America In Black And White


Criminal Justice20160215

Protests against shootings of young black men by the police have pushed the issue of race to the top of the public agenda in the United States. Now BBC Washington correspondent Rajini Vaidyanathan, who has covered many of the recent protests, sets out to examine some of the deep, underlying structural issues which America still has with race.

In this first episode, Rajini investigates the criminal justice system. She examines the statistics and hears stories of those involved in the system. She speaks to liberal activists opposed to what they call the system of 'mass incarceration', and in Nebraska visits the conservative politician promoting laws to reduce the number of people behind bars. "Will that help black Americans?" she asks him. His reply? "I hope so."

Elsewhere she hears from protesters arguing that the system can never be reformed, and that the police need to be disarmed. She visits the retired police chief advising President Obama on the way forward, who acknowledges the problem but argues that "all black lives matter", including those killed by criminals, and that protesters must accept that the police are part of the solution. He has now been hired to help Chicago's troubled force improve its record.

Rajini also spends time with the police force teaching all its officers how to be 'ethical protectors'.

Producer: Giles Edwards.


Rajini Vaidyanathan continues her examination of the debate about race in the United States. In this second episode she looks at segregation.

The Brown versus the Board of Education case and the civil rights movement were supposed to have brought Americans together, but in Kansas City Rajini sees for herself the much more complicated legacy of desegregation. On the one hand, splintering solidarity in the black community; on the other a city where white and black Americans still live quite separate lives.

Demographers suggest America is becoming less segregated, but in Atlanta, one of the big southern cities supposedly driving the desegregation, she finds the reality doesn't quite match the statistics. Catching up with a family featured throughout the series, she finds estate agents steering black families away from white neighbourhoods. She discusses that with Julian Castro, the US Housing Secretary, and hears about his new rules to get communities integrating.

In Connecticut she visits a community which has spent 20 years trying to integrate its schools, without requiring it of anyone.

Producer: Giles Edwards.

The Future Of Black America20160217

Rajini Vaidyanathan concludes her series looking at race in America by examining how black Americans are represented, and asking what it means to be black in America today.

Travelling widely across the country she hears from families in Atlanta, activists in Missouri and academics in New York City. She speaks to the artist Kehinde Wiley about his subversive attempts to literally paint power differently; to the poet Tracy K. Smith about the vital role stories can play in encouraging empathy and hears from the civil rights icon John Lewis why he is using comic books to tell his story.

Rajini discusses what is taught in schools, what is shown on TV, and how the reality of being black in America means new black migrants to the United States are increasingly retaining their immigrant identity to avoid being considered 'African American'. She discusses the next generation of leadership, who can authentically lead the Black Lives Matter movement, and attends a remarkable convention in Baltimore encouraging Americans to have 'courageous conversations about race.'

Producer: Giles Edwards.