Part III: Reflections from Black members of the uOttawa Community

Posted on Thursday, June 18, 2020

Sekalala Seguya leans against concrete wall with sunlight on his face

Across the US and Canada these past few weeks, thousands of people came together to march in solidarity. In light of keeping this momentum going, here is another testimony, this week from uOttawa student Sekalala Jason Seguya.

For our community, these past few weeks have been difficult. The recent deaths of members of our community, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the United States, along with Regis Korchinski Paquet and many other Black lives, has been overwhelming. These losses serve as a continued reminder that in the view of many institutions, which we are dependent on, the Black body is viewed as dispensable. Our community has been subject to videos and imagery of folx who look like us being brutalized, harmed and murdered, to the point that many of us are becoming desensitized to this violence, despite the vicarious trauma we are collectively experiencing. 

These incidences reignited a global conversation on the continued presence of anti-Black racism in all facets of society, including our Police, in education, in health care, and more. While I am grateful that folx are willing to engage in these conversations, the circumstances which sparked these conversations serve as an upsetting and uncomfortable reminder. For us as Black People to openly discuss our own lived experiences, the many injustices that exist against us, and oppression as a whole; this comes at the cost of members of our community being sacrificed or subjected to trauma, without their consent. 

At the University of Ottawa, this past year alone has been challenging for many members of our community. As a university community, we've continuously committed to addressing Anti-Black racism in a variety of different forms, including committees and townhalls; however, this commitment came at a similar circumstance: 

  • Our actions in addressing Anti-Black racism on our campus followed multiple students racially profiled by services meant to protect us. 
  • Our actions in addressing Anti-Black racism on our campus followed members of our community publicly grieving and sharing their experiences of hardship in a variety of different spaces, including our classrooms.
  • Our actions in addressing Anti-Black racism on our campus followed multiple sacrifices and trauma inflicted on our own.

For Black folx, we live with the understanding that many of these spaces weren't initially created for us. Our day to day lived experiences are filled with regular microaggressions, to the point that often, we find ourselves numb to their presence. We find ourselves policing our actions and reactions when engaging in spaces, to avoid being labeled with unfair stereotypes such as angry or violent. We've learned to coddle our own messaging when expressing our discomfort in spaces. We've almost completely eradicated the term "Racist" from our vocabulary, with the understanding that, if used incorrectly, those who have inflicted pain and violence against us will ultimately be perceived as the victim, leaving us as the villain. But in doing so, the severity of our mistreatment is diminished. Resultantly, instead of the provided remedies creating actual change, we receive open apologies without a change in behaviour. Nevertheless, it is exhausting.

Sekalala Seguya walks by a wall

In this time, as folx are choosing to become aware of these injustices against us, there is a charge of allying with our community. Allyship is so crucial in creating genuine change; however, it is essential to monitor your efforts to ensure that they are uplifting our community, rather than hurting us.

While this does not serve as a fully exhausted list, to be a strong ally as an individual, there are quite a few things to take into consideration:

  • We need your support and allyship, even when it is not trending. Be willing to engage in these forms of conversations, without our community being subject to pain and loss.
  • The title "Ally" is not one that is supposed to be self-given. For folx who are looking to support the Black community, let it be the community that recognizes you as an ally, through your work.
  • Your efforts in supporting the community should not be because you want the title "ally." Your efforts in supporting the Black community should be because you are aware of the continued violence that is inflicted onto our community regularly. Otherwise, your efforts are performative.
  • Anti-Black racism is present in all facets of society and will take generations to dismantle. This is not to discourage your efforts; however, this serves as a reminder that this type of work is a lifelong commitment.
  • Educating yourself on systems of oppression is one of the most critical steps. This should be independent work, as there are many resources online. With this in mind, while Black folx may be willing to educate you further, this is exhausting for us, so please do your research.
  • It is okay to change your opinion on something when presented with new information. This is a part of that learning process.
  • Take time to recognize ways in which you may have caused harm towards Black folx, whether or not you may have intended it. Remain conscious of your actions and the actions of your colleagues, and address them if they are causing harm.
  • Listen to Black folx when they address issues with you. Do not try to justify the issue and change behaviour accordingly.
  • Support local organizers as they are shedding light on the many barriers positioned against our community.

As organizations who are standing in solidarity with our community, here are a few things to take into consideration:

  • Be aware of the presence of systematic racism within your organizations. As individuals, your actions may not be directly causing harm to our community; however, be aware of the ways your organization may be affecting members of our community.
  • Address the history of your organization. If your organization has, in fact, inflicted violence towards the Black community, if this is not addressed and remedied, your efforts will be received as performative.
  • Review your hiring processes. Continuously review ways to remove biases within the hiring process.
  • Review your leadership. Are members of the BIPOC community represented in high positions of leadership within your organization? If not, it is important to address why that may be the case.
  • Review your policies surrounding equity. There should be zero tolerance for Racism and Discrimination within your workspace.
  • Be aware of the tokenism of racialized folx within your organization. Don't stop at diversity but push for inclusion.
  • Ensure that your organization has fair and active means for racialized folx to submit complaints, with the option of anonymity. 
  • Lead the change. Sometimes, specific change may seem too big or too ambitious; however, your efforts in creating spaces for Black folx will go a long way and will encourage similar organizations to do the same.

The work of allyship is exhausting and can be overwhelming, but this work is essential. Without negating taking care of yourself, it's necessary to recognize that the discomfort you may be facing is a fraction of the regular discomfort our community faces. This commitment is so important and will go a long way in creating genuine social change.

In solidarity,

Your friend – Sekalala Jason Seguya.

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