Tuesday, Oct. 3, students and faculty attended a showing of the documentary “I am Not Your Negro,” which is based on writings by acclaimed American author James Baldwin.
Following the showing, there was a panel to discuss the film. Instruction and Outreach Librarian Joshua Cohen hosted the event. He chose the movie because he believed it was “a good film to open up conversation on race relations in America.”
The documentary centers around the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Baldwin was a close friend of black rights activists Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Each of these men was killed as a result of their participation in the movement.
The documentary is based on Baldwin’s experiences following their deaths. Evers was the first to pass away after he was shot at his home in 1963. Malcolm X was shot in 1965, and King was shot in 1968.
Baldwin spent time living in France. He decided to come home to America to write about the Civil Rights Movement and the plight of black Americans. Due to his controversial writings, Baldwin was placed on the FBI Security Index, which claimed he was a “dangerous individual.”
He appeared as a guest on numerous talk shows and hosted lectures voicing his opinions.
Baldwin did not want young blacks to believe white Americans were evil people. In fact, he stressed the idea of whites being ignorant to how blacks actually lived.
Due to a white school teacher he met in his youth, Baldwin never hated whites. He even saw them as heroes because of his exposure to them in movies. He wanted whites to realize he and other blacks are humans and deserve the same equality. He decided to go on a country-wide journey to learn more and better his writings.
Following the showing, a panel of faculty held a discussion about the film. The panel consisted of professor of philosophy Dr. Alexandria Poole, Interim Coordinator of Multicultural Programs and Residential Communities Stephanie Collins, professor of religious studies Dr. Richard Newton and professor of English Dr. John Rohrkemper.
Director of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Monica Smith facilitated the panel, and offered commentary on the discussion.
Baldwin’s works are still relevant due to race issues from the 1960s still existing today, but the question of progress in race relations was presented to the panel.
Newton stated that we do have conversations about race, but as a society we are not doing much about it.
He said that there has not been much progress on the issue. He said those affected have been taught to turn the other cheek in response to racism, but this ideology is not helping the overall issue.
Poole asked how those affected are supposed to “resist in peace when people are threatening [their] lives?” Collins also offered commentary on how we as a people are scared to take responsibility of the problem.
The conversation then turned to the constant exposure to race problems from social media. One student said seeing this representation causes a form of psychological warfare and fear that this could happen to them.
Another student argued that the exposure was a good thing. It causes the viewer to feel pain for the victim and inspires people to become advocates for the problem.
Collins commented the exposure is worrying since there tends to be a lack of proper repercussions. She also urged the community to witness the positives of being part of a black community, not just the negatives of the victim.
Overall, other student commentators said it is scary to see history repeat itself and that people in power, or those not being oppressed, need to do something to help race relations. Sharing videos on social media is not enough.
They added that people need to become advocates and do something. Newton urged the students to demand the education they pay for so that they may better understand the history and the problem.
“James Baldwin is part of the hidden curriculum. His work should be integrated into the classroom,” sophomore Ilaynna Brown said after the event. “Representation matters. We need people who aren’t like us to do more than empathize with us.”
Another student who wished to remain anonymous stated during the panel that they “felt [they were] becoming the bad guy just because [they are] white” and that they felt blamed. They argued that we are the generation whose parents are trying to fix the past.
The student said they try to live their life without discriminating others and wish people would stop generalizing all whites.
Finally, the student said they wished there was a way to fix the problem, but there is no good solution.
Newton spoke about the issue of proper education in high school and at Elizabethtown College.
“We are an institution of higher learning, it is [our duty as students] to make it that,” Newton said.
He also wants students to work with faculty to make Etown more than just a college. He wants it to become a community.