hidden colors film

so at internship the other day, we saw this movie, hidden colors.  i watched it with the group i lead.  it was literally a life changing event.  i cannot recommend this movie enough – for people of african descent especially, then for every person who has gone through the american school system to reflect on what you were taught, and finally just to everyone!  it’s very thought provoking.


it’s a documentary by author and radio host Tariq Nasheed, who interviews scholars and historians about black history before slavery.  it traces back not only to the african empires, but to the african influence in early european and asian civilizations and africans’ impact on world history.  the people interviewed share many things that i had never heard about.  amazing pieces of african history and influence that were very inspirational and things to be proud of, and i have to admit that some made me raise an eyebrow (for example, there’s a segment on baggy saggin pants begets demasculinization begets homosexuality that was pretty out there), but the whole premise of the movie is that you need to explore and research your own history because the history we have been taught is jaded and incomplete (an understatement).  the director describes it as a history of africans, aboriginals, and moors.

all of us in the room were completely engaged by the film.  when technically we were supposed to stop and switch topics, i took a poll of the room and we decided to keep watching instead.

i have reflected a lot about my experience as a half nigerian girl with no enculturation in african culture navigating history and culture in the american school system in the 80s.  african teaching was limited to slave trade, national geographics showcasing primitive painted warrior men in loincloths and saggy boobied topless dark women and dancing, smiling, hunting.  pop-culture showed me those poor pot-bellied starving african children surrounded in flies that they didn’t have the energy to sweep away.  kids on the playground used “african booty snatcher” as the mother of all disses.  inside of all this was a little girl, high-strung and creeped out.  i did not tell anyone i was african.  you can call me by my nickname and no i won’t pronounce my whole name for you.  being african was not desirable, much less a point of pride.  being black in minnesota wasn’t so hot either.  in school we were taught a history of slavery, the egyptian dynasty and king tut, and once a year learning about our martyred, non-violent, turn-the-other-cheek messiah, dr. king!  seeing hierarchical disparities and living in a very white community (and for me, being raised by white family), there didn’t have to be overt racism for me to understand that white was good and right and powerful, and black was second class.

children are wonderful observers but terrible interpreters. 

in addition, my family raised me to talk like they talk – white.  black kids ridiculed and challenged me for the way i talked and acted – white.  plus i did very well in school – teachers’ pet, fast learner.  i gained my self esteem through excelling in school.  i bought into the school system hook, line, and sinker.  i don’t regret being a good student, i’m grateful that it came so easily to me.  but a child learns by rote, memorization, people pleasing.  and you end up buying into this learning.

children are wonderful observers but terrible interpreters. 

this movie, hidden colors, is the beginning of a powerful corrective force.  all of the things i learned in school did happen, they did exist.  but by giving people their broad and rich history, you affect so much more than their education.  literally, as i sat watching this movie, scribbling notes for future group topic ideas and further research, i began to sit up taller.  it’s like a pride injection.  i didn’t grow up during the civil rights or black power movements, and something terrible happened in the years after this activism that brought the black community into this collective apathy we see today.  (plenty of theories about this that warrant more research, but as a thumb in the page – drugs injected into communities, felonies, destruction of the black family, overt into covert racism.)   movies like this are important to remind us of the cloth we are cut from, where we have been, what has been done in a systematic way at institutional levels to undermine our power (political and personal), and why we are where we are today.  critical thinking and understanding is key.  for healing to happen, we must study the past to learn from it so we can comprehend how we got here first, and then make plans to uplift ourselves.

working at this internship, with a focus on culturally relevent services for african americans, it’s really changing my life and igniting a fire.  this movie is so eloquent at explaining how we got where we are.  it reminds me of the way i have felt watching a couple of the michael moore films where he gives you information about the root of a problem that you never thought about but the truth hits you really abrasively and it lights you up because you recognize the accuracy.  the guys in group watching it with me were quiet (they’re never quiet) and i loved the chorus of “real talk, that’s the truth” as things touched them.  one guy who i thought doesn’t really take much seriously went into processing group after the movie and talked about how the movie really helped him to understand himself.  and many of the men really, really got into it, really applied it to life.  men who have no interest in therapy, but who were so touched by the movie that it prompted them into self-exploration.  that’s magic.