‘I Am Not Your Negro’ discussed by students Tuesday

Luke Taylor, Associate News Editor

Students and faculty met Tuesday evening to discuss “I Am Not Your Negro,” a film about civil rights leaders Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr.

The movie, which came out in 2017, highlights the personal experiences of those figures, and intends to highlight the struggles of the civil rights movement and contrast them to modern day.

This event was an installment in the ongoing series of MLK Jr. programming that Eastern’s Civic Engagement and Volunteerism office is presenting this semester.

Anna Fishbein and Sophie Cieslicki, both graduate students studying college student affairs, led the discussion with prepared questions.

The opening questions mostly regarded the actual content of the film and what new information the viewers had gained from watching it.

Nora Kollar, a graduate student studying college student affairs, said she felt it opened her eyes to information that she might have already known, but hadn’t really understood.

“I learned a lot of things that I felt like I should’ve learned in grade school,” Kollar said. “I didn’t even think about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X not being on the same page of things.”

The conversation moved onto the perspective offered by the film; rather than a purely objective standpoint, “I Am Not Your Negro” included anecdotal experiences from James Baldwin, the author of the book it was based on.

Multiple attendees said they found the movie difficult to watch because of the subject matter.

“It was hard to watch but that’s how our parents and grandparents might have grown up,” Fishbein said.

Cieslicki agreed, but said it was important to watch anyway.

“I had to address whether that was my privilege,” Cieslicki said. “I’m a white person so I could look away, but for those Black people, it was their reality.”

Jackie Hirn, a graduate student studying college student affairs, said that this sense of discomfort should be used as motivation.

“I just think that this movie, these images, these books, if they make us uncomfortable, they can’t JUST make us uncomfortable,” Hirn said. “We have to do something about it, because how does it feel for the person on the other end while we just sit there and watch?”

The attendees also discussed how they were educated about each of the three men discussed in the film.

The general consensus appeared to be that while most attendees had learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., they didn’t know very much about Malcolm X or Medgar Evers.

Beth Gillespie, the director of Civic Engagement at Eastern, said she felt that this was because MLK Jr. advocated less disruptive methods to win civil rights.

“I feel like white people used the MLK movement, was used to villainize the Black Panthers,” Gillespie said.

The group also discussed how things have changed or remained the same since the 1950s and 60s.

Catie Witt, a graduate student studying college student affairs, said that history classes made her feel like the Civil Rights Movement was much further in the past than it actually was.

“I saw a picture of one of the marches with MLK in color and I think it made a point that we really haven’t come as far as everyone seems to say,” Witt said.


Luke Taylor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]