New UK Doc Asks U.S. How To Fight for Racial Justice

Here's another bright spot from Facing Race 2010.

By Channing Kennedy Apr 21, 2011

The opening voiceover of ‘Number Games’ is calculated to scare the pants off anyone who lived through Reagan (or Thatcher). As the camera pans over Britain’s great architectural victories, new British PM David Cameron informs us that government is the problem, and that the taxpayers’ money is being wasted. In context, Cameron’s proposed anti-government ‘Big Society’ sounds all too familiar: tax cuts for the predominantly white upper class, and spending cuts for the poor, increasing racial disparities and pushing the UK’s immigrant communities and people of color even further into the shadows.

So where can the UK turn for advice for how to best handle its newfound, um, ‘freedom’? The folks behind ‘Number Games,’ UK-based Runnymede Trust and Feedback Films, turned to the United States.

The film also visits us — as in, you know, us! Berkeley and his one-man crew, Johnathan Tetsill of Feedback Films, were in attendance at Facing Race 2010, our publisher’s semiannual conference for racial justice leaders, activists, and media. And in the second half of the film, you’ll see keynote speaker Melissa Harris-Perry exploding myths about Obama, racial achievement, and the ‘Black imagination,’ to a packed house.

This 25-minute film lets us look over the shoulder of Runnymede director Dr. Rob Berkeley as he explores the perpetually segregated city of Chicago, and follows community organizers from Action Now. The dapper Brit sees firsthand how an underserved neighborhood is brought out, person by person, to rally around a neighbor whose house is getting foreclosed on. A winning campaign is heady stuff, even for the most jaded of organizers, and seeing it through Berkeley’s eyes makes it all the more exciting.

‘Number Games’ isn’t a party-line film — I’m sure many would like its profile of a predominantly black charter school to have given equal time to the charter movement’s opponents. But the film isn’t an answer to "Waiting for Superman"; it’s a breakdown of American solutions to the race gap, and even as it acknowledges the controversy, it makes the allure of such schools crystal clear. And since the film’s aimed at British audiences, it spends little time with Britain’s own racial justice movement, the history of which I’m now thoroughly curious about. All told, though, it’s a fascinating look at the movement from a sympathetic outsider’s perspective, as well as a reminder of what’s really riding on our hometown fights.

You can watch all of Number Games, and learn more about Runnymede’s racial justice work in the UK, at Runnymede’s site. If you want more Melissa Harris-Perry (and who doesn’t?), she and all of the speakers from Facing Race 2010 are available to watch in full at And stay tuned for more info on Facing Race 2012!