Letters and papers on the
show are interesting - not so much for what they say about American Pictures
- rather for what they reveal about the immense impact the frequent rhetorical
use of America's beautiful ideals have had on its young.
For many the show is very painful when they realize how this rhetoric
had blinded them from seeing reality around them - thereby perhaps betraying
the very ideals. Others give moving accounts of racism's impact on their
(The real names are kept confidential).
"I am so angry...so hurt!
I feel betrayed by my country. So much anger welled up inside of me and
so much hurt overflowed, I had to cry. All I could see were those pictures...
those faces... the pain. I still see them everyday. And nothing can get
rid of them. What can I do to stop the pain -- in them and in me."
Letter from high school student in Texas
"For the first time ever,
I personally was presented with a realistic view of lower class America,
the seemingly endless struggle that they are up against. Why is it that
up until now the presentation of the struggle of America's lower class
to society was virtually nonexistent?"
20 papers from an economics class
in Denison University
"I have never
considered myself a racist. In fact, some of my closest friends are
black. ....Your presentation opened my eyes. I now have a better
understanding for what blacks have gone through and continue to go
through. I was indeed sheltered!"
Letter from Andrea
"One of the young students
asked you a question "What can I do to make this better?" I
sensed that her heart was frozen in isolation and fear. You have the answer
but your program doesn't."
A loving critique of the show
"However there was still
a vestige of racism in me. I realized that at night and I'm walking near
some black youth, I tense up as if they're going to flounce on me. Though
I tell myself that they won't do it, it is still a form of racism to automatically
I had also accused lower-class black teenagers who had verbally or physically
threatened me, of contradicting their own efforts for equality. I didn't
fully realize that the aggressiveness was all they really had to fight
the system with."
Paper by Kenneth
"I felt emotionally drained
and I was made much more aware of my feelings towards blacks and saw a
new side of them. That was one of the things Holdt was trying to accomplish
-- to get his viewers to face their attitudes of racism. I always liked
to think I had no major prejudices; I have black friends and as a Catholic
I shouldn't have any, but we all do and Holdt made me realize that I am
Paper by Archy
"This touching and truthful
documentary should be shown so often and so widely until American Pictures
becomes as well known as "Romeo and Juliet."
Paper by Yesim
"I was raised in an affluent
community, but for me it hasn't been the fear to enter the poor's homes
and thoughts; it is the revolt against those I perceive as the cause of
oppression that tears me apart. In my heart I begrudged the rich because
I never saw them entering the ghetto to help, as I did.
I am now beginning a relationship with a man who is very wealthy. It scares
me because of my attitudes that make me want to run in the other direction."
On the pain of adjusting to segregation
"I am ashamed because
fear for my own well-being overrides my desire for change, and ashamed
as well for the fact that it is attitudes like mine that keep the oppressed,
The guilt and fear in racism
"We are a society of
dreamers and it is because of this that your program brings us to tears.
It gives me great hope to see that you've exposed the monster of our fears
and retained your faith in mankind. Despite your terrible experiences,
please continue your faith in the American people."
Letter from "a member of the privileged
"I classified all blacks
as inferior. This was the most influential factor in shaping my prejudices.....
I know that the first thing that must be done is for me to change my way
of thinking..... Thanks to your slide show I know that I must get to know
the person before I determine what they are like."
On growing up in affluent isolation
"I walked out of your
show feeling free ...more free than I have in a long time. I felt free
of the fear I have of "different" people. I never really thought
of myself as a prejudiced or racist person. I realize now that by avoiding
and separating myself from these "other" groups I put up a wall
of fear between myself and the rest of the world. I now feel that I can
go out and do the things I've dreamed of because I will concentrate on
the similarities between humans ...not the differences."
By forcing me to step into the shoes of all
the people that you met, you helped me to start letting go of my fear.
"In total, with an intermission,
four hours took this journey. Started out with lightheartedness, though
grew my mind heavily overcast, my body paralyzed After, with painfully
miserable realities, my eyes bathed dried out and shrunk, was how my mind
A poem about the show
"American pictures I
saw that first Spring night It's not entertainment he said and he was
right These are the pictures in my mind And I see that I've been blind."
Another poem about the show
"I felt a variety of
emotions when I watched your show..... I believe that people who are willing
to work would make this system successful. I know that many people just
don't want to work, and I don't think that society should contribute money
to their aid.......
I would like to thank you for opening my eyes to an aspect of society
that I hadn't seen before."
A defensive and yet open mind
"Though many people,
including myself, know the oppression that is present in society we tend
to become separated from it. Sometimes we hide our knowledge of it altogether
- maybe because we can't handle being oppressed ourselves. Not acknowledging
these feelings of helplessness is what is alienating us from the rest
of the country."
I'm so tired of making excuses for not doing
"As I watched your pictures
I felt tears well down my face, anger in my blood, pain in my soul, then
hope in my heart and motivation in my mind. I will keep those pictures
of my fellow Americans in my mind every day and dedicate my life to them,
so someday they will have the same opportunities that I have."
I will do all that I can to make the pictures
of America improve.
"Through the slides I
could see how the "victims of prejudice in America" live, and
how helpless they were. Everyday, the public passes by these bowels and
glance out from the corner of their eye but keep on driving to their destination
without a second thought. I believe the people who keep driving and ignore
the problem known as prejudice, are actually the root of the problem because
of their ignorance."
I was very sheltered from such atrocities
demonstrated in the show
"Your insight has helped
us to distinguish between fear which can serve to protect us, and that
irrational and reactive fear which is instilled in us by institutions
trying to protect themselves. If we can continue to recognize fear-motivated
actions, we can re-evaluate them and change them."
Suggestions from S.U.N.Y students on improving