If These Halls Could Talk

In spring 2010 director Lee Mun Wah asked me to co-facilitate a documentary he was shooting that summer titled, If These Halls Could TalkI remember the day well, it was spring break and I was at home, a tired teacher sitting in the sun outside when the phone rang. I was a fan of Mun Wah’s work, I showed his film The Color of Fear in my sociology classes each semester. We’d met at workshops I’d attended with students from my classes and from the Black Student Union, the student club I advised.

Teaching about racism is difficult but showing The Color of Fear made it easier, especially with white students. It got students feeling emotional and it opened them up and made them want to talk about race and the complexity of identity, skin color, and group position. I taught about race, class, and gender at the same time in my intro courses, intersecting these inequalities to highlight the ways that we experience both privilege and oppression, to help students see past the cultural conditioning and constructs and understand their experiences but also wanting to make their world’s larger and bigger than them. That is what sociology and anthropology did for me.

One of my tasks on the film was to help with casting students. Stirfry Seminars (Lee Mun Wah’s company) had collected applications from interested students across the country and I was reading apps and talking with students on the phone in search of people who were willing to take the risk and talk about racism, classism, and sexism on their college campuses. One thing was certain, I wanted to cast my friend and student Marc Thompson. When you watch the clip below, Marc is the young man who says, “We turned the word nigger into a term of endearment for ourselves.” That was how Marc was, he was bold and not afraid to tell truth. He was like that in the classroom and in everyday life, he was powerful that way and wise beyond his years. Our friendship started in the classroom but grew as we made the film and attended conferences to show it to the public.

Marc Thompson was murdered two months ago. His car was found on fire in a remote area of Butte County, off a rural highway in the middle of nowhere. He was buried a little over a month after he was killed, his family and many friends waiting on the DNA results from the coroner’s office. I know I’m not alone in this feeling but that was one of the worst months of my life. I miss him every single day and of all the people I would want to talk about this fuckery of an investigation with (see upcoming blog), it would be Marc.

When you watch Marc in the trailer below you get a taste of who he was, a brilliant man with a bright future. He was one of those rare people who pushed past the fear to say what needed to be said. At his service, that was repeated over and over, how he modeled and showed others that it was worth it to tell the truth in spaces where the truth is said to be welcomed, but often is not (see: predominantly white institutions or PWIs). I don’t want my friend’s words or his work to be forgotten so I’m sharing this with you because I was lucky to know him, he changed my life and I hope in this bit of time you spend with him, that he changes yours too.

8 thoughts on “If These Halls Could Talk

  1. Tony

    Nice blog about the film, great link to Herbert Blumer’s classic article about Race as a Sense of Group Position, and of course the follow-through about Marc.

    Thanks for reminding me about Blumer’s article–I will figure out a way to work it back into my teaching!

  2. Tony, I am forever grateful to you for assigning the article on group position by Blumer. That was what, 14 years ago? No matter what I read about race, I always come back to his idea of group position. He shows the complexity of race and racism, ideas ahead of his time and why it remains as relevant a theory as ever.

  3. Emiliano

    Dear Julie,

    Thanks for your compliment on my piece about Marc. I’m truly sorry for your loss. I’m really intrigued about your next post about the “fuckery of an investigation.” I’ve really been wanting to know what’s happening on that front. Would you be interested in, perhaps, also publishing a piece in the Synthesis? I’m an editor there as well as a writer/columnist. Feel free to email me at emilianogs@gmail.com. Thank you so much. e.

  4. I sure appreciate you commenting. Your piece in the synthesis brought tears to my eyes, you were so real and honest. Marc would’ve loved it, I think.

    It is a fuckery of an investigation and pretty much was from the moment they found Marc’s car burning up in the middle of nowhere. I’m definitely interested in publishing in the synthesis too and will contact you soon to talk about that.

    Thanks again, J.

  5. Tony

    Julie–glad that you have gotten so much mileage out of the Blumer article. It is indeed a classic!

    I mentioned Marc’s murder in class the other day when discussing why/how different crimes are investigated. It mystifies me (well maybe just a bit) why I cannot find any information about the investigation in the local newspapers. The “moral entrepreneurs” that are the police and journalists are not following up. It seems that Ebola is more important!

  6. You should be mystified. I do believe that if Marc were a white 25-year old college student, you would be able to read about the investigation in the local newspapers. The lack of information speaks volumes. Again, I am reminded about the idea of who society deems worthy of following up on or not. Marc was a young Black man from Oroville, not a missing upper class white student. That is the fuckery that I speak of, whose death is investigated in full and why, that is the deep and ethnographic quest.

Comments are closed.