AIR DATES: April 2, 9, 1990
The crew goes to several racially mixed Chicago neighborhoods to ask black people “What do you think of white people?” and vice versa.
No one gave a dull response…
A middle-aged white man shakes his head and hurriedly walks away.
A blonde girl giggles, “What do you mean by that?”
Another man stammers, “I have no opinion.”
A black University of Chicago student, after a hearty laugh, explains how he manages to thrive at “this predominantly White and Asian institution” while avoiding “being labeled a blood traitor, a cast out from my own race.”
A shabby-looking homeless man calmly explains the effects of 500 years of European colonialism in the Southern Hemisphere.
A group of teenagers attests: “A group of white boys, they could be doing the same thing we’re doing, and they’re a soccer team, a volleyball team. But when we walk down the street, we’re a gang.”
A powerful man-on-the-street documentary, this was the most widely seen and praised installment of the series, an instant classic in its own right.
“Sledgehammer” won a cable TV award, was excerpted on PBS’s The 90s, later ran on WTTW Chicago, and provided inspiration for Studs Terkel’s book, Race.
This episode garned Joe’s Basement its first (favorable) review (link) in the Chicago Tribune.
Joe’s Basement followed it up much later with Episode 57, “Squashing the Butterfly.”
Interviews: Juan Luco, Page Phillips, John Harriman
Camera: Joe Winston
Sound: Dan Margulies, Katalina Groh