Black UBC Students on Black History Month: Distinct identities, shared experiences

Even here at UBC, there are places and people that are waiting for us to disappear, but moments like these are a reminder that we aren’t going anywhere.

There is this quote by the famous philosopher and historian Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel stating that Africa is a place without History. This narrative stuck and in many ways, this narrative is still present at UBC. In our classes, in what we view as the norm, blackness often has failed to make the cut. Black History Month is a resistance of this narrative that seeks to erase us, categorize us or even worse, mimic us.

When we celebrate Black History Month once a year, we aren’t denying the importance of other histories, but we are speaking to the fact that we were a part of them. Just like yours, our ancestors have lived and loved and mourned and died. Black History Month is political because we are living in a time when we are having to fight for our lives to matter.

Even here at UBC, there are places and people that are waiting for us to disappear, but moments like these are a reminder that we aren’t going anywhere.

Samantha McCabe

Danni Olusanya
3rd year history major

The category of blackness is something I am confronted with everyday. It's not something that can be spray painted on or photoshopped in. My blackness is real and omnipresent.

There have been moments I have struggled with this, wishing for one day to feel what it would be like to disappear and to not constantly take up space — even in the places where I am wanted.

And yet there is a powerful history in my skin, a history that fought and is still fighting to be recognized as human and intelligent. Though our presence may be inherently and intrinsically political, we are carrying the torch of our ancestors, ready and waiting to pass it on for generations to come.

Samantha McCabe

Sydney Henry
2nd year political science major with a minor in international relations

I am from Toronto and I am of Trinidadian and Jamaican heritage. Growing up in Canada, Black history was always optional, inaccessible and limited, while white history was always mandatory, sugarcoated and the default. Still, every year, questions arise against the divisive, ostentatious, segregating display that is Black History Month: “Why do we need a whole month just for Black people?”.

To answer this question, one must address the audacity of it. The audacity of accepting white history as world history. In my own program European history is required, but African history is not. This hierarchical display of relevance is why we need Black History Month. Africa, the continent that feeds all others, is unimportant to a program centred around the relationships between countries. The irony, disrespect and overall caucasity of such a curriculum, is why we need Black History Month. The modus operandi to measure "importance” against a ruler of whiteness instead of a ruler of relevance, is why we need Black History Month.

Truthfully, White history does not exist, only history from which Black people have been removed. Likewise, Black history does not exist, only history with a wider scope of truth. In a perfect world, there would be no Black History Month. History would just be holistically true. Factual, not political.

Unfortunately, that is not our reality — not yet. Until then, it is important for Black people of the Continent and the Diaspora to see reflections of ourselves. It is important that our ancestors are un-erased from the histories of Canada, of the United States, of South America, of the Middle East and of Europe. That, is why we need Black History Month.

Samantha McCabe

Will Shelling
4th year political science major with a minor in international relations

When I walk into a room, be it a club, meeting with University administration or even just a coffee shop, I ask myself two questions: am I black enough to be different than everyone else in this room? Am I light enough to be accepted by everyone in this room? Being mixed-race causes you to ask these questions of yourself. Other instances, I’ve found myself counting how many people share my skin tone in a room, and unsurprisingly at UBC it’s close to zero every time. Being black at UBC is occupying historically white spaces and seeing what you can do in that moment so that others who look like you one day won’t be in the same situation as you. Going to a club meeting, joining a dance team, or even joining a Fraternity, these are the things that change a culture, these are the things that makes these spaces more accepting of black bodies. It’s a conception of legacy that I live with so that one day in these spaces at UBC, a mixed race kid feels genuinely accepted.

Samantha McCabe

Miselta Ihekwoaba
3rd year kinesiology major with a minor in Spanish

I remember sitting on my bed after Imagine Day thinking I had just made the worst mistake of my life. It was nice meeting the people in my faculty and others screaming in my face, but no one really looked like me. It wasn’t just that — they also didn’t care. On two separate occasions, I’ve contacted my professors regarding their reckless and arbitrary analyses of topics surrounding racism. I just think it’s funny that people can have three degrees and not know what a microaggression is. Tuum Est or whatever.

Samantha McCabe

Gavin Gordon
3rd year marketing and real estate major

I think Black History Month is important, especially in Vancouver, because the important achievements of Black people are often ignored and overshadowed. It allows non-Black people to not have to think about the things that I, and other Black men, have to face every day.

Samantha McCabe

Mikaela Joy
2nd year theatre design & production and psychology double major

When I left my home country, a place where half the population is Black, my Blackness felt heavier. Sometimes I see another Black person on campus, and realize they’re the only other Black person I've seen all day. I find myself being ‘the token Black’ in groups and conversations. I don’t ever mind answering questions, but it’s draining to feel responsible for representing Blackness effectively. It’s challenging to try to explain that there is no singular Black experience, but a plethora of experiences from a multitude of intersectionalities. It’s difficult to try to set boundaries about language I'm comfortable with and stand up for myself without the risk of contributing to the ‘Angry Black Woman’ stereotype.

For me, Black History Month, is a time where Black people and allies join together to learn and celebrate. I relish it as a time to learn about other Black experiences, learn about Black histories left out of textbooks, and take time to be proud of this part of my identity. Black History Month is a time where the Black community pushes to be heard, represented and respected. It’s a time where the weight of my Blackness is shared and discussed and revered.

Samantha McCabe

Haydn Reid
3rd year political science major with a minor in international relations

I think Black History Month is important because it gives an opportunity for people to celebrate how far the world has come in terms of how black people are viewed. It gives us an opportunity to celebrate the victories that we share as a race and to look forward and identify ways in which to continue our success. It's also a really interesting time to connect with your ancestry and learn about people and events that you weren't previously aware of. Most importantly for me though, its a really great way to bring people together and to get a broad array of perspectives

Samantha McCabe

Chimedum Ohaegbu
3rd year English literature and creative writing double major

For me, being Black at UBC means that I could count my Black classmates and professors in Arts on one hand but I measure us in sound instead: am I, are we, talking enough to offset all those absences? And where is everybody, anyway? What’s “enough” and when does it become “too much”? Can I count as two people to better balance things, since according to numerous acquaintance accounts I’m me, yeah, but I’m also Angry Black Woman whenever I stride through the Nest. Apparently my neutral face isn’t neutral at all?

Samantha McCabe

Ozioma Nwabuikwu
2nd year prospective economics major

Before I came to UBC, I’d never even thought of myself as black. Black, to me, was a whole other reality, a term reserved for the West. I was Nigerian, I was Igbo, I was a Nwabuikwu — those were the first tangible things I thought of as synonymous to my identity. Coming to UBC in 2017 forced me to confront the reality of my blackness. But the black identity is so complex! And the African identity even more so. Since the world usually lumps us all together, I thought I had to place myself between the two but I ended up feeling like an imposter trying to appropriate a history that was entirely different from mine.

It was this year that this definition finally came together for me. I realized that the experiences of black people everywhere, though very different, have many similarities. We’ve experienced prejudice of all kinds and have all had to fight for our places in our respective societies against many terrible and undeserved obstacles. I appreciate and recognize the efforts of African Americans who fought, not because I feel required to but of the respect I have for their struggle. After all, their cries were even heard in Africa — the Civil Rights Movement in America set off many independence movements which eventually led many countries like mine to gain independence as well.

This is the true meaning of Black History Month to me: acknowledging the beauty, resilience of all black people and appreciating how our experiences have intersected rather than diverted.

Final thoughts

I would like to thank all of the contributors to this piece. Writing about survival is hard, but we hope that sharing our experiences will bring some light to the issues we face, and create awareness about our existence on this campus.