Are there rules to racism?
Tariq Nasheed, also known as "Tariq Elite," is a celebrated author, motivational speaker, radio personality and now filmmaker. Nasheed's latest project, "Hidden Colors," is a series of documentary films that detail the history of racism. The films include professors, rappers and comedians offering their thoughts on race. They also provide historical context to illustrate the systemic cultural and political oppression of black people around the world.
The first film in the "Hidden Colors" series came out in 2011, with the second following in 2012. The most recent installment, "Hidden Colors 3: The Rules of Racism," was released in June. Inspired by Nasheed's disappointment with the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin case, as well as what he described to The Huffington Post as "Jim Crow 2.0," the movie features the likes of Nas, Dick Gregory, Paul Mooney, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, David Banner and Sharazad Ali. It focuses on American racism -- in particular, the way it has endured from before slavery to the present day.
Tariq Nasheed sat down with The Huffington Post to discuss his new film and how it relates to recent events.
What inspired you to make "Hidden Colors 3: The Rules of Racism"?
The Trayvon Martin situation. When that verdict came through, I saw the way black people reacted to it, and I don't think people were serious enough about the outcome and the ramifications of that. When the Trayvon Martin decision happened and black people didn't act accordingly, that should have snapped everybody to attention. We kind of let that slide. That gave white supremacists a green light to go further, so now there are cops beating up black women, beating up more children, shooting more black people ... We've seen Jim Crow racism come back. It's Jim Crow 2.0, looped back around.
You can't play games with systematic white supremacy. We have to be cognizant of the rules of racism.
What are your thoughts on Eric Garner's death?
We have to understand with the Eric Garner case that this is Jim Crow 2.0. We are literally back in the new Jim Crow era. People try to dismiss racism, because they're not saying "ni**er go home." They don't have the signs. The racism and the white supremacy is still there -- it's just not written down anymore. That's the only difference.
Eric Garner was lynched. That was nothing more than a lynching. You don't have random lynch mobs running around like they used to in Jim Crow. The police are the lynch mobs now -- they're the designated lynch mobs. And they're showing you they can kill a black person on camera, and possibly still get away with it.
They're building their defense now, trying to say that he died of a heart attack, when we saw that the man was choked out. Black people have to be empowered enough to put politicians in place to get these rogue cops out of the system, to shut down these police forces that will support rogue cops and white supremacists.
This police officer has been known to make racialized arrests, he's been sued a couple of times -- a lot of people don't know that. [ed. note: For more on Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Garner in a chokehold on July 17, see here.] We have to pool together our finances to shut people like that down.
What would you like to see result from the circulation of this film?
I would like to see black people get serious about economic black empowerment. That's the most important thing. We need economic empowerment, which is going to translate to black empowerment. That doesn't mean "treat anybody else inferior" or "subjugate anybody." That means we're in a position as black people to protect ourselves economically. If you can protect yourself economically, you can protect yourself physically.
The problem is that we keep getting into these situations with police, they're shutting down our schools, gentrification ... This is because the dominant society is waging economic warfare on black folks. All of our problems ultimately stem from economics. We can't keep our schools open, we can't keep our homes and communities intact, we're unemployed in mass numbers. We really need to be serious about our economics.
Had you always planned out three installments, or did they come as a natural progression?
They came as a natural progression. There was an epiphany for each of them.
What made me want to make the first one was watching the History Channel. I kept seeing shows where they would talk about ancient Egypt or they would talk about Africa, but the people [in re-enactments] wouldn't be African. They'd show Egyptians who looked Dominican, and only tell half the story.
They did a show about who came to America before Columbus, and they talked about every group of people except Africans. Most evidence shows that there were African people in America long before Columbus. You have the Olmec statues. You have the Bonampak statues down in South America. There is so much evidence, and they omitted all of it. So I said, "This is now propaganda." They were deliberately leaving things out.
How does this installment differ from the first two?
Well, for the first one we really focused on history, history that is untold. We talked about the Moors in Spain and in Europe. We talked about the African presence in America before Columbus. So we focused on a lot of hidden history.
In the second "Hidden Colors" we focused on scientific racism. We talked about things like Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose stem cells were used for medical experiments. We talked about medical warfare, we talked about the prison-industrial complex. So we talked about racism from a political-scientific standpoint.
For part three, we talked a lot about racism in America and the rules of racism, things that black people are told to do in order to fit in with dominant society and how each rule contradicts the next.
History is clearly very important to you. What part do you think it will play in our future -- in particular, the history the "Hidden Colors 3" trailer explains we have "forgotten" since slavery?
History goes beyond slavery. Black people are repeatedly told that we've never accomplished anything. It's drilled into our heads, constantly ... Even in slavery, there were some great stories of rebellion, of people breaking themselves free. But when we look at movies, when they tell black slave freedom stories, there's always a white savior there. So black people are being taught that if we want freedom, we have to depend on somebody white to get it. That's the wrong message.
[Laughing] While making "Hidden Colors," there was a joke that we were going to have to get someone white to be in it so that black people would believe it.
We've got to get to a position where we start trusting ourselves and believing ourselves. When we tell our stories, we shouldn't second-guess them, especially when they're verifiable. That's why we wanted to focus on history first. A lot of times there's a collective low self-esteem in the black community. This is why we can't do anything psychologically without a white face being attached to it. "If it ain't white, it ain't right." We have to get out of that mentality.
What most concerns you about social perceptions of black people, by black people?
Unfortunately, because black people have been so dependent on the dominant society for so long, they seek themselves through the eyes of the dominant society. Their perception is usually an inferior one. Black people in America have been taught if you just accept your second-class status, everything will be cool. And a lot of people are cool with that. But when we start talking about power and ownership, having wealth and resources, that's when it's a problem.
They keep sending messages out that we internalize. We don't know that they're running a con game. With that logic, black people should hold white people responsible for the past 400 years of systematic white supremacy. We have to stop internalizing the rhetoric of the dominant society.
Who inspires you?
So many people, a lot of them in the "Hidden Colors" films. Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, she has a book called The Isis Papers that I read a long time ago, and that was a big influence on my life. That's why I had her in the series. Sharazad Ali, her books from back in the '90s really inspired me and that's why I had her in the series. People like that are people that I really, really look up to. People that I loved and I studied and people who changed my life -- that's who I wanted to get in my movies.
Did anything especially surprise you during the making of "Hidden Colors 3"?
Making these films opens up a Pandora's box. You think you know certain things and then get much deeper. When I was studying about missionaries in Africa going to orphanages to help people, I learned that a lot of times orphans were sold into slavery, and that there's a large sex trade going on there, organ harvesting. We learned about this in "Hidden Colors 2" and touched on it briefly, but we went deeper on it in "Hidden Colors 3."
That's what shocked me the most -- what they were doing to those kids. There was a story that came out a few days ago about a missionary from Oklahoma and a whole bunch of cases of him raping kids in Kenya. Stuff like that just takes you to another place.
Do you have any plans for future installments?
Absolutely. But what I do is, I let them come to me. I listen to what I call it, "the spirit of the ancestors," to tell me what I should talk about. I don't want to start putting films out just to make a buck. I want to put them out knowing they're going to serve a purpose.
You can learn more about "Hidden Colors" and purchase the films by visiting the series' website.