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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Meeting David Wilson

Black American history tells the story of triumph. It is not the story of the oppressed or of the oppressor. It is the story of the victor. It is David Wilson’s story.Born in 1977 in Newark, New Jersey, David Wilson lived in a tight-knit black community. He went to sleep hearing gunshots, wondering how his family ended up in such a rough environment. The apparent powerlessness, and self-neglect of the people in his neighborhood gnawed at his self-esteem.”Sex, drugs and violence were all around me growing up, and living in that context you begin to think that that is what it is to be black,” Wilson said, speaking for a recent event at UMB.He thought about race in the context of sitcoms like Diff’rent Strokes – a show where a white man, Mr. Drummond, adopts two black children and raises them in the suburbs.”That seemed like the perfect life to me, and I spent my childhood waiting and wishing that somehow there would be a Mr. Drummond who would come and rescue me,” Wilson said.As he struggled with doubts and insecurity, Wilson’s family rallied around him, and encouraged him to get out of Newark, to go to college. He did, and when he graduated, he landed a job in journalism at MSNBC. While working in television he shot footage for Dateline and other documentary type shows. And as he matured his personal interest in his ancestry multiplied.”For me, to be an African American was to be in this state of limbo. You have these perceptions of Africans as tribal savages or as Sally Struthers’s bloated children… And I never really felt like an American,” he said.Once he began looking into his heritage, he found out that he is three generations from slavery. Wilson’s great grandfather was the last person in his family to be enslaved. Each new morsel of information inflamed his interest.Soon he found himself in North Carolina, visiting his one hundred year old Aunt Sarah. She told him about a large tobacco plantation in the area, and he called the city to find out who owned it.”I thought it was a mistake. I thought she’d written down my name and read it back to me,” Wilson said.Enter the second David Wilson, a 62-year-old white man from rural North Carolina, who grew up in Caswell County.This David Wilson owns a small chain of BBQ restaurants in Reidsville where he lives with his wife and son. One hundred and fifty years ago his great grandfather, John Jiles Wilson, owned David Wilson’s great grandfather.David Wilson, from Newark, got a phone number for David Wilson, from Reidsville, but he sat on the information for several months. When David Wilson built up the courage to call the number, the conversation wasn’t exactly what he hoped.”It was probably one of the most awkward conversations you can have. We talked for twenty minutes about the weather,” Wilson said.The phone call spawned the idea for a documentary.”I wanted to show that you could have a conversation with someone about very uncomfortable things. And I wanted to show that the problem of low self-esteem is still prevalent in the black community,” Wilson said.Early in the filming process Wilson imitated Kenneth and Mamie Clark Place’s social experiment, placing a black baby doll and a white baby doll in front of an African American toddler, and asking him or her, which one would make a better playmate. The results were shockingly similar to the tests done in the 1940s. Most of the children said that they would rather play with the white doll.”That was one of the most difficult scenes to shoot because you just wanted to go out from behind the camera, give the children hugs and tell them that they are worth so much more,” Wilson said.Most of the film focuses on conversations between David Wilson and David Wilson, and they talk about everything from civil rights to reformation to reparations. In fact through the process of filming for the documentary, they built a friendship, and they still talk every few months.”We’ve been pitted against each other. He’s white. I’m black . . . I like think there is some truth in what Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The negro needs the white man to release his fear, and the white man needs the negro to release his guilt.””The full documentary will be shown on MSNBC on April 11th, at 9pm EST. And it is available for purchase at www.meetingdavidwilson.com. 

About the Contributor
Caleb Nelson served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years: Editor-in-Chief: Fall 2010; 2010-2011; Fall 2011 News Editor: Spring 2009; 2009-2010