By// Jessica Gaddis
Filmmaker Dash Harris is blurring the color lines and shedding a much needed light on the experiences of peoples of African descent around the world. Her docu-series Negro explores the interplay between race, color, and self-identification among Latinos in the Americas. By delving into the history of Afro-Latinos and giving them a platform to share their stories, Harris questions the structures that are in place to label people and attempts to shatter them.
Negro exposes the racism present in Latin American, challenges the lack of information that many people posses about blackness, as it pertains to countries outside of the United States, and directly challenges the idea that “beauty” and “white” are interchangeable concepts. Ultimately, by interviewing people of African descent in many different countries, including Panama and the Dominican Republic, Harris is able to get a large view of the identity crisis that Afro-Latinos deal with.
Our society has made it easy to categorize people broadly without understanding the history and roots of different ancestries. It’s become common to assume that how “black” you are is directly related to the amount of melanin in your skin. Instead of educating ourselves about our history and how complex and beautiful it is, we group people together and assume that we all have the same backgrounds.
Conversely, while our differences have separated us and created a color complex between us, our similarities have commonly been forgotten. Most, if not all, of us are of African descent, whether we know it or not. As it was beautifully stated in Negro, if we get to a place where we see ourselves in each other, some of the hate will be dismissed.
JETmag.com caught up with Dash Harris to discuss Negro and the importance of a piece of its nature.
JET: Why does a story like this need to be told?
Dash: I think it’s long overdue. This conversation about the color complex, racism, and discrimination in America; and white supremacy, you can’t forget that. Has been so ingrained in Latin America and Latin American culture, it’s so pervasive and it’s so apparent. I have my background in journalism and news, and video, production and all that. I said “okay, let me lend my talents to something that matters to me, and that pertains to me and that affects the community that I’m from.”
JET: What have you learned about yourself through this project?
I feel that I’m a more well-rounded individual because I know my history a little bit better than I did a year and a half ago, and I’m proud of the legacies that we have. I think I have grown as an individual in that way, to know that I come from a legacy of resilience. I’ve got a better cognisance of myself and what I believe in and what I want to fight for, what I want to show and the responsibilities that I have.
JET: How would you like to see the teaching of history changed?
Dash: We all have work to do because we can’t leave it up to the schools to teach any history accurately. I really believe that it takes a village to raise a child. So, you, him, her, and him all have a responsibility to the youth. In terms of youth and educating youth, we have to start talking about it more. We have to stop leaving our education up to others and to the system. We have that responsibility to ourselves, to seek out the knowledge.
JET: Do you see “inter-race relations” improving as a result of people understanding their heritages?
Dash: I think it’s important for the cultural exchange to say “yes, we are African descendants” but to acknowledge each other’s stories. Latin America did not operate the same way as the United States; the United States went by the “one-drop rule”, Latin America didn’t. In a few places [in Latin America] it was the opposite, if you had one drop of white blood, you were white. It was completely different, so, we cannot judge each other. We cannot start talking to each other until we acknowledge that yes, our stories and our yes, histories are different; and then we can begin after that.
Check out www.NegroDocumentary.com for more information about Dash Harris and Negro is being screened.