Four major myths you missed in the Netflix Flint Town Series

Four major myths you missed in the Netflix Flint Town Series
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By Ashley Hamilton, TheHUB Flint

Flint Town has been the talk of the town since it first aired on Netflix on March 2.

It seems everyone has something different to say about the eight-episode series. The documentary follows the Flint Police Department over the course of one trying year filled with budget cuts, local and presidential elections, and, of course, a water crisis.

Initially, I had my reservations about watching Flint Town. We Flint natives tend to be protective of our hometown — our issues are ours to discuss — and so I was leery about how the producers would portray life in our city.

Having finally finished all eight episodes, I have mixed emotions about it.

One thing that was so powerful about Flint Town was the way it seized the opportunity to allow the great citizens of Flint to lead the dialogue on the complexities of our current racial and political climate in the U.S.

It offered a raw view into the humanity and vulnerabilities of both police officers and the residents of the communities in which they serve. I believe that is a conversation we donʼt have often enough.

We need more community building and support for the positive things that Flint natives are creating.

Tensions across the country are high as people of color, specifically black people, feel as though over-policing and police brutality in their communities is an imminent threat to their well-being. The police argue their actions are a result of the fear they have for their own safety.

We need to hold ourselves accountable for the roles we play in making/keeping Flint what it is, whether good or bad.

America is long overdue for a transformative conversation on the tough topics. We have to acknowledge that the justice system as an entire entity, has not always (read: ever) been fair and just as it pertains to people and communities of color. Instead, the recurring theme we see in the media is different outlets all fanning the same flames of racial tension for views and ratings.

We need to hold our educators, lawmakers, and other civil servants accountable for the services they are paid to provide.

For once, it was nice to see someone making an attempt to get at the humanity of both sides of this conflict.

Thatʼs not to say the Flint Town series is faultless. Weʼll get to that in a bit.

Change starts with us. If we arenʼt being part of the solution, we are certainly being part of the problem.

For all of the great dialogue the series gave us about healing the disconnect between the police and the policed, as I dove into the series I was utterly shocked at the myths the series either perpetuates or just allows to skate by unaddressed.

Here are the myths in Flint Town that you may have missed:

Myth One: It’s okay to profit off of peopleʼs pain 

Photo by Salek Gulec/Shutterstock

In the very first episode of Flint Town, we are given an extended, gruesome glance into a motherʼs anguish as the camera lingers on her sonʼs lifeless body lying in the street.

In recent years, this has become an unprecedented trend in our society. Everything we consume from movies to music has become more explicit. Not only are we becoming desensitized to violence and traumatic events, we are commodifying it.

Flint local Phillip Barnhart puts it perfectly in a recent interview with TheHUB Flint.

“What has happened with us over time is that our pain and our trauma have become consumable,” he says. “And so itʼs commodified, packaged and sold.”

Profiting off of peopleʼs pain, especially by circulating footage of their slain children, is unethical and distasteful.

Myth Two: Flintʼs problems will magically disappear with more money 

If giving money to poor countries that present these same struggles hasnʼt helped to pull them out of poverty, what makes us think it will do so for us? Photo courtesy of Flint Lensmen

It is no secret the City of Flint has had financial problems for many years now. In the docu-series, local reporter Drew Moore of NBC 25 asserts, “The one thing that can help fix most of Flintʼs problems is money.”

I donʼt think most people would disagree.

However, the conflict at city hall, like many other issues the city faces, cannot be resolved by supplemented funds alone.

In 60 or so years of study and practice in the field of International Development, one thing has certainly been learned. As a nation simply throwing wads of money at a developing country will not help it to move forward.

In fact, it often does more harm than good.

Flint, in many ways, presents characteristics that parallel the characteristics that we use to identify developing countries around the world.

We are not exactly heralded for the quality of our primary or secondary school education. We have long suffered the oppression of bad governance at the state and local levels, which ushered us straight into our infamous water crisis (which, by the way, is another characteristic of a developing country).

Our median household income is abysmal and our local economy has not yet restructured itself to depend on something outside of the automotive industry.

If giving money to poor countries that present these same struggles hasnʼt helped to pull them out of poverty, what makes us think it will do so for us?

The problems plaguing Flint are complex, multifaceted issues that require more than oversimplified solutions.

We need a mindset shift and a hard reset of our culture and values.

We need more community building and support for the positive things that Flint natives are creating.

We need to hold our educators, lawmakers, and other civil servants accountable for the services they are paid to provide. We need to hold ourselves accountable for the roles we play in making/keeping Flint what it is, whether good or bad.

Only after all of these things do we need money.

Myth Three: White discomfort supersedes human rights

I donʼt believe in using that humanity to excuse ones passive racism. Image by Nikola96/Shutterstock

This is another one of those tough conversations I mentioned we needed to have — a “Come to Jesus” moment, if you will. So, hear me out.

Throughout the series, I had a challenging time trying to contend with one local police officer in particular.

As I previously stated, I believe in the importance of seeing the humanity of people. However, I donʼt believe in using that humanity to excuse ones passive racism.

Yes, Iʼm going to drop the ‘Rʼ word.

When we think of racism, we tend to envision a world literally and figuratively in black and white – perhaps, blatantly segregated drinking fountains and restrooms and an antagonistic white man using a racial slur.

That is a very important part of history and a very legitimate form of racism. However, we tend to overlook the way that racism has evolved.

Racism now looks like the stereotypes and personal biases that keep people of color out of certain jobs and neighborhoods.

It looks like micro-aggressions in the workplace.

Racism looks like profiling in the name of “keeping the public safe.”

Itʼs now the prison-industrial system.

Itʼs the way school districts are drawn and the funding those schools receive being based on property tax.

All that to say, racism doesnʼt necessarily have to look like slurs and lynchings to be racism.

So when I say certain police officers in “Flint Town” display passive or casually racist attitudes, I mean they may or may not realize the biases and opinions they have are rooted in racist ideology.

Now back to the initial point.

There was a lot of racial discomfort in the documentary.

The black discomfort pertained to things like fearing for the safety of their children and trying to make sense of their partners/coworkers casting votes for a presidential candidate who has a track record of making very racially insensitive remarks.

The white discomfort, however, stems from people of color addressing their concerns on those matters.

So, while I believe in the humanization of police officers, I donʼt believe we can use their humanity as an excuse to justify biases that can prove, and have proved, to be deadly for people of color.

White discomfort does not take precedence over the literal safety and human rights of others.

This conversation in itself may make you uncomfortable, but itʼs still one we needed to have.

Letʼs call it growing pains.

“Flint Town” lets slide one last, important myth:

Myth Four: Flint is a hopeless and helpless place

There are many people in our great city who have not given up hope. Photo by Paul Engstrom

In one of the very last episodes, the producers showcase a young lady who insists Flint is going to burn down. Sheʼs very adamant about the idea Flint is hopeless and will not recover from the blows we have suffered to date.

I beg to differ.

If I know anything about the citizens of Flint, I know we are a resilient bunch.

We have dealt with much more than most and still we rise.

There are a number of positive things happening in Flint, namely in the downtown area. The renovated Farmers Market is thriving, offering a variety of local and internships cuisines. Places such as Raspberries and The Loft offer lively weekend recreation for the adult crowd. There are a number of local female entrepreneurs making strides in their fields (see my article on Girl Talk by Kaelin Anne). The Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village and the Berston Field House both offer activities for our youth to engage in.

I am an educator, and even if none of the other great and positive things were happening in Flint, when I look at the students coming out of our schools now, I know we are on the road to a brighter future.

There are many people in our great city who have not given up hope. We see the challenges that are ahead of us, but we know the fight we have within us.

Change starts with us. If we arenʼt being part of the solution, we are certainly being part of the problem.

So letʼs show the world what the real “Flint Town” looks like.

Editor’s Note: Flint native Ashley Hamilton graduated with honors from Spelman College. Her post graduate life has included participation in the Model United Nations conference in Rome representing the African nation of Djibouti and Peace Corps service where she served as a volunteer educator in Mozambique. She currently is a paraprofessional at her alma mater , the International Academy of Flint, and plans to pursue graduate studies this fall.

 

 

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