Putting Anti-Black Racism in Focus
Seattle attorney Jeffery Robinson’s award-winning film explores the legacy of white supremacy in the U.S.
Super Lawyers online-exclusive on March 1, 2022
Jeffery Robinson has been defending people accused of crimes for more than four decades. But recently, the Seattle attorney’s focus has shifted more to combatting racism through his nonprofit organization The Who We Are Project, which led to the 2021 release by Sony Pictures Classics of his documentary film Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, being shown in select cities.
The film, which tells the sobering story of anti-Black racism in the U.S., has won an array of awards, including the Golden Space Needle Audience Award for Best Documentary at last year’s Seattle International Film Festival. It was written by Robinson, who is still of counsel at the Seattle firm Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, where he began working in 1988. It was directed by Sarah Kunstler (also an attorney) and Emily Kunstler, daughters of iconic civil rights lawyer William Kunstler. The filmmakers got together with Robinson after watching him give a three-hour legal seminar on racism at a Manhattan courthouse in 2017.
How the film began
“The sisters contacted me to discuss sharing the often untold history in my presentation with the largest audience possible,” Robinson relates. “A documentary film seemed like the best way to accomplish that goal.”
A year later, a film crew had been assembled to follow him around for 18 months. “The film team joined me on some of my trips across the country as I continued to give my presentation and meet people impacted by our history,” Robinson says, adding, “These are the interviews that make the film really special.”
In addition to his work at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, Robinson served as deputy legal director at the ACLU for six years, working on criminal-justice reforms and racial justice issues—a job he loved despite leaving last year. “I wanted to focus,” he explains, “on playing a role in bringing the truth about America’s history of anti-Black racism.”
In his presentations, Robinson says, “America has demonstrated its greatness time and time again, and America is one of the most racist countries on the face of the earth. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.”
Racism in the U.S.
The Who We Are Project emanated from Robinson’s personal studies of racism in the U.S. “In 2011, I began reading things about our history of relying on the incorrect theory that whites are superior to all other races and the deliberate pursuit of anti-Black racism,” he says. By the next year, he had been motivated to give his multi-media presentations.
“The gap between white and Black America in virtually every important socio-economic measure continues to widen,” Robinson says. “America is at a tipping point, and we have hovered here for a few years because tipping points in the history of a 400-year-old country can last a decade or longer.”
The film includes excerpts from Robinson’s presentations, his interviews with people affected by racism, archival photography, and visits to such sobering sites as a tree in South Carolina where lynchings took place.
“If people of good faith—regardless of their political affiliation—understand the truth about our history, it will make them realize that America looks the way it does today for some very ugly reasons,” Robinson says. “If the truth moves people to act, America can do great things to bring about real racial justice.”
Where to see the film
The film’s release schedule can be found on the organization’s website, thewhoweareproject.org.