“What does it mean to be black in our society?” This was one of the questions asked at the ‘Being Black in 2017’ panel discussion which was hosted by the Brock Roots African Caribbean Society (ACS) on February 3 and was moderated by Roots ACS executive Shaquonne Salmon-Joseph.
Students gathered in Sankey Chambers to listen to panelists— Lydia Collins, Chris Lawrence, Shiro Kinyanjui, Francis Akpotu, Amanda Lyn, Summer Sayles and Bukky Soliu — discuss the importance of Black History Month in relation to the significance of being Black in a society that was designed for and continues to be controlled by White people.
“To be Black is to be an overcomer, to have be two times smarter, and work three times as hard,” said Francis Akpotu, a Roots ACS executive.”
Panelists and guests discussed how portrayals of Black people in Western society have affected the ways Black people view themselves, as well as the way in which the stereotypes of Black people in media have created a world where people believe that all Black people must act a certain way, dress a certain way, talk a certain way, and so forth. But of course, that is far from true.
“I was born and raised in Kenya where race wasn’t really evident to me, I never really took in the fact that I was Black and that made me different” said Kinyanjui, one of the panelists and a Brock East African Student Association (BEASA) executive member. “It wasn’t until I came to Canada that I started realizing I was different and that there is separation between me and other people.”
“And people have this box that they’ve confined [Black people] in,” said Kinyanjui. “So I wondered ‘do I abide by the image of what people are associating me with?’ or do I step out of the box and be just me? It was conflicting for me at first but I felt like once I took it all in, I realized that I become more me than I was before. [Being one with my roots] drew a path for me and it woke something up in me.”
“Blackness shouldn’t be the defining feature of our identities,” said Akpotu, “but it definitely is a big part of who we are.”
Furthermore, panelists discussed topics such as cultural appropriation, how their complexion has shaped their experience, and learning how to be Black and proud.
“It’s important for us to continue learning about our culture and our roots in order to understand how that has shaped our present,” said Collins, a BEASA executive. “Many of the issues that Black communities face are a result of past events but it is necessary for us to continue having these conversations and challenge racist ideologies.”
“We also need to learn how to talk about things like mental health, slavery, sexualization and fetishization and how they affect Black people,” said Sayles, a Roots ACS executive. “And those things can take a toll on us because as a Black person it can be hard to trust other people and their objectives.”
“It’s really important for us as Black people to continue breaking stigmas that surround us,” said Lawrence, a panelist and a Student Justice Centre coordinator. “We need to acknowledge issues and be open about them. Yes we are Black and strong, but it’s okay not to be. If we have a mental health issues for instance, we need to make sure to talk to people when we need it.”
Additionally, the panel discussion briefly explored the topic of White privilege and how ignorance can be hard to deal with in many situations.
While Black History Month is most definitely an important time, it shouldn’t be simply confined to one month. It’s important to remember during every month of the year that Black history is everybody’s history and it should always be highlighted and spoken of.
*Disclaimer: Lydia Collins is both the social media editor for The Brock Press and an executive for BEASA.