By Amal Flower Kay
Guest blogger Amal is a photographer and filmmaker in Minneapolis and an eighth grader at Lake Country School.
Racism and discrimination isn’t as obvious these days. We acknowledge that it’s there, but where is it? It’s a question that Minnesota has been trying harder and harder to address, and the older I get, the more I see the questions. But no answers.
I made my first movie when I was eight, and titled it “Underwear Man.” It involved me with a pair of old, grey boxer briefs on my head, wearing a red bathrobe, saving the world from the evil villain Dr. Limpio. He had a limp, and his only goal in life seemed to be attacking me and my sidekick, Mr. Green. Mr. Green wore a green poncho, green hat, green Crocs, and carried a stick that he used to hit Dr. Limpio. It was pretty great for my eight-year-old self and after that I became hooked on the idea of telling stories through cameras.
Most of my early films were extremely violent, had characters named odd things like Lance Ortho, and generally were not something I can be proud of now. My films started to pick up in quality when the generous people at Quiet Island Films trusted me to use their camera for very long, extended periods of time. I came into contact with QIF through my mom Vina Kay. She knew Jan Selby the company founder as another parent from my school Lake Country Montessori. They had gotten together and decided to start a documentary on Montessori education called Building the Pink Tower. Through my mom I’ve met many amazing people who have given me incredible photo and video opportunities that I would never have dreamed that I could do at the age of 13. I’ve met people like Quiet Island Films’ Jan and Amira, Line Break Media’s Nolan and Erick, Brother Ali, I Self Devine, Hope Community’s Jake, and the team at Intermedia Arts.
Jake, from Hope Community, came to me with the task of creating a video on parks and specifically racial equity in parks. For me, it was an interesting topic, because I’ve grown up with parks being a great place to escape and have some fun. “My” park was Lynnhurst Park, which is made up of a very large city block that is right next to Lake Harriet. The moment Jake and I started to drive around and find good parks to film interviews and other footage in, I realized how incredible, but at the same time sad, the state of Minneapolis’ parks are. As one of the people we interviewed said, “Minnesota HAS a great parks system, but I definitely see a lot of disparities.” These disparities became very clear to me as we interviewed a wide variety of age groups in their parks. My experience in the parks has always been great. Clean, pretty, well cared for. However, many people never get that, especially people from neighborhoods that were predominately made up of people of color.
Approaching my films is always challenging, and I have to make sure that the content won’t offend anybody, but at the same time provide interesting points of view and perspectives. The hard part about creating interesting content is the stories. Finding ways to relate total strangers to each other, but at the same time showing how different they are. However, with the parks, it was easy to show their similarities. They were connected, and created this community of people that are saying what they believe in. For this video, that was the ultimate goal — showing a video to the Park Board Commissioner candidates that would be almost impossible to ignore.
Something that parks bring to us is happiness, this sense of joy. You’re with your friends, having fun, in a safe environment. However, in modern day culture, that environment isn’t actually safe. While physically, it’s safe, it’s not safe mentally. CNN recently did their own version of the Doll Study. They aimed to recreate Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s Doll Study from the 1940s. They put a card in front of kids that had different drawings of kids. The kids were all wearing the same clothes, and had the same face and hair. However, on the left side of the card was a white child, and on the right side was a black child. The children became increasingly darker from left to right. When asked who the ugly child was, most children (white AND black) pointed to the black child. When asked who the mean child was, the same result occurred. However, when asked who the smart or pretty child was, most children pointed to the white child.
This tells us that our environment isn’t safe. Children are growing up with stereotypes in their minds, from day one. As humans, and especially as inquisitive children, we take in information without realizing it. Children take in new things constantly, and one of those things is racism. They don’t associate those thoughts with racism, but they will all perceive the white blonde as prettier than the black child.
I addressed a problem in a journal entry I did for school recently. The Civil War was fought between the Union and the states that had seceded from the Union, over states rights. However, a large part of states rights was the right to own slaves. The Union won the war, and slavery was banned. The Civil Rights movement was resolved by changing Jim Crow laws that segregated blacks from whites. The way we fixed those problems was by changing the laws. However, we can’t enforce laws about the way children think, or what they listen to. We can’t enforce laws that make people not be able to say whites are smarter than blacks. So we have to convince people that these stereotypes must change, and that the next generation of children won’t be brought up in a society where racism is a constant thing. We can no longer only change laws that prevent racism. We must also change minds.