In this clip, America’s most beloved documentary filmmaker Ken Burns poetically shares his utter dismay with the racism that still permeates our society in a moving speech, framed in terms of Lincoln and the historic heritage of slavery. Speaking at the commencement ceremony at Washington University in St. Louis, he laments that all the progress racial relations have achieved in America are “in danger of being undone by our still imperfect human nature and by politicians who now insist on a hypocritical color-blindness — after four centuries of discrimination. That discrimination now takes on new, sometimes subtler, less obvious but still malevolent forms today.”
Speaking a few miles away “as the crow flies” from Ferguson, Burns is grateful that the awful era of Jim Crow and slavery is long gone, but is distraught that new forms have emerged to replace it: “But the shame continues: prison populations exploding with young black men, young black men killed almost weekly by policemen, whole communities of color burdened by corrupt municipalities that resemble more the predatory company store of a supposedly bygone era than a responsible local government. Our cities and towns and suburbs cannot become modern plantations.”
It’s a poignant and beautifully worded speech that really hits home that while we have made great strides in achieving equality in America, there is inherent discrimination deeply rooted in our society, in our culture, and in our very public institutions. As the right-wing attempts to enshrine more discrimination against gay Americans in legislatures across the South, its clearer than ever that the fight for equality is far from over.
Watch it here: