At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, Los Angeles producer and director Rob Bliss took to the streets of Harrison, Arkansas, with a BLM sign to show just how prevalent racism still is in many American communities.
While unsettling, the video of the harassment and mistreatment he received in Harrison was a wake up call for many Americans.
As of Oct. 22, Bliss’s video has more than three million views across multiple social media platforms.
While most Arkansans know Harrison to be a town entangled in racism, it was clear that this was many Americans’ first look into the deeply conservative town.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, fifteen hate groups could be tracked to Arkansas in 2019, five of which are in Harrison. They groups espouse everything from anti-semitism to the re-institution of the Confederate nation.
The most infamous hate group headquartered in Harrison is the Ku Klux Klan, a group unambiguously sworn to white supremacy.
While most viewers were appalled by the way Bliss was treated for holding a BLM sign, others called for the video to be taken down.
The mayor of Harrison, Jerry Jackson, insisted that Bliss’ unsettling video was not representative of the community he knows. In a statement on the Harrison Chamber of Commerce website, he contends, “We know for certain that [residents shown in the video] do not reflect the views of the majority of the good people of our communities. It is obvious there is still work to be done in our area and across the nation.”
If Mayor Jackson is insistent that Bliss’ video isn’t representative of the Harrison community, how does he explain the city’s display of blatant bigotry? How can he ensure that racism is not as alive and well in his community as the viral video makes it out to be?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization provides a guide, more or less, for how public education can be used to transform America’s future race relations.
They recommend that “schools should give history, social memory and human rights...a place at the core of teaching,” whereby students recognize the history of our nation and further the dissolution of “the perpetuation of stereotypes.”
Ultra-conservative communities like Harrison have a responsibility to implement programs of this nature. Racist sentiment will only continue to fester in such communities without an effort to eradicate it.
To achieve this goal, they emphasize that educators “reexamine and revise curriculum, and textbooks in particular, to eliminate racist depictions, misrepresentation, and historical exclusions.”
Whether one agrees with Black Lives Matter is beyond the point. Bliss’ video further reveals the racism that still exists; in fact, it draws the ire that lies behind some people’s opposition to BLM: deliberate racism. Disagreement with BLM is too often a sentiment fueled by racism.
Public schools, especially in communities with deeply seated racial issues, should aim to give their students a better understanding of race in America. Failings in education have allowed racial divisions in this country to exist.
Going forward, honest and impartial teachings about race must be present in American classrooms.
In an interview with USA Today, Bliss commented on the idea that some assume “real racism” is not an issue anymore.
“I think people assume that ‘real racism’ doesn’t really exist anymore,” Bliss said. “That it’s more like, it’s institutional or it’s implicit or it’s subconscious, when really, one of the reasons why I like this video is you can see this is very real.”
Bliss wanted the video to demonstrate how real racism still is in parts of the nation.
It’s more than clear that part of the Harrison community is set deeply in its ways. This doesn’t mean that Harrison and the numerous communities like it are beyond change.