A new film documents the struggle of black families to gain — and retain — middle class status in the face of a deep-seated systemic racism.
Hollywood typically depicts America’s black households as either destitute or full of deep-pocketed musicians and star athletes. The folks in between rarely get screen time and even less often get the attention of journalists and commentators.
In a brilliant new film, journalist Bob Herbert showcases how black families actually experience the middle class. The sordid story he tells overflows with bigotry — and perseverance.
The title of the film, Against All Odds, could hardly be more fitting. Racism has blocked black families from middle-class stability on a wide number of fronts. Today the average white family owns $113,000 in assets, the average black family just $5,700.
This disparity, Herbert makes clear, reflects racist public policy and a legacy of hatred that has never really been addressed in this country. Both have served to block black families from the two most basic tenets of middle class life: decent paying jobs and homeownership.
Herbert’s film depicts the various forms this exclusion has taken over the decades, everything from the redlining of urban communities that prevented black families from getting home loans to private employers explicitly and subtly keeping black workers from advancing.
Congressman Elijah Cummings helps gives this history a personal touch. In one of the film’s segments, Cummings walks viewers through the fields his grandparents farmed as sharecroppers, earning essentially no pay. His father, just one generation removed from those fields, often came home from work and sat in the driveway before coming in.
Cummings once confronted his father about that. He had to sit and seethe before he came into the house, his father explained, because he didn’t want to transfer the hate and anger he experienced onto his family.
For viewers well versed in the history of America’s racial wealth divide, the film does not cover much new ground. But Herbert’s work here does provide an engaging introduction to the economic and social conditions that black families have and continue to face.
As Inequality.org contributor Antonio Moore points out, a “decadent veil” of celebrity clouds an honest depiction of black wealth in today’s media landscape. Films like Against All Odds work to counteract this false depiction — and, we can hope, help many viewers begin to look in earnest for ways to address the longstanding injustices these films present.
Film: Against All Odds, PBS