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Film Offers Fresh Take on Racism in Obama’s America

Cracking the Codes features stories of racism’s continuing effects told by those who experience it daily, and includes a teaching guide for those who want to address racial issues within groups and projects.
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Too often, consciousness-raising efforts in the area of racism (particularly when carried out by well-meaning white progressives) have some degree of self-righteousness, and appear to be tackling social change through breast-beating or blame.

Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity
Produced and directed by Shakti Butler and distributed by World Trust Education Services, 75 minutes, 2012. 
Purchase includes a conversation guide and subscription to learning modules for a deeper understanding of systemic inequity, developing skills in communication and healing, and teaching the fundamentals of democratic movement building.

So it’s an unexpected delight when the educational film, Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity, reveals itself to be deeply thoughtful and affecting. It develops into a powerful account of how the signifiers of racism continue to operate in our society, and how the fear and stereotypes behind these “codes” harm Americans of all races.

Talking directly to camera, and thus to the viewer, interviewees across the skin-color spectrum open up to recount outrageous yet ordinary encounters with institutionalized and personal racism. They specifically explain how interactions reveal assumptions, ignorance, and privilege. Best of all, the interviewees include activists and educators like Joy DeGruy and Peggy McIntosh who explain how, in specific instances, they have challenged racism in a way that facilitates direct but respectful communication—and change.

The insightful interviews are edited into short sections that allow time to pause for reflection and discussion, making Cracking the Codes an excellent resource for education, training, and facilitating dialogue. It’s the most dignified and evidenced response possible to the blithe assertion that we now live in a “post-racial” America.


Valerie Schloredt wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions.

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