Addressing Grossly Underfunded Ghetto Schools

Black Lives: Agents of Change, Failing Schools vs Community Education in America

RT (2019)

Film Review

The fifth episode of Black Lives contrasts failing public schools in New York and Philadelphia ghettos with community education efforts by Black Lives Matter organizers.

Due to systematic defunding, African American students attend schools with as many as 40 kids in a class. With no time to correct it, some teachers have quit assigning homework.. At the same time, many “underperforming” (ie underfunded) schools in African America communities have been closed to redirect public funding to privately run for-profit charter schools.

Most of the film centers around efforts by Black Lives Matter organizers to teach Black teenagers gun safety (via the Black Guns Matter program) and community organizing skills. They learn how to organize protest marches, send out media releases and lobby officials at all levels of government.

While Black Lives Matter has come under criticism for its failure to bring about any genuine policy changes, their community education efforts seem to offer Black teenagers good male role models, as well as an attractive alternative to drug dealing and gang banging.

 

 

Black Ghettos: The Role of Segregation, Deindustrialization and Interstate Freeway Construction

Black Lives: Truth, Racial Segregation Legacy Keeps America Divided

RT (2019)

Film Review

The fourth episode of Black Lives visits segregated Black slums in Baltimore and Pittsburgh that were thriving African American communities before the US government allowed Wall Street to destroy the country’s manufacturing base (in the 70s and 80s) and move thousands of factories overseas. The Black area of Homewood (Pittsburgh), which initially survived de-industrialization, was a thriving African American business district until the city fathers decided to tear it down to build a freeway.

Many US cities adopted this strategy. In the early eighties, Seattle City Council gave their blessing to a plan by Washington Department of Transportation to crush Seattle’s African American community by running an I-5 extension through it. This destroyed any remaining good paying jobs in the central city.

The filmmakers record it all: the dilapidated unheated housing, the drug dealers that moved in as businesses were boarded up, the ubiquitous police presence and the intrusion of homicide into Black family life.

East Baltimore has been compared to a war zone – at present it’s the murder and heroin capitol of the US.

 

 

Black Lives: The Role of Gospel, Jazz, Rock and Gangsta Rap in the Ghetto

Black Lives: Hope, Gospel or Gangsta Rap Same Message Different Vibes

RT (2019)

Film Review

For me, the third episode in the Black Lives series is the most interesting. In it, filmmakers explore the importance of Black music in reflecting the soul wrenching reality of modern day ghetto life. They interview gospel singers in a Black church (who tend to be over 45), as well as a saxophonist who plays rock music in Harlem clubs, a guitarist who busks in New York subways to pay his rent and gangsta rappers in Compton California.

They also feature a rap competition in which rappers compete for having the best lyrics and delivery. The poetry they produce has a finally honed brilliance.

The Compton rappers respond to growing criticism that mainstream society finds gangsta rap offensive. One points out that gangsta rap used to be known as “reality” rap. He acknowledges it might be hard to hear, “but this is our life.”

 

 

Why Civil Rights Aren’t Enough to Make the American Dream Come True

Black Lives: Trap, Why Civil Rights Aren’t Enough to Make the American Dream Come True

RT (2019)

Film Review

This video is the second of a series of nine exploring life in inner city African American communities. The first looked at life in Ferguson Missouri four years after the police murdered Michael Brown – which sparked the formation of the group Black Lives Matter (see Still dreaming of racial justice in St Louis Black neighborhoods). Clearly little had changed.

The rest of the series looks at other decaying urban ghettos, as well as examining problems unique to poor African American communities (the absence of decent jobs or housing, failing schools, teen pregnancy, gangs, and drug dealing). My first reaction on viewing the series was to question why the US media rarely reports on these issues – or efforts by local African American leaders to address them.

The second film focuses on poor Black communities in Baltimore and Washington DC. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s, the bleak living conditions poor Black Americans endure remain virtually unchanged.

The most interesting interviews in this episode are with two activist religious leaders organizing their communities to improve living conditions..

One makes an interesting observation about the determination of the FBI and CIA to infiltrate and destroy any grassroots movement that takes serious strides towards improving African American living conditions.*

He also believes the two major political parties exploit racism to win votes. Republicans provoke anti-Black and anti-immigrant sentiments among white males who feel excluded from the massive economic transformation occurring in industrialized society. Democrats use racism to line up black votes, while making notoriously empty promises to improve their lives.


*Which corresponds with my experience in Seattle’s African American community, while working with a prison reform committee and Seattle’s African American Heritage Museum.

 

 

London: The Deadly Effects of Air Pollution in Low Income Children

Living, Breathing, London

Directed by Ross Field (2019)

Film Review

With the mainstream media totally focused in carbon emissions, it’s easy to lose sight of the deadly effects of particulate pollution, ie dirty air. This mini-documentary summarizes some alarming research about its devastating health effects, especially in children.

Most of the pollution described consists of tiny carbon particles released in car exhaust. Once these enter the lungs, they are absorbed into the blood stream and cross into the brain.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2014 one out of eight people died as a direct result of air pollution. Most were children. Studies also show that high levels of air pollution also cause depression, child conduct disorder, dementia, low birth weight, abnormal fetal development, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

In the UK, which has been in breach of EU clean air rules for two years, up to 36,000 die annually from air pollution. Families in low income neighborhoods, which are always closest to freeways and busy thoroughfares, always show the highest level of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other air pollutants.

On a commercial note, the UK’s growing air pollution problem translates into fantastic business opportunities, creating a lucrative market for innovative safety masks, crib filters and jars of fresh air.

The filmmakers feel a better solution is to lobby the UK government to phase out fossil fuel cars by 2025 (instead of 2040) and to reduce public transport fares (instead of increasing them like the present government).

Although Britain’s electric vehicle fleet is growing fast, it still represents only 1-2% of the country’s total automobile market.

 

Germany’s Super Rich

Germany: The Discrete Lives of Germany’s Super Rich

DW (2019)

Film Review

This is a documentary about German billionaires, which are more prevalent in Germany than elsewhere in Europe. Der Spiegel’s Manager Magazine compiles and annual list of Germany’s 1001 richest people. Assets of at least $100 million to make the list, which includes 170-180 billionaires. All but one are men.

German billionaires are far less ostentatious than their US, Chinese or Russian counterparts. Shunning conspicuous consumption, most try to hide their wealth. They express fear of provoking envy and the risk of break-ins or having their children kidnapped. Families with inherited wealth are afraid its links to the Third Reich will be exposed.

The filmmakers found a handful of billionaires willing to be interviewed, including a multibillionaire who owes his wealth to a self-service drug store chain, the founder of a chain of fitness studios and a hearing aid manufacturer. Unlike the US, there are no big tech, athlete or movie star billionaires.

Rather than directly lobbying political leaders (as in the US), German billionaires tend to lobby the German government indirectly through their business associations. There is always the implied (or expressed) threat they will leave Germany and take tens of thousands of jobs with them.

In Germany, the last 25 years as seen a big spike in wealth inequality. Average wages and corporate and wealth taxes have declined as billionaire wealth has increased exponentially.

The billionaires interviewed uniformly oppose restoring former tax rates to help reduce poverty. What I find most striking about the film is their failure to recognize their obscene fortunes as a wealth transfer from low income people. In many cases, it’s clearly a wealth transfer from their own workers, whose wages have been steadily squeezed by German productivity policies.

 

 

 

 

Black Homeless Americans

Black Lives: America’s Homeless Epidemic

RT (2018)

Film Review

In this RT documentary, filmmakers visit homeless areas in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and St Louis. As a group, African Americans experience the highest levels of unemployment and poverty. This means they are disproportionately represented among America’s homeless.

In New York, RT interviews a homeless African American who has two masters degrees and worked 17 years as a marriage counselor. He became homeless after his wife died of breast cancer, which led him to a bout of psychotic depression and drug and alcohol abuse. He can’t obtain drug treatment owing to a history of violence associated with his mental illness.

In Los Angeles, filmmakers visit the now infamous tent city that has sprung up in Skid Row.

In Philadelphia, they visit the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a privately run facility that serves three meals a day and runs a 180-bed shelter. Because 40% of Philadelphia residents are only two paychecks away from homelessness, they are full most nights and turn people away.

In St Louis, they interview the founder of Showers to the People. The latter converted a large box truck into a portable shower facility for the city’s homeless residents.