By: Sylvanna Jackson
For a student at UPEI, the highlights for the month of February are the widely anticipated Reading Week and events surrounding Love and Sex Week. Somewhere beneath the hype and shadows of these highlights are the few events for and little awareness surrounding Black History Month.
Should we be concerned? Should we care?
The short answer is yes and we all should!
It should be the concern of all, especially those who appreciate a multicultural campus that includes black people contributing to that number. Nonetheless, this concern should first be fueled from all who identify as black before addressing any speculation of the little or lack of interest for Black History Month from others.
For many, Black History Month is associated with the arduous journey to freedom for African Americans as the term originated in America and was solely used to celebrate African American History. Over the years, however, the words Black History Month resonate with black people in Canada and everywhere else. Black History Month may be used as an opportunity to highlight the struggles one, who identifies as black, may face being often considered a minority. It may also unite black people – who were not born anywhere in North America – that face similar struggles when traveling or migrating to parts of North America.
Some of these struggles may range anywhere from finding it hard to adjust to a community that may not always feel welcoming, to being confronted with racial slurs. (Yes, even in 2019!)
I was born and raised in Freeport, Bahamas – a predominantly black island and to be honest, in previous years, I was not always heavily concerned with Black History Month; however, I am more invested now. Being an international student, studying in Canada, and witnessing and experiencing some of the issues of racism – which is supposed to be celebrated as a conquered struggle – or just, simply, feeling lost in the crowd further highlighted its importance.
On February 12, 2019, I attended a meeting for the Black Cultural Society of Prince Edward Island held at the Fox and Crow. Many issues plaguing the black community of PEI were addressed and discussed by a diverse group of black people from countries like Nigeria, The Bahamas, and Canada, etc. Out of the many issues addressed, many of us black students felt that sometimes we do not belong or have had direct encounters with racism.
One student who wishes to remain anonymous stated, “He didn’t yell any profanity at me, but the way he looked at me said a lot. He looked at me, bewildered from head to toe, and even turned up his nose like he’d seen trash.”
Wellington Kemp III, another student of UPEI, also stated that his neighbor, who is an elderly lady, would usually shout phrases like “these ____ foreigners”. You fill in the blank.
That’s just it.
Not focusing on the problems but the solutions (though the problems are frustrating, to say the least), we need to fill in the “blanks” – we need to raise awareness about all that is misunderstood about black people, with hopes that it may contribute to dismantling the communication and connection barrier (another problem addressed at the meeting).
Hence, the need for more events to raise this awareness during Black History Month – and every other chance we have.
Black History Month is not celebrated for black folk to complain about issues, but to highlight the history, contributions, and presence of the black community which may be helpful towards transforming the minds of those who harbour and perpetuate ignorance, xenophobia, or hatred of any degree, while invoking concern for the circumstances we often face. It is also celebrated to empower those identifying as black who – believe it or not – are still mentally enslaved due to negative stereotypes, often portrayed in the media (but that’s a whole other issue for another article).
Black History Month should not be buried under the other highlights of February.
However, on another note, the issues at the meeting did not go addressed without many of the speakers taking most of the responsibility for the lack of adequate awareness; we have to be the change! The meeting was not as filled as it could have been showing a possible absence of interest. It was also noted that there is an undeniable division amongst the black community, at times. For instance, among those from Africa and those from The Caribbean.
Though we have originated from different parts of the world, because we are all black no matter what shade, we often share the same issues; there must be unity!
Not excluding any others of the black community, if we all can become more unified, then the changes we want to see will become evident. We who are – also – students, people, and human beings that bleed red whose aim is not to take over but to help build and – most importantly – feel at home in a thriving community.