We live in an age of increasing polarization. Blue state against Red state. Rich against poor. Republican against Democrat. Religious against secular. Right against Left. And one thing we find it hardest to talk about, across the divides, is race. The tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death, if we needed any more proof, has shown us that. Race is perhaps the most divisive social category in America, the one that challenges most deeply our founding principle that all human beings are created equal.
The film “Before the Trees Was Strange” begins with the assumption that we also have reason to hope. Despite the polarization in some arenas, we are an increasingly diverse nation. For the first time in US history, non-white births have exceeded white. The foods we eat, the music we listen to, the public figures we admire, the people we work with, live near, love and even marry — they are all becoming more diverse and more intertwined in our daily lives.
But race remains a stubborn obstacle for us. The history and the pain run deep. Even with all the good will in the world, we don’t know how to get past our fears simply to talk. But if our diversity is to triumph over our divisions, we need to talk, we need to examine our own ways of seeing ourselves and each other. We need to seek transformation through dialogue. We can’t let it fester. The ability to talk about race comes before any policy question, because first we must be able to hear each other, and ourselves, before we can resolve the questions facing us. “Before the Trees Was Strange” will endeavor to seed the ground for that dialogue.