A few things to clear up before we get started:
1. Please note that my black experience does not stand to represent all of my other babes from the dysphoria.
2. I will be using the term ‘white’ and ‘black’. I do not agree with the use of these words to describe characteristics of people, but these are the terms I must use in order to convey my message properly/clearly.
3. This is not going to be a great testament to Miss Rosa Parks, Viola Desmond, Mae C. Jameson, or Issa Rae (while I do love and appreciate my sisters).
Okay, now let's get into this tale!
There are so many visual and verbal cues that can connote if someone is ‘black or white’. Since I was maybe nine years old I was considered ‘white’. In high school, I laughed and even encouraged the nickname ‘oreo’ (i.e. black on the outside and white on the inside). Not the smartest thing I've done, but in retrospect, I was ignorant, unaware, and passive to microaggressions and nonsense. I had a feeling that being called an oreo wasn't… nice? But I really don't believe that anyone in my high school intentionally wanted to make me feel belittled or less than; they probably didn’t understand the harm behind what they were saying either.
Anyways, when Black History Month would roll around, I always felt uneasy. When both white and black people are saying that you're white you feel like you're in a wired limbo. Both my POC and white friends called me white because I can't dance, I articulate my words, I respect authority figures, and have always been a ‘keener’.
Leaving the question, what does being ‘black’ mean? Black is being rebellious. Black is hip, cool, loud, outspoken, fashionable, into sports, funny, not super into education and extracurriculars. Being black is cool. White is being polite, clean, an academic, conservative, prudish. Being white is lame. This is what I was taught growing up and I'll be blunt: that's fucked up.
Obviously, I know that black folks are intelligent and capable, but they weren't as celebrated for ‘white’ traits in mainstream media. What I saw was Tyler Perry movies and Meet the Browns when I was at my most impressionable ages. While these iconic BET shows were hilarious, showed me some moral values and a sliver of representation, I didn't quite relate to the characters portrayed. The aspects of ‘blackness’ being shown were ones where I didn’t quite fit the mold.
For the longest time I just never really got super into my culture because I didn't feel like I belonged. Shared commonalities and interests in the black community didn't reside with me aside from inherited traits that I’d learned from my beautiful, intelligent mother and large family.
As I've grown, so has the conversation around black characters and representation. Mind you, most of my education on black history has come from two places: My mom sending me to school with pages of black history facts on the first day of February every year from JK-Grade 8. American television.
Canada—or more explicitly, Canadian media, which is incredibly underfunded—has failed to accurately represent the black experience or to just simply have POCs with depth. I’ll admit, it’s getting better, but we cannot slow down.
History & media has shaped the way in which we are seen and how we see ourselves. It's important to just acknowledge what went down here in Canada during the American Civil War; how Canada played a roll with the Underground Railroad, how and why Scarborough is been considered ‘ghetto’, the Viola Desmond case, and the fact that there were and still are KKK members in ONTARIO. However, it's not my job to educate y’all on this. I’ll make you aware, but please take the time and look it up if you want <3.
I am exhausted. I am angry. And I am worried. But at the same time… I'm proud, inspired, and empowered. Answering the question of why Black History Month is important is an intricate and lengthy explanation. Canada’s education system heavily focuses on white history (let’s not even go to Indigenous rights, that's a whole article on her own) and by having a month dedicated to educating ourselves and remembering black history allows for everyone, and especially curious kids (no matter if they're POC or white) to learn about the past, and use that to inform how they navigate social interactions and implicit bias’ going forward.
That being said, yeah, it's awesome that we have a month, but microaggressions and life-threatening actions are projected onto black people every day. We can see the progress of our brothers and sisters protesting and standing up for black liberation (i.e. Michelle Obama, Issa Rae, Jully Black, Phylicia George, Aurora James, Zanana Akande, Mitzie Hunter… the list goes on) but we aren't done yet.
There is no one definition of what it means to be ‘black’, and I think Black History Month proves that. Let’s continue to pay our respects and celebrate the diaspora so that the next little girl who gets called an oreo can choose for herself what it means to be black.
Stay in the loop for all things Common by joining our newsletter!