Photo by Kyle West
By: Nyakoar Wuol
The Black experience at McMaster University is not monolithic. I can and will only be speaking in regard to my experience as a Black woman at McMaster.
Being a political science student, I often find myself being the only Black woman or Black person in a tutorial or sometimes even an entire lecture hall.
Within the political science courses, discussions on race, intersectionality and different waves of feminism do not go as in-depth as I would expect them to. After listening to the opinions of white students in these tutorials and their views, it makes sense why these discussions are so limited.
Discussion on race can only go so far if individuals are not sure what to add to the discussion or do not know enough to engage. In tutorials, I feel that when certain topics arise that I find interesting or am knowledgeable of, my opinion is not understood in the way I want.
A perfect example of this would be in my recent tutorial. The tutorial was set up as a debate with around five of us sitting at the front table. We were meant to briefly discuss the key elements of our paper, then answer any questions or rebuttals. For the sake of context, my paper was speaking about the result of Apartheid and its impact on Black South Africans, namely their struggle to be financially independent.
The white man who made the rebuttal made statements along the lines of, “why can’t they pick themselves up by their bootstraps? why don’t they just buy land or a farm? you don’t need a post-secondary education to make money”. All the statements he made would have been answered had he listened to the points I initially made.
I responded by stating that there are systemic barriers in place which limits Black South Africans from attaining wealth or having any form of mobility in their social class. In the wise words of W. E. B. Du Bois, “a system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.”
And yet after stating that, he was still not satisfied with my answer. He responded in a condescending tone but before I could defend my position, the teaching assistant moved the conversation to the next topic.
What I found most astounding was that this student was willing to stand in his ignorance than to believe that there are systemic barriers in place against Black folks not only in South Africa, but around the globe.
Another thing I noticed mainly in my sociology class and at a workshop I attended was that whenever there was a presence of Black folks, there was an underlying element of censoring from the white students. It seemed like they would mainly stick to saying socially-acceptable answers.
I feel that in order for anyone to learn they should not hinder themselves. White students seem to have this fear that if they say something that is not “acceptable”, then they will be vilified and have their opinion disregarded.
But choosing to only say what one thinks is acceptable does not result in any form of growth. If you fear that your true opinion or view is problematic, then perhaps ask yourself why that is?
Essentially, I feel that as a Black woman at McMaster there is much more that is needed to be done within academic spaces. This is mainly in regards to the limited discussions on race, and the lack of representation within the institution.
I, and many other Black students reading this, may feel that we are given the unasked role of being an educator of all things Black to white people. They may very well have certain questions or are limited in their knowledge on the Black experience.
However, it is not Black students’ job to inform and educate. As a great friend of mine said, “Google is free and it’s a great research tool.”