I wasn’t sure how or where to start when approaching Black History Month this year. The sad and hard truth of it, is that until this past year I didn’t spend much time thinking about Black History. I thought what little I knew from mainstream movies and media gave me a good enough foundation. That it wasn’t my place to comment, or do anything.
What I know now, is that I hardly knew anything, and I still have so much more to learn. So where to go from there – I have tried to use resources and read books, to start my great unlearn. It’s hard to admit, especially because I like to think that I was/am a caring person, a sensitive person and one interested in justice always, but I remember growing up as a child not understanding how racism still existed. I genuinely thought because there weren’t slaves anymore that there wasn’t racism; I know now how naive and ignorant that was. I bought into the line that was fed constantly to me, that life wasn’t fair and that we needed to just deal with it.
Recently I stopped and listened, truly listened to Tupac Shakur’s song Changes, released in 1996. The song details the war on drugs and police attitude towards the Black and poor population. For me there was a stark realization of how little has changed in the last 25 years, and how much better we need to do.
When Black Lives Matter first started, I too, thought they might be more successful if they said All Lives Matter. It was because I didn’t understand, I didn’t know that it was intrinsic that ALL lives matter, but that only Black lives were treated as if they didn’t. I would say that in Canada, we treat our Indigenous populations more closely to the manner of Black people in the United States. In my sheltered, privileged life I never had to worry about altercations with law enforcement. I’ve never had to worry about the medical care I was going to receive. I may not have always believed my life mattered but that was a me thing, so the intrinsic nature of All Lives wasn’t something obvious to me, I was limiting my view and understanding to only my own experience. As said I know what it’s like to feel like your life doesn’t matter, it hurts and it’s awful – the thing is I never had to worry about it, in terms of general treatment, my skin colour never dictated that, circumstance did.
If you aren’t aware this week was the anniversary of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year old, unarmed jogger, that was murdered on tape. Whose murderers have most recently petitioned that the word ‘victim’ not be used to describe him in court. This week would have also been the birthday of Elijah McCain, who died after being put in a chokehold by police and sedated by paramedics. Elijah was anemic, and wore a ski mask to stay warm; he was walking home from the local convenience store. These are just two stories about how Black lives are not treated with the same value as others in the United Stated. Sadly there are many others (small article below, highlighting only a few) lives that have been unnecessarily cut short, and the leading factor is due to racism. The defense of fearing for your safety is used so often in these cases that it begs the questions as to why do you fear, and the truth which that is where the prejudice lies. I also highly recommend viewing 13th, by Ava Duverney to have a better understanding of the mass incarceration system.
As a white person, I believe it is important to know the names and the stories, to watch at least some of the body cams or bystander footage, because it provides proof that can’t be explained away. They are hard to watch, and will trigger you, but I know for me it triggered the point of no return. We can not continue down the path we have been going. Things have not gotten better; the lyrics that Tupac shares in Changes could very well still apply to the situation today, 25 years and no real change. I know when speaking with an older loved one, they said something to the extent that ‘well they’ve had a Black president, is that not enough?’ I had to explain that no, that one individual was not enough. That having a Black president or now a Black/Indian, Female vice president doesn’t make up for the brutality, the hurt and the disrespect that others endure. It felt like the attitude is, ‘well we gave them that, so now we don’t need to worry about the other issues’; that’s garbage.
No one should ever have to question their place in the world based on the colour of their skin or race. They shouldn’t be treated differently because they don’t look like you. We need to first be honest with ourselves about our own bias. Be honest and recognize that we are attracted to those that feel similar to us, it’s natural to want a connection with someone. By attracted I mean those that hold the positions as friends, partners, mentors, and employees in your life; you need to first be honest about the bias, in order to actively work against it. We (the collective we) need to find connections that run deeper than our skin colour and heritage, because those connections exist and they are so much more meaningful than our past. The connection of a love of art, any kind from music to literature to movies, or a favourite book growing up, or deeper connections like feeling restless or out of place at school, or possibly similar struggles at home.
There is so much focus on the negative, there are justifications, fear, etc. My goal this February, in contrast to only viewing the History, which is important to know, but what I wanted was to Celebrate Black Excellence, to show those pushing, pulling us forward. To share those that I have felt a connection to, whether it is through reading their books, viewing their stories, enjoying their art, connecting to their purpose, or if lucky enough connect with through direct messages or in person. This list is small sample, and does not come anywhere close to the Black Excellence that I follow, but it is a highlight.
I would urge everyone to check out these wonderful, amazing humans and share those, that you believe embody the same connection and/or Black Excellence to you, with your loved ones, followers and with me. We should celebrate excellence each day because it is right, and lifting each other up is so much better than holding others down.
I will share that when I spoke about trying to honour Black History Month, here and through my Instagram/Social Media, I was asked by a friend if I thought it would be seen as performative. All I can say to that is I hope not, I know I am genuine in my intent, that I tried to highlight individuals in a positive and respectful way. Is this to say that one month is enough, no, of course not. My goal is to continue to find ways to highlight Black Excellence. To continue to work on being actively anti racist. To be mindful about who I support and where I spend my money, is there a way to be more diversified (my own 15% pledge, look it up, very cool initiative). I will say that my desire to do this perfectly almost prevented me doing at all and that it took until mid-month, that I would have a knot in my stomach about my posts being taken the wrong way, or this post not coming out right.
What I know is that saying nothing is not an option, doing nothing is not an option. Imperfect as my efforts will be, I have to try, I have to be open to feedback and stay committed to learning. I hope that you will continue or start your own great unlearn. If you want a safe space to talk or discuss reach out to me, as I will gladly talk through how we can stay accountable, be open and help with change.
Below I will share a bunch of links for those I highlighted during this month – if you take a gander at my Instagram, and or any of these individuals I suggest looking at the accounts they follow, there are great people, organization to discover there –
DAY 2 – Sonya Renee Taylor, http://www.sonyareneetaylor.com, @sonyareneetaylor, @thebodyisnotanapology
DAY 4 – Layla Saad, http://www.laylasaad.com, @laylafsaad, @goodancestorpodcast
DAY 5 – Ibram X Kendi, http://www.ibramxkendi.com, @ibramxk
DAY 6 – Ijeoma Oluo, http://www.ijeomaoluo.com, @ijeomaoluo
DAY 8 – Tabitha St. Bernard Jacobs, http://www.womensmarch.com, @tabithastb
DAY 9 – Bowties and Books, Jesse, https://www.youtube,com/c/BowtiesandBooks, @bowtiesandbooks
DAY 10 – Black Girls Surf, @blackgirlssurf
DAY 12 – Noelle Singleton, http://www.afroswimmers.com, @coachwiththefro, @afroswimmers
DAY 13 – Micki Harvard, http://www.mickiphit.com, @mickiphit
DAY 14 – Kelsey Ellis, http://www.kelseyellis.ca, @healthy_with_kelsey
DAY 15 – Sharee Miller, http://www.shareemiller.com, @cuteandcoily
DAY 16 – Sydonne Warren, http://www.sydtheartiste.ca, @sydtheartiste
DAY 17 – Simone Sauders, http://www.simoneelizabeth.ca, @simoneelizabethtextiles
DAY 18 – Frederick Joseph, http://www.wehavestories.org, @fredtjoseph
DAY 19 – Francesca Ramsey, http://www.franchesca.net, @chescaleigh
DAY 20 – Dr. Muriel Buque, http://www.drmurielbuque.com, @dr.murielbuque
DAY 21 – Jemele Hill, http://www.jemelestore.com, @jemelehill, @jhillunbothered
DAY 22 – Tabitha Brown, https://tabithat-brown.myshopify.com, @iamtabithabrown
DAY 24 – Sophie Roe, http://www.iamsophieroe.com, @sophie_roe, @thepillowtalksessions
DAY 25 – Anthonia Ashade, http://www.hadashjewelries.com, @hadash_jewelries
DAY 26 – Dom Roberts, http://www.theuncomfortable.org, @domrobxrts, @theuncomfortableorg
DAY 27 – Heather Chelan, http://www.hebontheweb.com, @hebontheweb
DAY 28 – Sherrell Aliza, http://www.zenliondesign.ca, @zenliondesign
Additional Accounts and/or People to check out, again this is not exhaustive but a place to start – these are all Instagram handles –
Wellness & Sports – @perfectlyflawedfit, @postpartumwellnesshub, @bethelfitmum, @donnanobleyoga, @yogineo, @_nhinds, @rolandp90x, @swimuphill
Food – @4cornersyyc
Lifestyle – @likeme_outdooredition, @colourthetrails, @amberabundance, @glowmaven, @jujumil, @raquel_willis, @ankurjain, @iamasadugger, @glimpseofmaria, @glographics, @jhanneu
Learning/Academic – @_toribell, @jodiepatterson, @paulcbrunson, @averyfrancis, @teachmrreed, @mikaelaloach, @yasminecheyenne, @mspackyetti, @iamrachelricketts, @imterencelester, @hopegiselle, @mayasideas, @janayathefuture
Non-Profit – @wewieldthehammer, check out @giveblck from a comprehensive listing
Retail and Goods – @oneberrie, @trinigeeisme, @zoezisport, @americahateus, @tallyup_, @shoprubylove, @regaliaswim, @mmashair001, @aguathetics, @trufacebygrace
Authors/Books – @morethanenough, @harlemportland, @wellreadblackgirl, @elainewelteroth, @blairimani
Art/Content – @resistancerevivalchorus, @d3mstreet, @jazmynjw, @cynthiaerivo, @mjharrisspeaks, @oumi_janta, @trevornoah, @opeytakesphotos, @priscillebuck, @knowledge_bennett, @dopesaintjude, @officiallydivinity