Two Distant Strangers

Last night I watched the short film, Two Distant Strangers, that just won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

The story is a repeating loop about a black man’s (character name Carter James) encounters with a white police officer. In each occurrence James is killed by the same officer. Each time the encounter unfolds in a different way, illustrating the various ways black people have actually been, and continue to be, killed by police.

The last time in the film, James is shot in the back, and the blood from his body forms in the shape of Africa. The officer says, “see you tomorrow, kid”.

I’m deeply disturbed by the film. I’ll try to explain why I think White people should see it.

I’m going to try to relate this to my own experiences. I’ve written extensively about my time with the Kheprw Institute (KI), a black youth mentoring community in Indianapolis. Kheprw | Search Results | Quakers, social justice and revolution (jeffkisling.com)

I first connected with the KI community in 2013, I think. This is one post I wrote, describing my initial encounter there. Importance of stories

One of the ways I engaged with KI is by participating in the monthly book discussions. The books selected related to racial and social justice, and were led by the KI youth. I quickly realized what a significant education I was receiving. To spend several hours in that community, sharing ideas amongst us. I encouraged, and several members of my local Quaker meeting, also began to come to these discussions.

Several years ago, Imhotep (one of the leaders of KI) said these discussions were revolutionary. That surprised me at first, but I saw that was true.

This time, these experiences in the KI community, determined the approach I have used ever since, for justice work. I, as a white person, needed to spend a lot of time being with, physically present with those experiencing injustice. I had to listen deeply and refrain from offering my thoughts until they were asked for. And then to speak from my own, lived experiences.

Until we White people find ways to be present with those who aren’t White, we will not be able to understand what their lives are like. Attending workshops and discussions doesn’t inform our hearts.

One early encounter at KI made this clear to me. During one of the early book discussions a black women began to talk of the sheer terror she felt every time, every minute one of her children was gone from the house. She choked up, tears running down her face, unable to continue to speak. It was clear every person of color in the room understood. That didn’t mean I could share her experience. But it did give me a little better understanding of what her life was like.

About a year after that I was thrilled to be asked to teach photography during KI’s summer program. As I prepared for that, I was planning to take some short trips in the neighborhood to take photos with the kids. And I realized how different that was going to be with these black children. So I felt I needed to let the KI adults knew I realized what was being asked of me. I told them I would do whatever was required to keep the kids safe.

The last story I’ll share for now was when my friend Chinyelu Mwaafrika from KI, performed the rap song “The revolution will not be televised” by Gill Scott-heron at the annual event commemorating Robert Kennedy’s speech to the crowd in Indianapolis, announcing that Martin Luther King had been killed. I hadn’t known Chinyelu was going to perform. Afterward I went to congratulate him. We both had big smiles. I sensed he was glad to have a friend there. I was very glad to see him.


Returning to Two Distant Strangers, I think it is important for white people to watch. If you can try to feel some of what happens to Carter James, it might give you just a glimmer of the constant terror black, indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) feel. And might motivate you to seek out ways to learn more, to become involved with BIPOC peoples. The rapid growth of mutual aid groups these days could offer such an opportunity for you.


At the end of the film, the song “The Way It Is” plays as the names of Black Americans who have died in encounters with police scroll up the screen.

The opening verse recounts a story taking place at a line for welfare that illustrates a divide between the rich and poor. and the second verse recounts past social issues from the voice of someone supporting racial segregation. The final verse recounts the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a victory in the civil rights movement, but insists that more is needed.

The Way It Is (song)

“The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby

Standing in line, marking time
Waiting for the welfare dime
‘Cause they can’t buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by
As he catches the poor old lady’s eyes
Just for fun he says, “Get a job”

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them

Said hey, little boy, you can’t go where the others go
‘Cause you don’t look like they do
Said hey, old man, how can you stand to think that way?
And did you really think about it before you made the rules?
He said, son

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them, yeah

That’s just the way it is
That’s just the way it is

Well, they passed a law in ’64
To give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far
‘Cause the law don’t change another’s mind
When all it sees at the hiring time
Is the light on the color bar, no

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
That’s just the way it is, it is, it is, it is

This entry was posted in Black Lives, Kheprw Institute, police, Quaker, Quaker Meetings, race, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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