As the issue of representation in Western society is brought more to the forefront with each passing year, it’s become clear that representation is crucial to many. People within minority groups need platforms to tell their stories and those listening need a place to have their stories told back to them. We need connections within our communities, other people with shared experiences to call home. The Black History Month Committee’s most recent event, The Black and Proud Panel, was held with this sentiment in mind.
The event was centered around a panel of five Brock University students coming together to discuss their unique experiences as black women, as well as to unpack the very idea of blackness and all the connotations and issues that come with it. Topics ranged from stereotypes to sexual health to representation, with the panel even touching on the specific experience of a black woman living in Niagara and attending Brock University.
The panel was moderated by Brock alumna Lydia Collins. The panelists were Amanda Lyn, a fourth-year Kinesiology student, Summer Sayles, a fifth-year Sociology student, Maia Andrew, a third-year Psychology student, Glenda Anderson O’Connor, a Masters student in her final year of Critical Sociology and Kecha Lange, a second-year Labour Studies and Women and Gender Studies student. Even while frequently relating to each other, each woman on the panel held a unique viewpoint, offering informative words worth holding onto across the board.
Something that struck me to be particularly important about this panel from the very beginning is that no one was forced to sit exclusively under the umbrella term of “black”. Every panelists’ individual culture was stated and explored, ensuring discussion never shied away from the fact the experiences they shared with those in attendance were often hinged on their cultural backgrounds. Sayles spoke from the perspective of an Indigenous woman; Andrew as someone who had come to Canada straight from Trinidad and Tobago; Anderson O’Connor’s standpoint was based around her family’s religion. As such, the stories shared went even deeper than they could have and provided more for those in attendance to learn from or relate to.
The second topic posed to the panel was when they first discovered their blackness. To those who haven’t experienced it, the question may seem futile, yet every panelist was able to dig deep into their background and find an answer. The inability to fit in amongst other races was a prominent topic of discussion across the panel, as well as feeling as though they acted too white to be black.
Panelists later discussed how they had to divorce themselves and their personalities from their blackness. Andrew even discussed how she hid her Trinidadian accent for a substantial length of her life in Canada and others agreed, speaking of ways they had to tone down their culture to appeal to the white spaces they would occupy at times.
There was a tone shift as the last question was raised. Collins asked the panelists what advice they would give their younger selves regarding self-love and the resulting answers were thoughtful and sentimental. Lange wished she had pushed aside internalized hatred towards her blackness and been able to see herself as the individual she views herself as now. Lyn gave the final answer to this question with a succinct and important statement: “you are enough. You are black enough.”
After the final topic was put to rest, attendees at the panel had the opportunity to ask their own questions, often finding their own experiences echoed by those on the panel. Not only did the Black and Proud Panel serve as educational and, at times, a celebration of black pride, but it forged connections. Audience members nodded along and sometimes spoke up about their own experiences; those on the panel constantly latched onto others’ points and enthusiastically expressed agreement when their experiences matched others’. Blackness, black womanhood and a variety of unique cultural backgrounds were displayed and explored with pride. As a result, The Black and Proud Panel proved the importance of events like this. Sharing cultural experiences stems further than allowing others to learn from it — others can relate and, sometimes for the first time, find a place to fit in.