“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain
I’ve just returned from Spelman College where a large group of students (including a few Morehouse menfolk) screened my film Bling: A Planet Rock. I had a chance to talk to some of the ladies and gentlemen about my experience as a journalist, filmmaker, and—this is my absolute favorite topic of discussion in settings where there are large number of students of color present—travel. For people of color, traveling and learning about other cultures is empowering. All Americans would benefit from spending some time out of the country, for that matter, and not at Disneyland in Paris. Travelling is an exercise that nourishes the mind, body and spirit. For African- and Latino/a-American students in particular, exposure to other cultures can prove itself to be invaluable because of the historical and sociopolitical connection they’ll find in the life experiences of other people. One example I used was the Dominican Republic, where slavery was abolished, thanks to our revolutionary Haitian brothers and sisters, in the early 1820s. An overwhelming majority of the people in my motherland are ethnically ambiguous because of miscegenation. As a matter of fact, I often quip that Dominicans have a hard time classifying themselves (another subject for a forthcoming post): you’ll meet someone who is clearly of African descent that will call themselves indio, or Indian. It’s also interesting to note that in 1824, at least 6,000 emancipated African-Americans migrated from the United States to Samana. This is all to say, we are more similar than we are different. African-American and Latino/a students, I told the room, will find that there is strength in numbers. Perhaps, when people discover and celebrate what binds them to one another, they’ll find that many of the misconceptions they may have brought to school, will be replaced by understanding and camaraderie.
One freshmen asked me what she could do, after watching my film, as someone who wants to become an ob-gyn. She felt helpless. Should she boycott diamonds, she asked? I responded that I didn’t intend to make a boycott film. I wanted to encourage viewers to think about the world around them. I want people to see that what we do here affects other people around the world: in the case of Bling…, how American hip-hop’s obsession with diamonds and hyper-materialism intersected the conflict in Sierra Leone. I wanted the students to be moved into action. And more often than not, people are. But what kind of action? Well, I suggested that the future ob-gyn look into doing a semester or two abroad in a so-called Third World and/or post-conflict zone—Sierra Leone, Haiti, Rwanda, Uganda, come to mind—where women can benefit from her services. The student would benefit for obvious reason (and not so obvious reason only she can discover). The recipient would benefit from her services and from seeing a woman who looks like her, in a position to aid. You don’t have to be a doctor: writers, photographers, artists, break-dancers, rappers, academics, everyone can do something. Action starts from within. Change comes from within. And yes, you can become a part of how this world rotates—forward. — Raquel Cepeda