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White Wash (DVD Review)

25 Sep, 2011 By: Ashley Ratcliff

Street 10/4/11
$19.99 DVD
Not rated.
Narrated by Ben Harper.

I’m living in a time when I — an African-American woman — can take advantage of the beaches that Southern California has to offer, every day if I choose. I’ve even taken surf lessons. Unfortunately, prior generations of African-Americans had to fight for this luxury that I enjoy without even thinking twice about today.

The documentary White Wash illuminates the struggles blacks endured during the slavery and segregation eras, presenting a compelling, affecting commentary on why blacks have been noticeably absent from swim and surf culture in America. The film also gives an explanation as to why the stereotype of blacks not swimming and surfing exists — a history lesson of sorts brought to life by black surfers and scholars sharing their experiences.

The thing is, it wasn’t always this way. Prior to Europeans stealing Africans away from their countries for the slave trade, they — particularly those situated near the coastal regions of the continent — were avid swimmers. When Africans began getting detained from the water, the people moved into the jungle to flee captivity, and the culture of swimming among Africans died after generations were born into a society that didn’t allow them access to it.

Also informative is the detail about Jim Crow laws in Los Angeles County that denied blacks access to the beaches. White Wash features striking images of blacks holding “wade-ins” and fighting off white cops and beachgoers, bringing to light a lesser-known side to the Civil Rights movement.

White Wash is an outstanding film because it intrigues and enlightens the viewer from start to finish. Instead of just restating the obvious, it unlocks the depths of the disparities between the races and how that has affected culture throughout time. It even gives blacks a nudge to get out there and experience the unfamiliar.

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