Being under the magnifying glass

Reflections on Black History Month at Queen’s as a visible minority

I think Black History Month has always been a semi-awkward time for me. Having gone to predominantly white schools for the majority of my life, I’m used to being the only Black girl in most of my classes. 

So, when February rolls around there’s always this ominous cloud of pressure, and “responsibility” hanging ever so softly over my head, which I believe started in elementary school. 

The teacher, who is usually always white, brings up Harriet Tubman, or Rosa Parks while telling the aged narrative of the injustices Black people faced in America 

— because Black people were loved in Canada at that time of course — and during those little talks I would always feel eyes on me. 

Yes, you know exactly what I mean. It’s that moment when you do a quick side-eye at the Black kid in class to see how they’re reacting to all of this. That famous side-eye phenomenon has followed me through every Black History Month presentation in school. Yet, the thing is, I don’t think the stares were what really bothered me. The stares I could always understand, and sum it up to just plain curiosity and human nature. 

What I think really shook me all these years, is the fact that it made it blaringly apparent that I Am Black, which makes me a minority, and that for the better part of the last four centuries my skin has been seen and in many places, is still seen, as inferior. 

See, the truth is that most times I don’t remember, or rather, I’m not constantly aware of it. A perfect example of this was just this weekend. I went to go see The End of the World Club at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday night and it was there that I had one of those reminders. I was sitting in the audience and a line about how Google created a baby robot that people could interact with through social media came up. The actor said that in three days the baby robot had tweeted out “we need to put all the niggers in concentration camps,” and then she said how scary it was that we had taught a robot how to hate in three days. 

After that line, obviously, the whole room gasped and tensed up. It was in that moment that the reminder hit. I immediately felt the “side-eyes” and looking around, I realized that I was the only Black person in that entire room. 

My blackness became glaringly evident. Up to that moment it wasn’t even something I’d noted. I obviously wasn’t offended by the line in the play, but I think what it did was remind me of the fact that that line was most likely not able to make anyone as hyper-aware of their skin as it made me. That hyper-awareness is felt during Black History Month as I’m conscious of the fact that I’m surrounded by people who look nothing like me. As if that hyper-awareness isn’t enough, we’re then given a mic —  a chance to voice our opinions as people of color and teach some of our history, while editing our words so as not to make white 

people uncomfortable. 

Yet the thing is, I’ve had a great experience as a Black student at Queen’s. Of course there’s the annoying micro aggression here and there, or the odd stares when I wear my natural hair out, which as a Black kid you just learn to grow a tough skin to, but for the most part I’ve had amazing experiences. 

I’ve had a plethora of great opportunities, made some pretty awesome friends, and have encountered open minded and cool professors. Though, with that I think it’s dangerous to let just one voice “represent” the Black community because honestly, I’ve been lucky. I’ve heard some truly unbelievably unfortunate experiences from Black students whether it be in their classes, their department, with friends, or even when they go out. 

So, when I say that I’m lucky enough to not always recognize that I’m Black, I’m super cognisant of my luck because not everyone else on campus has the luxury of feeling like they blend in. I guess in some way that’s part of the point of Black History Month. To take a step back from your point of privilege, whatever privilege looks like for you, and pause to listen to other perspectives. To open dialogue that isn’t aimed at placing blame or targeting, or automatically feeling like we’re accusing you by saying you are privileged, but rather focus on just talking, sharing and figuring out some small ways to make things a little bit better for everyone in any way we can.

Happy Black History Month. 

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