Alison Reid is a Culture Policy and Development Officer at the MIMA Gallery, which lies at the heart of the School of Arts & Creative Industries at Teesside University. Here, she pens her thoughts on Black History Month – the theme for which this year is Time for Change
October is Black History Month in the UK (in the USA it’s February, just to clarify). MIMA is very involved in the University’s approach to Black History Month, working closely with colleagues in Student and Library Services and with our partners and contacts in communities around the region.
In the past two years, more than ever before, there has been a real demand from colleagues for reading and for knowledge about Black lives and histories. People have asked what they should read and where they should look. These questions now shape our approach to Black History Month – from reading lists and listening resources to new series of talks that will take place on the campus throughout this new academic year. It’s always been important to us that we don’t leave this work in October. October is a recurring beginning.
Every week I search for and select a recommendation on Black lives and histories for the School’s internal Friday wrap email. Every week, while I’m searching, the same story comes back to me. So I’m sharing it here.
Twelve years ago I began a course in Intercultural Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I was lucky enough to go there in person a few times, though the majority of the discussion took place online.
One of my professors was African American, originally from the Washington DC area. He had moved to Vancouver to join his partner, who is white Canadian. When he was still new to Vancouver they went to their local supermarket to shop for food. On the way around the store his partner opened a bag of chips (crisps, to most of us) which hadn’t yet been paid for. She began to snack on them. He looked at her in surprise, and asked whether she felt ok doing that. She realised that she’d never questioned it – it was just something she always did. His response to her was:
“Please, don’t do that with me”.
Because, as an African American man he was already under surveillance, in the sense that in public settings he was always being watched.
It may be a small example, but it says so much to me about imbalance and about the things that some people are able to take for granted. Imbalances and inequalities are gigantic when we begin look at them, and that of course is what we will always need to do. I think this story stayed with me because it helped me to look and to notice better. It’s that word – imbalance – that guides me every time I’m wondering which article, podcast or book to recommend next. In thinking about Black History Month, it may be a place to begin.
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