Panhandle PBS recently started one of the hardest conversations you can have in this country—a talk about racism.
It turned out to be an Emmy-winning discussion.
The Living While Black series created by Panhandle PBS won its director and producers Lone Star Regional Emmy Awards in the “Best Documentary—Topical” category for 2021.
In January 2022, my colleagues, Hilary Hulsey, Brian Frank and Nolyn Hill, and I unboxed the statuettes we’d been waiting for since the win was announced in a virtual ceremony in November.
We’re grateful our work was recognized, but the real honor goes to our Black and biracial neighbors who shared their very personal, emotional and intense experiences with race and racism. We’re just people who understood that it was way past time to listen. Deeply.
In more than 25 hours of interviews, those who participated allowed themselves to be vulnerable about risk, trauma and disappointment. They also opened up about resilience, perseverance and pride.
The result was the six-episode documentary that aired online and on air in multiple presentations on Panhandle PBS in 2021. The series remains online for viewing at www.PanhandlePBS.org/livingwhileblack.
Headquartered at Amarillo College, Panhandle PBS is the public television station serving Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle.
“The series sparked conversations that needed to be started 50 years ago,” said David Lovejoy, a participant and first vice president of the Amarillo Branch of the NAACP.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often said white people and people of color live in two different Americas. The former in a land of opportunity; the latter, lacking in the same. The interviews with people in our community illustrate King’s point.
“Help me understand how living in America is different for you than for me,” I prompted.
There were, of course, many examples I already knew. Prior to these interviews, the world had witnessed George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police while in their custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That would not happen to me in my America.
But it does in theirs.
Protests were going on all across the country, including here. Those voices had to be recorded and heard.
“There are laws to this day of killing certain types of animals,” Floyd Anthony told us. “You go to jail for killing, what, an eagle? Or you kill a deer or something out of season. And here—we’re always in season. That’s got to stop.”
Anthony served 16 years as president of the Amarillo Branch of the NAACP. He grew up under Jim Crow laws that legalized racial segregation, as did several we interviewed.
“What does racism look like to you?” I would ask.
Most pulled in a long breath and let it out before they answered.
“I think there are two kinds of racism,” Allison Roberts replied. “I mean, there’s the blatant, in-your-face calling you names … And then there’s the ones that just want to act like you don’t exist or that you’re not on the same level. I think that one hurts the most.”
Living While Black addresses moving forward.
“I think that anytime you want change, you have to realize that everybody has to be involved in the change. It can’t just be from one race. It has to be everybody,” Claudia Stuart said during her interview. Stuart was one of the first Black students to integrate then-West Texas State College.
What took me aback, during production, was how I felt asking the questions. I would tread lightly on the word “Black” and stumble awkwardly on the word “white.” Sometimes I even sidestepped the reference completely by using “people like me.” I didn’t want to offend anyone or make embarrassing errors.
Yet, when you watch Living While Black, you’ll learn that feeling clumsy when talking about race is a natural but necessary part of breaking down biases.
We brought in an expert, Dr. Derald Wing Sue, to help us and our audience understand the vocabulary of race and how to begin having meaningful dialogues about it.
The author of Race Talk: Conspiracy of Silence, Sue teaches the psychology of racism and antiracism at Columbia University’s Teachers College, where he is now using segments of Living While Black in his graduate courses. The American-born son of Chinese immigrants, Sue developed a lifelong fascination with human behavior after a life-changing experience with racism directed toward his family. He is known for coining the term “microaggressions.”
“Microaggressions are the everyday slight indignities, insults and put-downs that people of color experience in their day-to-day interactions with well-intentioned individuals who are unaware that they are engaging in a demeaning or offensive way towards individuals of color,” Sue explained. “Microaggressions are really reflections of what I call implicit bias. That is, the racial bias that is outside the level of conscious awareness.”
Sue said he is often complimented for speaking “excellent English” after giving a speech. “The way I respond to them is ‘Thank you. I hope so. I was born here.’” Sue told us. “Now, here is the dilemma of a microaggression. The perpetrator thinks that they’re complimenting you. But the hidden or meta communication that is being received by me is that I’m a perpetual alien in my own country.”
While the series has been viewed and discussed by church, education and civic groups locally, it also has been used as a discussion starter by organizations in various locales across the country.
Anthony called the series insightful. “It’s history told by those who had to live it,” he said.
According to Sue, we perpetuate racism by not talking about our differences, by remaining silent and hushing the subject when it arises. Our hope is that this series can provide support for starting meaningful conversations in your own communities.
Karen Welch is senior content producer at Panhandle PBS and a journalist who has covered Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle for more than 30 years.
The Living While Black documentary examines:
- The Black experience in Amarillo and the United States
- The vocabulary of racism
- Interactions with law enforcement
- Segregation, desegregation and the renaming of schools
- Missing Black history
- Current protests and the Civil Rights Movement
- How to move from protest to action