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Arizona Republic


Many people have the luxury of simply hopping in the car and driving, without expectations of harassment or worse. But not all.

“I think it’s really, really tough for the majority of Americans to begin to even understand the gut-wrenching horror that is driving in a racist society,” Christopher West, a historian, says in “Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America,” a PBS documentary by Gretchen Soren and Ric Burns.

The film is a different kind of vehicle – one that allows for a closer examination of racism in America, on the roads and off. Informative, infuriating and almost shockingly of the moment even when addressing issues 400 years ago, it is two hours well spent.

It’s based on Soren’s book “Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights,” and Soren is one of the frequent experts who comment during the film. (The vast majority of experts are people of color, a welcome change from many documentaries of this sort.).

We see plenty of contemporary video recordings from cellphone footage and police cameras of Black people being harassed and even physically harmed by police officers during traffic stops. But the story goes back a lot further than that.

“It’s living while Black,” says Herb Boyd, a scholar in the film. “It’s sleeping while Black. It’s eating while Black. It’s moving while Black. So, when we start talking about the restrictions on Black movement in this country, that’s a long history. That goes all the way back to day one. And so, you have to get to the root of it.”

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