Bongos and booty popping. Is that really what the Student Association thinks of black culture?
I hope not, but judging by their Black History Month Culture Day lineup, that might be the case.
Originally, I thought I’d be covering the college’s efforts to honour black history. That was before. Since then, I’ve been wrought with angst over writing this article instead, thus becoming, “that black person.” You know, the one who constantly complains about how tone deaf white people can be about issues pertaining to black people. That being said, how should one react when it turns out to be true?
The event took place at noon on Feb. 27, at the student commons. When I showed up to cover it for the Times, I quickly became disillusioned with what I was seeing.
It seems the SA’s idea of a Black History Culture Day is three hours of Afrocentric chanting, poetry, and soul line dancing. It was as if someone thought, ‘Hey! Let’s find the blackest looking person with a drum and put them on stage!’
A nod to African culture is always appreciated, but black culture is so much more than just one thing. So what happened?
Allison Barnes, the SA’s event programmer and host for the event says time was the greatest factor. According to Barnes, the planning process was interrupted several times due to managerial changes. She assumed the position at the end of January, but the recent break only amplified the time constraint.
“It was the end of the month and people were coming back from Reading Week and I found the cooking class we did yesterday had also been affected by it.”
Barnes makes a valid point. Still, I can’t help but think of all the other SA events that have been planned since the strike. Like the upcoming Pride Week lineup. There was definitely no lack of planning or variety there.
Other Black History Month events included a comedy show and hip hop panel, but neither were specific to black history. Barnes felt the event was a good reflection of what black culture represents and mentions wanting to add a dance crew and vendors to next year’s edition.
Black History Month Committee member Tyrell James (who is also a classmate of mine in the journalism program) feels the program was poorly planned, under-promoted and seriously lacking in content. His ideas, which included hanging posters of significant figures on school halls, were met with a thankful email and not much else.
“If the school can’t even properly represent their own student body, how will that make international students feel?” asks James.
Ah yes. International students, aka, Algonquin’s bread and butter. How would they feel? Omagie (Omagiyay) Eshilama, a culinary management student, says she wouldn’t refer to it as a cultural day.
“I really wouldn’t call it that day because there really wasn’t a lot of diversity. It was like the stereotypical African type of thing,” said the Nigerian native. “It was okay, but I just feel like there could’ve been more.” She suggests adding an exhibit featuring students’ “little bits of home” and making it more educational next time.
It’s not as if Algonquin draws a tiny group of black students.
According to data released by Algonquin’s public relations department, the college receives over 1,300 applications from around the globe. Coupled with the number of local black students within the college, surely the SA had access to more than enough feedback to put together a more comprehensive event than the one created.
If there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that we can’t expect someone else to represent us properly. That’s all the more reason to get involved and take ownership in what affects us directly.
Much like Eshilama says,“Nothing is going to change until we decide to make that change.”