We have been watching BET’s American Gangster on Netflix lately, a documentary series profiling notorious black gangsters from the 1950s to the present day. Ving Rhames narrates.
I absolutely love this show. It strikes such a great balance, delving into issues of race, poverty, and the war on drugs in nuanced ways. It does not glorify these men, but it doesn’t condemn them either. It presents a chicken and egg conundrum – did these drug hustlers and criminals devastate their communities by bringing in drugs leading to no economic opportunities, or did few legitimate economic and educational opportunities lead these men to a life of crime? Structural racism and poverty has much to do with these inner city issues, not to mention the government and CIA policies actually funnelling drugs into poor black areas.
This show excellently employs nuance to present these stories. Nuance is so often missing these days, especially in this presidential election season. I figured out why I can’t wrap my head around conservative ideology: because it allows absolutely no room for nuance. Were these guys criminals because they were bad dudes or because of poverty and racism? Mitt Romney would say the former. The real answer has to be both.