Reflections on Blackness

By Clara Younge

This month marks the fourth year that Macalester has celebrated Black History Month through an entirely student-led process of planning, solicitation and organization. A couple of weeks ago the Mac Weekly published an article about this year’s decrease in financial support for the month from MCSG, and you may have seen fliers for a few of the events, which have ranged from B.L.A.C.’s screening of “Good Hair” to In The Kitchen With Afrika!. But for the most part, this has been all anyone’s heard about Black History – or Black People for that matter – all semester, and for some people, all year.

Macalester is known (mostly as a result of its own promotion) as a very international place, a very multicultural school, a very diverse campus. Many, if not most students come here explicitly for that reason. They want to be educated in a space where they can engage with people, cultures, and points of view that are different from what they found at home. In the case of many international students and people of color, they come because they want to be educated in a space where they will not be ‘the only’, and a space where they will be supported.

But how often do we, Macalester students, faculty, staff, administration, actually consider what it means to be international, multicultural, or diverse?
Does it mean supporting DML and Black History Month events? Or otherwise ignoring these issues the rest of the year? For the administration, does it mean recruiting students of color (of which they did a really good job this year)? or delegating “multicultural admissions” to take care of those PF’s and the Department of Multicultural Life to deal with them when they come? Does it mean volunteering off campus in a center for underprivileged Black, Latino, Somali or Hmong youth? Or does it mean turning the few students of color that are here into tokens? How engaged in this community are we really? And what can we make of the Hate Speech incidents of last year?
There have been many conversations about representation of students of color on campus, specifically within B.L.A.C. (Black Liberation Affairs Committee) and in informal circles of students of color. The Build A Better Mac initiative also seeks to address this issue, but mainly within the context of the divide between domestic and international students. Unfortunately, this conversation has rarely left these contexts.

For many reasons, this is a conversation that needs to be had in the context of the broader Macalester community. Talking in the same circular patterns amongst like-minded people has never accomplished anything. As Macalester students, you all have the right and responsibility to engage with your fellow classmates, and it is crucial to bring administrators into the dialogue as well.

This Black History Month, we would like to try having that conversation. On Thursday, Feb. 24, the BHM planning committee will host a panel, Reflections on Blackness, which will address questions of representation, support, and the Black community at Macalester (both domestic, international, and those in between). The panel, featuring a current student, an alumnus, one faculty and one staff member, will consist primarily of questions from students and will examine the ways in which Macalester has changed over the last ten years with respect to the Black community, as well as how that change has come about, and what was gained or lost in the process.

Jade Johnson, ’12, one of the main coordinators for the panel, is especially interested in gaining knowledge about past Black experiences of Macalester, the things that haven’t been passed down from one generation of students to the next, the projects and demands that have fallen through the cracks in the transition. Other students on the committee have expressed the significance of holding this conversation, however difficult it may be, in a public forum, along with the importance of the panel being a safe space for everyone to ask questions, find answers together, and improve our understandings of ourselves and each other.

“If we can’t get people to have this conversation during Black History Month, then we’re never going to,” says Ellen Washington ’13, head of the planning committee for the month.

Here we are, Feb. 18, the month already more than half over, and what do we have to show for it? When you run into ‘Catharine Lealtad’ at Founder’s Day and look back on another Black History Month come and gone, what will you remember? What will you take away? And what will you change?Clara Younge ’12 is a Contributing Writer for The Mac Weekly and can be reached at [email protected]