‘In Our Words’ spurs discussion about the African experience

Photo courtesy of ODI

Photo courtesy of ODI

Black History Month is over, but for African Americans, discrimination is a yearlong struggle, and one that goes back for centuries. 

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion partnered with journalist Malcolm Carter and filmmaker Cameron Harris on Thursday, March 2 to screen Harris’ film, “In Our Words: Life of African Americans & Africans in the Diaspora.” The screening was held in the RSC and featured free food and a discussion following the screening.

“Going to Africa is when I learned I can be whatever I wanna be,” Harris said. “I didn’t feel that in America. I didn’t feel that at all.”

African American has become a household term, meaning well-known to the public. Diaspora, however, is less well-known. The word refers to the systemic dispersion of a people group, ethnic or otherwise, from their original homeland.

 “In Our Words” tackles this subject in the case of Africans, taken unwillingly from their homeland to be enslaved and exploited.

“I come from Africa,” Harris said. “In order for me to figure out where I come from, I had to do a DNA test. Harris is not my last name. This comes from a slave owner in Virginia. This is real.”

Harris’ experiences come from around the globe, having taught film at various institutions. In addition to teaching, he has created independent films in Thailand, Singapore, Ukraine, Malta, Budapest and America. 

“Travel has shown me a side of humanity I’ve never read about,” he said. “People have really shown me kindness and grace.”

Harris said his travels spurred his sense of identity, especially in relation to African Americanness, and his passion for art.

“(The racism) we have here is different but there are a lot of similarities because of the global image of Blackness that has been disseminated to the masses,” Harris said. “Culturally, what has been exported from America is a version of Blackness. Sometimes, in that version of Blackness, it is deemed as less than.” 

Carter explores the struggles of African Americans in his reporting. He graduated from Hampton University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. 

In his hometown of Detroit, he worked on researching and implementing media strategies for the Detroit Association of Black Organizations. Locally, he reports for Community Voice and is a facilitator with Facts Not Fear ICT. He said his travels allowed him to focus on his own personal growth and what he wanted to be.

“Traveling, being around different people, being in different environments really just rewires your brain,” Carter said. “I challenge all of you to start thinking about that.”

Harris explored the historical exploit of Africans and how that impacts the identity of African Americans today, both in his film and the discussion that followed.

“Here, Black people work really hard and might not get anywhere,” Harris said. “We’ve had leaders and they’ve all been murdered or assassinated through terrorism, domestic terrorism. Couple hundred years of that, what’s the benefit of working hard? Would you wanna be the next Malcolm? Martin? Fannie Lou Hamer?”

While Harris said that some positive changes have happened, Black people still face systematic barriers.

“(Things are) not changing as fast as I would like them to change,” Harris said. “The pace of change is glacial, but why? And if I complain, I’m ungrateful. How?”

Despite the heavy topics, both speakers ended the discussion on a positive note, encouraging young African Americans to take pride in their Africanness and look further into their heritage. 

“Dare to be different,” Carter said. “Dare to challenge yourself. Dare to think outside the box.”

Other events hosted by ODI can be found at wichita.edu/odievents.