Spent part of my lunch hour watching a 1992 documentary short (H/T DMN) called Hate Mail by Dallas filmmakers Mark Birnbaum and Bart Weiss. Birnbaum was behind a documentary about the decline of the Dallas Morning News and a promotional film for the Super Bowl XLV charitable efforts. Weiss is the force behind Dallas VideoFest.
Back in the age of analog video, the two of them teamed up to produce a film that used hate mail that Bob Ray Sanders then used to read on his KLIF radio show as the jumping off point for a look at racist attitudes in North Texas. As they explain in the video introduction that they posted yesterday to mark the doc’s reemergence on an online video archive called Media Burn, they had planned to interview the people who actually set the letters to Sanders, but when they went to track those people down, it turned out that all but one of them had used fake names. So they found some all-too-willing-to-talk members of the Ku Klux Klan instead.
It’s astonishing to listen to the Klansmen portray their brand of racism as kinder and gentler, not motivated by hate but instead by white pride.
But even more surprising, I found the comment I agreed with most of all came from then-and-now County Commissioner John Wiley Price. I’m not referring to when he says that racism is “as American as apple pie.” It’s when he says he’s less concerned about the “white hoods” and the “bald heads” than he is about the “three-piece suits” and “chambers of commerce.”
It’s that more subtle, subconscious form of racist attitudes that remains the more pernicious threat today.