‘Roots’ of Queen’s: black won’t crack

Queen’s students should be more familiar with the whole history of the university, not just one narrative

Black History Month kicked off at the beginning of February with speeches in Wallace Hall.
Black History Month kicked off at the beginning of February with speeches in Wallace Hall.
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Stephanie Jackson, ArtSci ’14

This past summer, I learned that my ancestors spoke Gaelic.

While this might not seem like something worth mentioning since there are probably many other Queen’s students whose ancestors spoke Gaelic, this is why it’s important: I’m black.

My father is black. My mother’s family, the side from which my ancestors spoke Gaelic, is black.

We’re black and we’re Canadian, and we’ve been in Canada for many generations. My ancestors, who were Canadian blacks, who lived and thrived in Truro, Nova Scotia, spoke Gaelic.

This newfound information was revelatory to me in several ways, the most glaring one being that I attend Queen’s where the Gaelic language and culture has shaped the university into what it is. It seemed even more fitting that this school has a prominent history of black people shaping its institution. It seemed as though things were figuratively coming full circle.

The intersection of ancestry and my present situation has been one of the more striking moments of coincidence I’ve had in my life. Taking the time to pause and reflect, I know now that if I had learned this information as a prospective student, it wouldn’t have influenced my decision to choose Queen’s over other universities.

Even though every Queen’s student proudly chants the Oil Thigh whenever the opportunity arises, the way in which the Gaelic language permeates this school wouldn’t have made me want to go here.

Even though my family, black people who spoke this language which was unprecedented to their race and the time, it would not have made Queen’s more endearing to me.

What would have attracted me as a prospective black student would have been to know that black people, notable alumni as well as distinguished persons, have played quite a significant role in shaping this school into what it is.

As a black student here at Queen’s I feel as if this history is not one we all share and take pride in. We share amongst us a collective identity of what we believe Queen’s to be, and being able to authentically represent this school requires more than just donning your tam.

To authentically represent this school, it requires educating yourself about its history and its people.

It’s always during February — Black History Month — when I find myself revelling in the fact that so very few people know that black people have played an important part in Queen’s history. What’s even more unsettling is that even fewer are interested in learning about it.

Black History Month is not just for black people. It’s here at Queen’s where this rings especially true. Black history, fellow Queen’s students, is our history.

There’s the legacy of Alfred “Alfie” Pierce or the remarkable Robert Sutherland and how he saved Queen’s, to name just a few of the many black Queen’s notables. This history is one that all Queen’s students ought to share in, commemorate and pass on. Black History Month is the opportunity to recognize the achievements made by people who have been oppressed physically, mentally and socially. Despite these odds, black people have made lasting impacts that can be felt right here, on this campus, today.

As Queen’s students, we ought to fully engage with every aspect of our history and understand that the undertakings of black people have shaped the collective identity of Queen’s. Knowing this can contextualize the idea that black history is not just something for black people. Queen’s history is black history.

It seems hypocritical for me to press the issue that black people have been integral to what Queen’s is without giving information as to who these people were or what they did.

There’s no individual or collective who is responsible for educating others about a shared past. This school has all the resources that permit anyone to teach themselves about black history.

Seeking out this information isn’t difficult, but it’s wanting others to care about this history that’s another aspect entirely. The information is there, but it takes people who care enough to want to know that Queen’s is more than just its shades of Tricolour.

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