Concordia Student Union (CSU) puts a spotlight on Black excellence
For Black History Month, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) has been using their Instagram platform to feature Black activists, writers, artists and scholars on spotlight posts — a solid effort at highlighting the accomplishments and contributions of Black people throughout history.
As part of their latest Black Lives Matter campaign, this initiative aims to uplift and amplify Black voices during Black History Month. The campaign’s broader goal focuses on echoing the demands made by the Coalition to Defund the Police and the calls from the Concordia Black Studies collective.
“We decided to designate this project to Black History Month by showcasing a different person each day to learn about their role and how they’ve impacted society as a whole,” said Victoria Pesce, the CSU’s external affairs and mobilization coordinator.
These posts include figures such as Oscar Peterson, Mary Ann Shadd, Rev. Addie Aylestock, and more.
A blurry line between allyship and performativity
“My relationship with Black History Month has always been shaky,” said Sundus Noor, a second year Concordia student. “I notice that every February there are new initiatives and events that pop up in an effort to uplift Black communities, but I sometimes feel like those things can be done all year around.”
“In some cases, it ends up coming out as trying to profit off of the month or taking advantage by tokenizing people.”
Noor explained how it can be hard to know if the intentions behind someone’s actions are truthful. But, she believes the CSU’s initiative to uplift a community is well-intended.
“It makes you wonder whether someone genuinely wants to celebrate Black people, or if they want to do it because not doing so might make them look bad.”
“I believe the CSU’s initiative comes from a genuine place of wanting to do their duty and shine the spotlight on Black people who have contributed to our societies, but there is always room for improvement,” she said.
Noor expressed her concerns about the dangers of exclusively reserving these discussions and initiatives for February and forgetting them the rest of the year.
“We shouldn’t be dumping everything in one month and forgetting everything about it after.”
“What happens after Black History Month? People’s voices seem to be erased because the month is over, and I think that’s when it becomes a form of tokenization.”
Karim Fall, a Journalism student, echoed this point.
“I’m always on the fence when the month of February comes around because some people might partake simply because they see others do it and they want to avoid being the outlier.”
“In any case, it remains important that conversations are taking place during that month, and that is progressive in a sense because it gives people the chance to learn,” added Fall.
“I’m never going to be mad at a discussion happening because we should always encourage dialogue, but it also bothers me when bigger institutions ignore it as soon as we hit March 1.”
Broader goals: uplifting beyond social media
For many students, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging to connect with the Concordia community and take part in these initiatives during Black History Month.
“I feel so far away from everything that is going on at the university at this moment,” said Florence Ojo, a student at Concordia.
Given that huge parts of our lives have been shifted to the online scene, the importance of social media engagement in uplifting Black voices has become crucial — even more so in the first ever virtual Black History Month.
Beyond virtual events, Pesce explained that the CSU has offered different workshops on topics like activism, allyship and police defunding to keep up the focus on what the Black communities need.
“We have to acknowledge how whitewashed our education is,” she said, “We don’t learn about the Black communities, or the Indigenous communities while growing up and that’s why it’s important to take every moment of the month to realize it.”
On the academic level, Pesce discussed the CSU’s efforts to hold the administration accountable and create different initiatives for the Black communities within Concordia, notably the Black Perspective Office (BPO).
“Similar to the sexual violence workshop, we’re working towards creating a mandatory workshop during which we would learn about the difference between, for instance, racism, oppression, discrimination, and more,” explained Pesce.
“It’s a part of our education that is lacking in our system.”
Fall echoes Pesce’s point, “The more I learn about Black history, the more I realize that it’s really world history.”
Similarly, Ojo believes that Black History Month is a great way to learn and amplify the voices of Black individuals, but we should not limit ourselves to a simple month of the year.
“We’re all here to learn and we should do that every day, not just during February.”
Screenshot of the CSU instagram page