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Rod Watson: For racial dialogue to help, it can't be this easy

Progressive black male filmmaker seeks conservative white Western New York community for meaningful dialogue and possible relationship. Must be open-minded and amenable to change.

Maybe filmmaker Korey Green should run that ad to spur the sort of dialogue this community needs to have on race.

Green, coproducer of "The Blackness Project" documentary, screened the film last weekend at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo on Elmwood Avenue before a receptive audience hosted by a congregation whose "Black Lives Matter" banner proudly proclaims its values.

The next stop is the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst, a similarly progressive congregation that put up its own "Black Lives Matter" banner – only to have it vandalized – two years ago.

The discussion in the Buffalo church after the screening illustrated that dialogue around the touchy topic of race can be beneficial even when it’s among those who agree. Panelists and audience members reminded one another of the hazards of implicit bias, even among the well-meaning; that education around racism is insufficient if it doesn’t also lead to action; and that whites need to call out one another when racist beliefs are expressed.

But if preaching to the converts is good, converting the nonbelievers is even better.

Green’s and coproducer Peter Johnson’s film was spurred by "The Whiteness Project," the 2014 film in Buffalo that included a white man talking candidly about feeling discriminated against and a white woman contending that there’s no advantage to being white and no drawback to being black.

"The Blackness Project" was a follow-up that touches on everything from slavery as the economic pillar upon which the country was built, to the precautions a black family had to take just to travel South, to police killings of unarmed black men, to how much opportunity blacks have or don’t have today. Interspersed are snippets from "The Whiteness Project" that give context to what Green and Johnson were trying to do.

"The goal of the film is to get as many people as we can talking," Green said after the screening, noting he had never seen whites talk so candidly as in the 2014 film, which is why that project was important.

But by the nature of the audience, the only such candor in the Unitarian Universalist Church was on screen. If we’re really going to tackle race as an issue, the discussions also have to be among those who hold conflicting opinions.

Green recognizes that. In fact, as people filed out afterward, he said that’s why he felt it important to have Carl Paladino – the ousted School Board member remembered for his racist comments about Barack and Michelle Obama – on the panel when he debuted the film at the Burchfield Penney Art Center last month.

"We’ve already talked about it," he said of how to get the film into communities that may not be as receptive. He said they want to have the discussion "especially in those kinds of places."

So far, they’ve gone where they’ve been invited, said media consultant Jennifer J. Parker, noting that they’ve had requests from Detroit, New York City and San Antonio. But there are places closer to home that need to see this film and have this discussion.

Which raises the question: Which Western New York church or community group whose members hold views like those expressed in "The Whiteness Project" will be the first to invite Green and start a conversation that too often takes place only among the like-minded?

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