams for help, kicked down the door, killed one assailant and fled. Some accounts state that the assailant was stabbed. Frustrated by their inability to lynch Marie Scott’s brother the mob lynched Marie Scott. (Crisis 1914 and 100 Years of Lynching)

I could go on.

Today in Racists

[ 97 ] February 6, 2014 |

Texas Attorney General and likely next governor, Greg Abbott:

Greg Abbott unveiled his latest policy proposal in Dallas yesterday, a border security proposal that Abbott called his “Securing Texans Plan.” Abbott’s proposal would double spending on border security, costing $300 million over the next 2 years. He has called for hiring 500 more state troopers and spending millions on new high-tech security equipment.

In his speech, Abbott justified his proposal by comparing the South Texas border region to a third-world country. Said Abbott: “This creeping corruption resembles third world country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities and destroy Texans’ trust and confidence in government.”

His entire proposal was replete with militaristic rhetoric that characterized South Texas as a war zone that wasn’t really part of Texas. In describing his border plan, Abbott said, “We must do more to protect our border going beyond sporadic surges…I’ll add more boots on the ground, more assets in the air and on the water, and deploy more technology and tools for added surveillance.” He instead proposed a “continuous surge” of state troopers to the region.

I like the subtle equation of “Texan” as “white” by defining South Texas as un-American. Those are dog whistles that many in the Lone Star State hear loud and clear.

Why You Are Rooting for the Seahawks

[ 174 ] January 19, 2014 |

Sure, some of you might want to root for Denver. But then realize that you would be on the same side as John Podhoretz, who just tweeted this about Richard Sherman:

Classy as always!

I think this is an appropriate rebuttal:

Yeah, that’ll do.

I’m just going to assume that all Broncos fans are also fans of John Podhoretz, including my brother, who is the most obnoxious Broncos fan ever. This is going to be the greatest most epic Super Bowl of all time, with bragging rights that will last until we die.

[SL] My personal favorite:

Similar sentiments to JPod’s collected here.

Victims

[ 91 ] November 18, 2013 |

Obviously the real victims here are the white people made to understand that white supremacy is offensive.

McAdory High School has issued a public apology for a “Trail of Tears” banner that was held up during a weekend football game versus the Pinson Valley Indians.

The sign, which originally began making the internet rounds through a Tumblr blog post, reads:

“Hey Indians, get ready to leave in a Trail of Tears Round 2″

Trail of Tears jokes are Hi-larious. Especially in Alabama, whose borders includes parts of the homeland of the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw. Of course if we didn’t have mascots named after victims of genocide, this never would have happened.

Today in the Post-Racial Society

[ 12 ] November 9, 2013 |

Clearly not racism:

Home improvement maker Home Depot Inc. on Thursday apologized for a tweet that showed a picture of two African-American drummers with a person in a gorilla mask in between them and asked: “Which drummer is not like the others?”

The tweet, from Home Depot’s official Twitter account, @HomeDepot, was part of a “College Gameday” college football promotion on ESPN. It was quickly pulled, but not before people took screen shots of it and it was widely circulated on social media. NBC and CNBC, among others, reported on the Tweet.

Home Depot said Friday that it has fired the person and outside agency that was responsible for the tweet, but did not disclose their names.

“We have zero tolerance for anything so stupid and offensive,” said Stephen Holmes, spokesman for the Atlanta-based company.

The fact that Home Depot fired the agency responsible for the tweet is outrageous. It clearly has nothing to do with real racism. You know, like claiming that Trayvon Martin shouldn’t have been shot dead by George Zimmerman for being black, thinking the Washington Racist Insignias have an offensive mascot, or supporting the rights of African-Americans to vote. The real racists here are Home Depot executives for firing those truth tellers.

Reverse Racism

[ 328 ] November 5, 2013 |

The comment thread on Edward Bland’s The Cry of Jazz was more contentious than I thought it would be, since several commenters basically called this early black nationalist a racist and even compared him (shockingly unfairly) to Leni Riefenstahl. When I read this Sara Luckey piece (published several months ago) on the myth of reverse racism, I immediately thought of that thread and the need for a lot of white people to learn more about the relationship between racism and power:

Racism exists when prejudice+power combine to form social constructs, legislation and widespread media bias that contribute to the oppression of the rights and liberties of a group of people. Racism is systemic, institutional, and far reaching. It is the prevalence of racism within social structures and institutional norms, along with implicit and explicit enforcement by members of a group, that allows racism to run rampant and unchecked. America is a country seeped in white privilege, and our social structure is built on colonization and forced slave labor that then turned into further systemic and ongoing oppression of PoC. We have a culture that presents whiteness as the norm and all else as ‘other’ or different. White is presented as the beauty ideal, the main face in the media (unless we’re talking about criminals, then PoC get unfairly misrepresented), the standard, the regular. It’s a structural problem that affects the perceptions of jurors in criminal cases, admissions to colleges, funding for public schools, welfare and food stamp programs, the redrawing of district lines that affect where we vote, who we see represented on T.V. and how, what schools people have access to, what neighborhoods people live in, an individual’s shopping experience, access to goods and services; it’s extensive and a part of the fabric that let’s whiteness remain dominant in American culture.

Not only was Edward Bland and other black nationalists not racist toward white people, they were responding directly to the racism they felt everyday, racism that white people in the United States simply cannot understand. It’s not racist for him say that white people suck at playing jazz, even if you completely disagree with the point, precisely because not only is Bland not saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to play jazz but because there is no power structure behind the statement. Black nationalism was a response to systemic racism. The Tea Partiers today who are claiming they experience racism because they hear Spanish at their favorite buffet restaurant/are forced to admit that black people can vote/whatever completely misunderstand what racism even is. Unfortunately, so do too many white liberals.

More from Luckey:

The situations in which you, fellow white person, were involved were unfortunate and inappropriate, this is true. But to claim that these experiences were ‘reverse racism’ both diminishes and minimalizes the real and actual experiences of PoC who really do encounter racism. There is no system of oppression in America that actively works to oppress and subjugate white people. Sorry to break it to you, but your individual suffering is just that, individual. The individuals acting against you do not have the institutionalized power to actively oppress you in every facet of your life, nor would their racism be upheld and supported by government, media, and legislation if they did. Because you’re white.

Reverse racism isn’t real because we live in a culture that supports and enforces whiteness as the norm and PoC as other. If you experience discrimination, prejudice, or bigotry, it’s valid to be upset about it and want to talk about it. It is not valid to claim that it is reverse racism, and certainly not valid to claim that it is racism on par with anything like the institutionalized racism that PoC will come into contact with. When a white person starts talking about reverse racism, what they’re really doing is derailing a conversation to make it about them. Their white privilege leads them to believe that what they say both matters and needs to be heard and is important and the conversation should stop to focus on their perceived ills. You know what? When somebody is talking about racism they have experienced, that conversation is not all about you, nor should you expect it to be, so stop with the derailing and just listen and learn.

When white people complain about experiencing reverse racism, what they’re really complaining about is losing out on or being denied their already existing privileges. And while it may feel bad to realize your privilege is crumbling and the things you’ve taken for granted can be taken away from you, it is unfair, untrue, and disingenuous to call that experience reverse racism.

People need to take the relationship between race and power seriously before taking about racism.

….Based on this comment thread, let me just say how hard it is being white when a few people of color might not like you because of the hundreds of years of systemic racism placed upon their people that you benefit from everyday. I guess we whites will just have to console ourselves knowing that we hold almost every position of power and authority in this nation’s political, economic, and judicial system, that prison sentences for whites are far less than for people of color, that whites have higher income and lower unemployment rates, etc., etc. But hey, that jazz guy in 1959 said that white people can’t understand the music and some people today demand you take history and power seriously before talking about racism, so let’s all call the whaaaambulance!

Blackface: A Primer

[ 138 ] October 30, 2013 |

Since blackface seems to be all the rage this Halloween season (post-racial society indeed!), here’s Blair L.M. Kelley with a primer on its history and why it is so awful. Not that you all didn’t already know this, but it’s a good piece.

[SL]: A handy guide for anyone considering doing blackface for a Halloween costume:

[via gmack]

Welcome to Tonight’s NFL Game between the Phoenix Wetbacks and the Atlanta Darkies

[ 367 ] October 8, 2013 |

The National Congress of American Indians recently put out this image in response to those who don’t think sports teams with Native American logos are offensive.

I understand that people are fans of who they are fans of. I am an Oregon Ducks, Portland Trail Blazers, and Seattle Seahawks fan because of where I came from. You don’t really even make these choices, in a sense. So whatever. But if you are a fan of the Washington Racist Insignia or the Cleveland Racist Logo and defend these names and logos, I’m just going to assume you would also be totally fine with the Phoenix Wetbacks and the Atlanta Darkies. Because it’s the same thing. I don’t care that the Racist Insignias have had their name for decades. I don’t think the social mores of the early 20th century are something that are an unchangeable tradition, unless you also don’t support anti-lynching laws or Native Americans voting.

It’s racist and denying that is facilitating and apologizing for racism.

All of this reminds me of the commercials based upon once existent products in C.S.A. Which if you haven’t seen it, isn’t a perfect film by any means, but is certainly a unique and challenging anti-racist film in the Civil War memory genre.

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