The Oasis Reporters
January 24, 2024
I have just watched the Oscar nominated documentary, The Barber Of Little Rock and it’s official summary says:
“The Barber of Little Rock explores America’s widening racial wealth gap through the story of Arlo Washington, a local barber whose visionary approach to a just economy can be found in the mission of People Trust, the nonprofit community bank he founded.
Experiencing the effects of generational poverty and structural racism firsthand, Arlo understands his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas and the profound mistrust of financial institutions that have historically excluded his community from financial stability and economic mobility.
Operating as the sole bank within a ten-mile radius, Arlo’s People Trust fosters economic progress for underserved and underbanked residents, providing an economic beacon of hope that could reshape the future of banking”.
As a side view reviewer from Nigeria, I see the Oscar nominated documentary from different lenses because I love to watch America and it’s multi layered relationships. And the fact that it was set in Little Rock Arkansas heightened my interest and curiosity.
I knew about the city decades ago because of it’s intense human rights struggles, when it was forbidden for black American children to go to school. The struggle was intense, fierce and unrelenting, just for little black children to go to school. Something almost everyone takes for granted today.
Well, the children finally won. They could go to school, yet the entrenched interests would continue a life long struggle to keep the black person in disadvantaged situations.
By the way, Bill Clinton was to later become governor in Arkansas, and finally a phenomenal American president who did great things.
So back to the documentary.
We noticed hidden racism against the black community. There are pockets of black owned businesses all over the place, many doing perceived low class jobs like barbing and what have you.
The oil of business is credit. So these black business owners go to the Banks at the end of the day to deposit their earnings.
Yet, when they go to the same banks to seek for credit in order to expand the business or perhaps for other critical needs, the bank managers who are mostly White people, find a reason to deny the loan applications.
But when White folks go to seek loans, they get it fast.
The black community continues to see the injustices. Their money joins in powering these banks, yet they are excluded from the benefits. Talk about generational racism reinventing and manifesting itself from the days of slavery till date.
So all that it took was for someone, Arlo Washington who has the brains to set up a bank, yet he is a barber in a barber shop.
He dreams big. Resentful of the economic injustices, decides to set up a community bank that he calls People Trust.
This bank dedicates itself to serving the marginalized black community, exclusively.
Never mind that Corporate America decides to chip some funding in because they understand profit as a motive. If the Black community continues to build trust within itself and uses the bank by depositing, borrowing and paying back, it grows big and bigger into their own American dream, something that was denied them for 400 years of slavery and hate.
It doesn’t matter whether the documentary wins an Oscar or not in this 2024. It remains my best documentary so far for the inspirational spirit it expouses that despite all the hindrances, a people can break through institutional racism and make a difference.