Black is not a monolith
Despite the vast array of cultural/ethnic backgrounds and lived experiences in the African diaspora, each Black person is united by how their brown skin is interpreted in America.
Black is not a monolith! To consider those words is to consider the full breadth of the human experience; Black people don’t move as one, but rather move in all directions, towards and away from each other. Black Americans represent 13.4% of the population, and with more than 40 million people who identify as Black, this community represents a diverse array of backgrounds, expectations, political views, music, culinary taste, and perspectives.
Despite the vast array of cultural/ethnic backgrounds and lived experiences in the African diaspora, each Black person is united by how their brown skin is interpreted in America. And while they are often crammed into a box constructed by society, Black people are not a monolith, nor is the way they navigate or deal with whiteness. Panelists of “Reframing the Conversation: Black is Not a Monolith” shared how they celebrate and define their Blackness, urged attendees to keep educating themselves on the diversity of Black culture and experience, and reiterated the need for dismantling racial biases that surround them.
Mary Ann Villarreal: Good afternoon, everyone. On behalf of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Student Affairs, welcome to the February installment of Reframing the Conversation! In fact, welcome as we celebrate our one-year anniversary of having launched Reframing the Conversation last February. It is here that we address contemporary subjects and bring together experts from across campus and the community to spark important conversations around racism, othering, and safety.
And as you get settled, I would ask you to pause so that we may acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute Tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute Tribes. The University of Utah recognizes and respects the enduring relationship that exists between many Indigenous peoples and their traditional homelands. We respect the sovereign relationship between tribes, states, and the federal government, and we affirm the University of Utah’s commitment to a partnership with Native Nations and Urban Indian communities through research, education, and community outreach activities.
So today, you’re here to help us celebrate Black History Month, and I know I don’t need to say this to this audience — but it does need to be set out loud — Black history is US history. And so, while we celebrate today, we must also challenge the practice of Black history as a footnote to American history.
Now I had the chance to meet with this panel before the session. You do not want to miss a minute of this conversation; put your phone on “do not disturb,” get settled. Trust me, this is a group that will take you into many different conversations today and hopefully be the start of so much of the work that we need to do at the University of Utah.
I want to introduce our moderator for today’s introduction: Meligha Garfield, the director of the Black Cultural Center.
Meligha Garfield goes by he/him and is the inaugural director for the Black Cultural Center at the University of Utah — a center that works to holistically enrich, educate, and advocate for students, faculty, staff, and the broader community through Black-centric programming, culturally-affirming educational initiatives, and retention strategies. Hecame to the U of U from his previous role at New Mexico State University, and here he continues to grow his leadership. And I have to say that we are so fortunate to have Meilgha’s vision and commitment leading the Black Cultural Center. I’ll turn the platform over to you, Director Garfield.
Meligha Garfield: Thank you so much, Mary Ann, for that beautiful introduction. Today, yes, we have a jam-packed discussion for you all today. I’m gonna introduce the panelists right now and then we’re gonna get right into the show.
So first the beautiful and amazing, Franque Bains. Franque is a poet, an organizer, a google doc nerd, and that gluten-free friend. She is convinced that the key to happiness is bringing your ideas to life and helping others do the same. She currently works to build community through storytelling in Salt Lake City.
Thank you, Franque.
Next we have Sendys Estevez. Sendys Estevez was born in Cotui, Dominican Republic and migrated to the United States in April of 1990 at the age of 3. She lived most of her life in the New York/Philadelphia “Norff Philly” area and became the first person in her family to graduate from college—a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from La Salle University. In 2013, she permanently moved to the Salt Lake Valley and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree from Westminster College in Community Leadership with an emphasis on Education. Sendys has been working at Salt Lake Community College for 5 years and is passionate about empowering her community through education because she strongly believes in the power education has to help individuals shape their own lives.
Thank you, Sendys.
Next we have Bryan Hubain.
Dr. Hubain is a member of the Student Affairs Leadership Team and provides supervisory oversight to the departments of Basic Needs Center, Career & Professional Development Center, Financial Wellness Center, LGBT Resource Center, TRIO, Veterans Support Center, and Women’s Resource Center. Dr. Hubain also serves on various University committees.
Thank you to Dr. Hubain.
Next we have Nikki Walker.
Nikki Walker is a consummate public relations professional with cross category experiences in the fields of beauty, fashion, celebrity and lifestyle. Specialties include media relations and press placement, celebrity seeding and wrangling, press and red-carpet event development and activation, consumer engagement and launch strategies. Ms. Walker has carved for herself a unique niche in the industry with her ability to bring ethnic brands into the mass consciousness and create opportunities for mainstream brands to authentically penetrate diverse markets.
As the current Director of Brand Experience and Community Engagement for Domo, she works with a team of professionals to elevate and amplify the brand by creating and driving PR programs and initiatives focused on Diversity and Inclusion, workplace equity and belonging, community engagement and Domo for Good.
Thank you, Nikki.
Next we have Maryan Shale.
Maryan is a third-year University of Utah student studying Health Society and Policy with two minors in Sociology and Leadership. (Pow! Pow!) Born in Nairobi Kenya, she is a first-generation college student who loves to advocate for underrepresented communities. She comes from a single-parent home where culture, education, and family are embraced. She’s the current Black Student Union President (Woot! Woot!) and is also running for the VP of Student Relations here at the University of Utah. (Yes! Yes, yes, yes!) She loves her Blackness and hearing about everyone’s experiences in higher education.
Thank you, Maryan.
Alright, so we all know the order which we’re gonna be answering these questions, but we have a plethora of questions for you all today all centering around “reframing the conversation around Blackness” and making sure that we understand as a whole — not only in this panel but the community — that Black is not a monolith, so thank you all for joining!
The first question we have here today is, “how do you define your blackness, and how does that impact the way you move to this world?” We’ll start with Franque.
Fraque Bains: Awesome, um, y’all we’re about to have a good conversation! I love all of these questions, um, “how do you define your blackness?” It’s joy; it’s celebration; and it’s celebration of my story — the story of my ancestors — of all they’ve passed down; it’s me sitting at the table helping my grandmother cook a meal; it’s, um, just just celebrating where I’ve come from.
Meligha Garfield: Next we have Sendys.
Sendys Estevez: So I define my blackness by — there’s one specific word that I use — afrocaribeña. I am from an island in the Caribbean, and so it’s very important for me to let individuals know that my blackness stems from that island, that soil, in the Caribbean. But I echo a lot of what Franque said: my joy, my laughter — I laugh from my belly — um, just our food, our music, the way that we connect with other people and how genuine it is. It just runs inside me, and it’s amazing. And I’m just so proud to be afrocaribeña.
Meligha Garfield: I love that. I love that — especially representing just that region and understanding that Blackness is there. We often don’t have conversations about that, but I like that. Dr. Hubain?
Bryan Hubain: Thank you, Meligha, Pamela, Mary Ann, Eunice, for getting this going and it being in its full first year, so thank you for that.
You know, my Blackness is just for a lot of people a conundrum — like no one can really process everything. And I think that is really the case for so many Black people. I experience both privilege and marginalization. I’m from the “Helen of the West Indies” that is Saint Lucia and grew up in the Caribbean. And, you know, we’re already seeing some richness on this panel from the Caribbean, so growing up in the Caribbean and, like, being able to speak my Creole has been so powerful.
In so many ways, sometimes being in America is rough, because I can’t speak that language — language is such a crucial part. But most of all, there is so much complexity; me being light-skin gives me privilege to really pass and undo certain things that other people who are darker than me can’t do, and I need to really put that in because oftentimes we don’t talk about it. My blackness is really entangled with my ethnicity being a descendant of Indigenous Peoples in Saint Lucia and being Black. It’s really a combination, and that is beautiful.
My immigrant status in the US, my education status, being able-bodied, all of those things make up my Blackness, and, you know, my Blackness is not just what you see; it’s also what you don’t see. It’s everything that often folks, maybe, can’t necessarily digest it all. It’s like, “take it in baby. Take it in,” because there’s so much here that you don’t see. Get to know me. This is really my Blackness. I’m extra. I’m extra. That is me.
Meligha Garfield: I like that though — understanding that “I am here. See me. See me.” Yes, I love it. Nikki, what is your response to the question?
Nikki Walker: So my Blackness, I look at it as a fullness of self, right? And it’s not just myself; in my Blackness, I carry ages of my ancestors with me. They are with me always, and their stories and their journeys help me to express my life in a way that I may not have been able to without understanding their struggle and their fight, and, you know, the god inside of my ancestors that fully realized itself and created this group of people that are here in front of us.
My black is “blackity, black Black,” and everybody who knows me knows that I often get — to the Doctor’s point– because of my complexion, or perhaps the shape of my eyes, rather than taking me for a Black girl with roots down South and Indigenous roots, people always ask me what I’m mixed with. I’m Black mixed with Black and some more Black, so I really embraced that. I insist on people understanding and accepting that and taking me where I am, and I love having the opportunity to take people on this journey of what Black looks like. It is certainly not a monolith.
Meligha Garfield: Thank you so much. Maryan?
Maryan Shale: Thank you, everyone, for sharing! I feel like my response is similar to everyone’s, but for me I was able to define my Blackness when I stopped seeing my skin color as a burden. I think with everything going on, like, recently the whole, entire racial climate I think a lot of us, you know, we’re just going through so much trauma. But when I started seeing more of our history — like seeing that people have been doing this for years — I was just able to see that my Blackness is leadership. It’s learning about Black history. It’s love, and I just feel like Blackness is just truly beautiful.
For me, I was able to actually define it this summer when everything was happening. I think especially with the spark of George Floyd and in his passing.
Meligha Garfield: I like that, and can you elaborate like define where are you from as far as Blackness.
Maryan Shale: I am from Kenya. I am not the average, you know, like, Black person. A lot of people are from the South. They wake up to like grits and everything. I woke up eating like fried — what is it called? — like chapati. We eat with our hands. I have a lot of Black friends that are like, “we don’t eat with our hands.” I was like, “well, I eat with my hands,” the fufu and everything, so it’s just like…yeah…it’s just different for me, but I love it.
Meligha Garfield: Love it, I love it, yes! [laughs] All right, great responses to that first question. I think it’s important to really kind of realize that you all represent different facets of Blackness, but in the end you all defined and [stated] “hey, I am Black and recognize that I am Black, but we all represent something in that niche of what Blackness is.” I love it.
The next question we have is, “how has your lived experience shaped/impacted your life’s work, and how do you contribute to the Black community in ways that you do?” Again, “how has your lived experience shaped or impacted your life’s work, and how do you contribute to the Black community in ways that you should do?”
Franque Bains: Just for me to jump in and start, it would be growing up in a home where my face was slathered with Vaseline and I was kissed on; my hair was tied back; they were like, “baby, you are beautiful;” my dad says, “you’re a Bains. You can do whatever you want,” so just [a home] filled with so much pride. Then I went to the second grade and got put into a Gifted and Talented Education (G.A.T.E.)] class where I was put with a lot of White kids. From being in G.A.T.E. on up through high school through everything, I was getting these messages that I wasn’t good enough, and I resented that. Not only did my family fill me with just a sense of just love and care, they also told me to be very independent, so from there I would do leadership at my school for the Black Student Union.
I want us to feel like we have a place to be Black and not have to apologize about it, and so how does it influence my work today? It’s wherever I’m at I want to support Black people, and so here in Salt Lake [City], I’m working with amazing people — Meligha you’re on the team — and we’re doing something called Black, Bold, & Brilliant. It’s with KRCL. (Shout out to Billy Palmer, Russell Roots, Aja Washington!)
You can see Black, Bold, & Brilliant — excuse the plug but it’s just basically that’s what I do. I put programming, basically anything that I can do, to support Black people so that we could be comfortable in who we are and where we are, because I didn’t like that feeling when I was a little girl.
Meligha Garfield: Beautiful. I love it, especially this independence that usually is not an aspect of what we talk about with Blackness. The next person that we have is Sendys.
Sendys Estevez: So it’s interesting, because I am an immigrant, and so I share a lot of Dr. Hubain’s experience. It’s almost like I’m too American to be Dominican sometimes, and too Dominican and Black to be not necessarily American, but be accepted and have understanding of the struggles and the things that we go through. Coming from a single-parent home and being an inner-city child, again, I grew up in North Philadelphia where you see so many things. You see racism, and you see White supremacy be so centered. Then you’re at the outskirts because you also have that language barrier. English is actually my second language, and so it was really interesting and challenging at times, because I had to be American and speak English, but then I had to be Dominican to translate documents to my mother, to go to appointments with her, to do all these things. I had to grow up really, really fast.
The main way that my lived experiences affect the way I show up at work and what I do, especially now working at Salt Lake Community College, is that I understood education was the way out for me, right? You know, places I come from — what I proudly say — I’m from the hood. I’m from the ghetto. You can call it what you want, but I call it “making a dollar out of 15 cents.” So the work I get to do, how I get to empower people with my story, is to tell them, “if I did it, you can do it too. You need to show up wholly; everything about you is important and should be honored, so don’t check any parts of yourself at the door. You’re gonna come here. You’re gonna make space for yourself. We’re gonna make space for you, and you’re gonna make a whole lot of good noise.”
Meligha Garfield:I love it! [snaps] Yes! Dr. Hubain, can you talk about that duality, as Sendys was kind of talking about as well? That duality of Blackness to be both from the Caribbean but also coming here to the States and having to battle that?
Bryan Hubain: So this question, for me, is always a tough question, because there are so many things that have impacted my life. In Saint Lucia it’s about colorism, it’s also about status, it’s about wealth. And I don’t mean like community wealth, you know, the social justice way, it’s like money, like, where do you fall?
You know, racism exists, but racism exists in such a complex way. Colonialism is so real — settler colonialism is so real — that it has impacted me all the way now. This is something that has existed for so long, and so I would say that, you know, I always knew I was Black, but when I got to the United States of America, that’s when I knew I was Black. It is really one of those things that has moved me through my career and to really understand what experiences am I really having. That has really propelled the things that I’ve studied, the things that I’ve published on, the things that I speak on. When I teach folks about diversity, I start from the place of race because, you know, when we talk about racism as a social construct, it’s like, yeah, it’s a social construct, but it’s so much deeper. So for me, my lived experiences have really been informed by my race and my Blackness and the intersections of identity.
Meligha Garfield: Yes, I love it. Nikki, can you kind of expand on that — like what are your thoughts?
Nikki Walker: I love this question too. This concept of duality in your Blackness is super real. Especially when — I’m sure everybody on this panel has had similar experiences — you did a G.A.T.E. class (“gifted and talented”), so you get moved out of the space where you are surrounded by others who look like you and you’re placed into this space that says, “oh, you’re Black, but you’re special,” so you get to go over here, and now you need to behave this way. Well, I rejected that from the moment. They used to call me Sister Souljah, because I was so serious about my Blackness, and I refused to have it erased. I’m the middle daughter of three daughters, and our skin color ranges from almost-passing to walking-in-Ghana-and-people-speaking-to-me, and I’m directly in the middle of that. For me, it has been part of my life to hold on to my Blackness and not let other people define my Blackness as something else.
I’ve been referred to as a White woman. I’ve been told that I don’t speak like a Black person. I’ve been told that my mannerisms don’t reflect where I come from. Well, you know, I spent 40 years growing and learning and doing not to be in the same place but to make sure that when I walk into a space my Blackness takes over. That’s important to me. It is.
We see children who grow up, and now people go all, “let’s not look at race.” No, I want you to look at race. I want you to look at me. I want you to see that I’m a Black person who has fought through and gotten through so many barriers that have been placed in front of me. I need you to see my Blackness. You need to see my Blackness. It propels me and all of the work that I do.
When I was 14 I started an organization for young women of color, and that has propelled me and I’ve been in that role ever since. In my work, it is always my intention to offer safe space for people — all people — but most certainly for Black women and Black girls and to help them understand that who they are should always — as you said Sendys — be brought to the table. Do not check yourself at the door. The world deserves you. The world deserves all of your Blackness.
Meligha Garfield: Mmm, and serve that up with some grits. [Laughs] Maryan what are your thoughts?
Maryan Shale: Sendys and Franque definitely took all of my experience and just said everything for me. It was very different going up, you know. I definitely did grow up in a very large household; I have 11 other siblings. I am the oldest, so I had to grow up at the age of seven. When my mom was at work working full time, I was the one in the kitchen. I was the one cooking and cleaning and, you know, like making plates for all of my siblings and also being in school at the same time. It was just crazy, like, you’d be in school and everybody’s making fun of you, making fun of your scarf and like, “is it hot under there?” and all these other types of things. I think that also pushed me away from wearing the scarf regularly. I’m actually Muslim, and you bring the whole entire head scarf around. [There were] people making fun of you, and even Black kids thinking that you’re not Black because you’re Muslim or because you have a head scarf on…just a lot of different things.
I think, for me, I really was able to see the direction that I wanted to take my Blackness when I got to high school. During that time, that was when Trump was being elected, and [you could] just see your professors just kind of switch up on you. You can’t ask professors — I mean your teachers — like who would you vote for, but [you could see] the lectures, like the Black History Month and what they’re teaching, and everything that was going on. I feel like for me now I’m definitely somebody that advocates for students. As a first-generation student, not having anybody to lean on my first year, I became that person that every other Black student can lean on by being an orientation leader and just always making sure I’m building connections with them through Black Student Union.
Meligha Garfield: I love it! That actually speaks, as far as on you being a Muslim in your background, to the next question: “Can you all kind of just talk about some unique aspects and characteristics of your ethnic culture — like where is your background, your family?” Just some aspects of it, essentially, Franque?
Franque Bains: I’m Black with Texas/Oklahoma roots, so Black American. When I saw this question — maybe I’m taking a different approach to it — but when I think about what we’ve experienced growing up in the South and not having opportunities…I mean everywhere you go somebody’s trying to tell you know, from what happened at Black Wall Street when we built our own wealth to redlining, right?
So, you know, my family didn’t have a lot, but there’s something about when I think about my family and what I grew up seeing: making amazing things from limited resources. That’s an element of my culture. My family would not have a lot of money to buy fancy, you know, groceries but the food we made was amazing with the freshest ingredients. The way we made our own hair products in my home; we made so many things from scratch, so I have a scratch-made kind of a mentality. You make it your own if it’s gonna be not accessible.
There’s just, like, [a mentality of] things cannot be not accessible for me; I’m gonna make my own way. I think that laid that foundation for independence, so just limited resources and doing amazing things with them.
Meligha Garfield: I like that. Sendys, what is your aspect? What do you say was in a unique aspect of your culture growing up?
Sendys Estevez: I think for me was just the humble place I come from. I’m from the countryside in the Dominican Republic, and it’s beautiful to see how much joy; how much amazing characteristics folks have although we don’t have anything or we don’t own much um, physically, like normal material things; how much joy we can have; how much we are about community. One of the biggest, most beautiful examples my grandmother exemplified — not just to us and our family but to everyone — she fed the entire neighborhood. I don’t know how, right? We didn’t have much food and somehow, someway, she was able to feed everyone. Our house was in a place where everyone who wanted to get from one place to the other kind of had to go through there, and she would offer everyone a plate of food. And I’m like, “where is this food coming from?” When she passed, it was amazing to see how the entire place — I am from a suburb of Cotui called La Mata, which is even more country — came out. There was an entire line, like the entire street all the way to the cemetery, was full of people because she was just such an example of being prolific. She was amazing, and that’s one of the things that I’m the most proud of — specifically being her granddaughter and being Dominican — how we truly make all things out of nothing and do it with pizazz and with flair.
Meligha Garfield: I would also say that food is amazing! [Laughs] But yes, Bryan? Dr. Hubain?
Bryan Hubain: You know, this is a question I really appreciate because oftentimes folks conflate race and ethnicity. Race is this very well-defined construct — all a research says it — but it doesn’t really tell us very much about people. The fact that Black people have been racialized because they were slaves, and also slavery really constituted what that Blackness was. We see so many — and I know I’m going into it — so many white folks out there who can be what they want to be; who can speak the way they want to speak; who can show up with purple hair, green hair, everything, and nothing.
For me this question is so important because growing up in Saint Lucia and experiencing La Woz and La Magwit and really going into the wall of the roses, the gyration from Carnival, and all of those things were things that were prohibited. We could not do it. We couldn’t bang on a drum, so when you can’t bang on a drum, you find a pan. When I say a pan, I mean the pan you cook with and you hit it like a drum. So for me that is really constituting my ethnicity; that is part of it.
[Dr. Hubain speaks a couple sentences in Saint Lucian Creole French.]
This is me speaking another language, and you may not know, but this is really what is complicating my race, and this is — really in so many ways — defining my ethnicity.
Meligha Garfield: Love it. Nikki?
Nikki Walker: So ethnicity for me had never been anything that I focused on, because I was Black in Black spaces with Black people, but I learned that may not be ethnicity but culture. The culture of Blackness from where I am from is really expressed in love, and I enjoy sharing that with people, because often the culture of Blackness to people who are not Black is violence, it is poverty stricken and riddled, it is uneducated, it is uncultured, but that is not my lived experience.
Sendys we’re going to have to have lunch, coffee, drinks, something because these are so many similar experiences. Fortunately, my mom is still here, but our house was the house of love for any child, any adult, anybody who was in my neighborhood who had issues with parents, who did not have food, who did not have somewhere to sleep. Listen, if our electricity was on and our gas stove was on providing heat, you could sleep on that floor next to us in the kitchen. That was the culture of love that was created in house and through my mom, and then — I know I only have a second but — my dad was a Black Panther and a Marine, so think of all of these things that are happening in the culture of my home; there is fight the power, love the country, love everybody, feed everybody, so all of these things that pull together this is beautiful tapestry of the culture that was in my household. So Black culture for me is a culture of love and acceptance.
Meligha Garfield: Yes, I think with all of our homes there is usually the premise of love and we respect everybody and everybody comes to the house. We have big meals and everything, but I love it. Maryan?
Maryan Shale: Wow, this is a really good question. I’m Kenyan, but I’m, like, with the smaller tribe; I’m Somali Bantu. For me, I think one unique thing about our culture was actually — gonna sound a little negative but — women or girls, you know, definitely have to take the role of, you know, being at home and like taking care of children. So growing up, I was the one who was like, “no, marriage is not for me. No, kids are not for me,” and “no” to, like, every tradition of my mother and my grandmas and everybody has instilled. Then I was starting to break those things they wanted me to do. I was like, “I’m not doing that.” I just started seeing who I was becoming, and I feel like, for me specifically, culture is just being you, taking all of your family’s experiences, and making it your own.
I would just say for my specific culture, there’s not a lot of information about it, it’s just, you know, women staying at home, so when you start to make it your own, I just know that I can pass it on to my kids. But for my culture it’s just a little different. There’s not something we specifically did but it’s just, you’re all your experiences and you’re making your own.
Meligha Garfield: I love that. It actually comes into the next question on kind of breaking that mold on what is the idea of Blackness that we have across the country and the world, but my question to you all is, “what factors, events, or influences do you feel contribute to the stereotyping of Blackness in our society today? So what type of stereotypes, events, or just influences do you feel kind of paint us in this mold of usually putting us in a monolith, essentially?
Franque Bains: I’m gonna just run to marketing. I was thinking about this, and I was going a lot of different directions, but I’ll land on marketing. You know, marketing’s all about getting people to buy something, so they figure out a formula they’re gonna run with it. They definitely leave the Black story one-sided, and some people say that we are completely misrepresented, and hip-hop is out of control, and X-Y-Z. But there’s so much complexity and beauty in all forms of Blackness, and marketing does not hold that complexity. It doesn’t hold the stories behind what you see, and it doesn’t hold the many different moments that Black people experience. There can be such limiting messages on marketing that makes Black people feel like we only can express ourselves in one way.
Meligha Garfield: You’re like, “we barely get advertised, but when we do they mess it up.” They find some way [laughs] but, yes, thank you. Sendys?
Sendys Estevez: Just to add to what Franque mentioned, because I thought about this question, I’m like “Hollywood, music, television.” I’m like, “who controls these narratives?”
White folk. White folks do, right? So it is very, absolutely one-sided, very inaccurate and a lot of ways of who we are and the stereotypes lead to all types of issues within the Black community, right? It’s instead of us uniting and coming together and harnessing the collective power we all have, we’re pinned against each other. Sometimes — as I’ve experienced — a lot of it is language, right? My mother — we’ve been in this country for over 30 years — still doesn’t speak English, so there are so many things that are misunderstood because the communication is off. But the messages that we receive, and the way that we are portrayed by the media, and other channels that are all controlled by White people makes it so that it’s complicated, and so that we don’t unite because that way it’s easier for those that are empowered to stay in power.
Meligha Garfield: Yes. Dr. Hubain?
Bryan Hubain: So I have so many thoughts, and it’s also fueled by what the other panelists have shared. I think the media plays a big part, but most systemically, capitalism plays a huge part in the fact that our bodies, as Black people, can be exploited and then fast forward a hundred years — literally a hundred years — then we make a market for it. It’s selling the face-lightening cream. All of that there is an economy behind the racism that exists, and I know I’m kind of taking a question and shifting it a little bit more, but I think we need to talk about it in those ways. It is an economic benefit for the most privileged, who are usually White men, and we see that replicated on many levels.
We get to institutions — like our University of Utah — or in the community, and we actually engage on an interpersonal-level talking about the racism that exists or trying to explain racism to a White person when it’s like, “okay, let’s elevate your thinking a little bit. Let’s have this kind of conversation to say it is a systemic problem. Those factors, those events, those influences that contribute to Black people being stereotyped are, you know, those economic factors.” These are some of the things that we have to talk about in the discussion of race, which oftentimes we push the side in talking about those things, because folks want to remain comfortable.
Nikki Walker: And just to build on that, I mean, if we can be fully transparent here Black bodies have always been a source of wealth for White institutions, whether we’re talking about chattel slavery or we’re talking about the school-to-prison pipeline. Privatized prisons get paid off of how many people are in the beds, and that is exactly why, you know, these systems have been put in place. The drug laws of the nineties that were just in total step with the privatization of jails — ensuring that those jails are populated with Black bodies. There are still Black men and women who are in jail for selling marijuana when there are White companies and individuals around the world who are now making fortunes off of this, and this still has not been settled. So when we look at the economic side of it, and what Black bodies have done for this country and continue to do for this country, we also look at that marketing segment of it which is given to us through the media. And the media will skew details any kind of which-way they want to ensure that their message is being amplified, and so we have to take on the responsibility of educating people about that and insisting upon people doing their own research. There are studies that talk about the crack epidemic and the babies that were born there and how those numbers were so conflated and inflated that it created a narrative about Black mothers that wasn’t a real narrative. It wasn’t a true story it was a fictional narrative, and the numbers don’t support it now that we have more research.
So to your question, I say media and economics. I say it is our responsibility to put it on our backs and start having real conversations about why it is set up the way it is and why those systems have not been refocused, because they’re not broken; they are working exactly the way they were built to work.
Meligha Garfield: Yes, media and economics. I think that transcends like everything essentially; it always comes down to media and economics. But yes, I love it. Maryan?
Maryan Shale: I agree with everybody and what everybody said. I think it’s definitely the media and the celebrities we put on a pedestal who we want to represent us. I think, for example, we put celebrities on the highest pedestal and when they mess up, we want to cancel them and the cancel culture comes in and just causes one big stirrup. I think that it’s really just a lack of education that the media has about what Blackness looks like.
If we wanted to represent every single Black person, it would take years to try and identify what every single Black person looks like, how they identify, where they come from, and so forth, so I think the people just need to educate themselves. It’s more than just like, you know, magazines that do five shades of Black women and just saying, “oh, look at that! That’s what all Black women look like.” There’s definitely different shades, mindsets, and everything, so I think it’s just educating yourself and always asking people, like, asking actual Black people like, “hey, if I do this, how does it harm you? What does it represent? Is there a deeper meaning to this?”
I think it’s just education in the media and everybody, you know, just causing one big mess.
Meligha Garfield: I like that. All right and thank you, all. We’re gonna go into some audience questions. We have a series of questions here. The rules of this engagement is I’m not going to have everybody answer each question that is in the comments, but I’m just going to put the question up, and if anybody would like to go we will just have maybe one or two people speak on it.
But the first question is: “In terms of marketing – what resources are recommended to address your important points on messaging, for a campus org marketing department?”
We would like to tackle that question.
Bryan Hubain: I’ll jump in feet first. I’m looking at the question, you know for a campus or marketing department. I think it’s knowing your population — being authentic with the representation. I think that’s number one. The other thing is something that I say all the time; it’s creating an experience of being authentic. Let’s say one of the goals is, especially, recruitment of maybe students or, maybe, let’s say employees. How are we creating an experience for folks to grapple with what might life be like in this organization — what might life be like or not on a daily basis — and giving someone a glimpse of that? Also show that, as a department, we’re able to have some of those conversations. Some of that might be going to conferences and engaging in some of some deep conversations around being critical, which oftentimes we don’t like, and using some words that make us feel uncomfortable, make other people feel uncomfortable, to really share that story in order to show folks that we’re serious about this.
Meligha Garfield: I like that; that is a good response! All right, I’m gonna move on to the next question just for times’ sake. The next question is “can someone speak to why don’t universities help with pushing for a medium to help better unite us?” Does anyone want to tackle that question? Again, you have about 30 seconds, essentially.
Nikki Walker: I think there’s a burden on universities just in general struggling for financial backing and trying to work within their own constraints to ensure that their students are being well taken care of, so I don’t necessarily know that it should be on the shoulders of universities.
I do see that where people are becoming learned that’s where these conversations should happen, but I also just by observation. You know, while universities and colleges have always been a place of new experience and expressing ideas, this idea of racism and how race is portrayed in the media is so much bigger than universities, because when corporate money controlling that conversation, it really is up to corporations to put on their boots, take up this cause, and say, “we need to start to level the playing field for people.” Then it sort of trickles down.
I think that young minds are having these conversations, and they will be the generation to help to move universities along, but right now I just think we’re at the very beginning of this kind of conversation in these kinds of needs.
Meligha Garfield: Thank you. I was just gonna say I think it is important to kind of realize that it is not just the university as far as shaping what Blackness is even though it is like the groundwork for every new idea and things of that nature. There are other avenues that define Blackness, and we need help from various institutions, but again those institutions are controlled by the White, colonial narrative.
Bryan Hubain: Meligha, I think another part, too, is kind of like, the dark side of neoliberalism which all universities play into. Let’s be real. One part of that is results, and so for us especially as universities, and I’m throwing myself in there, it’s because it’s numbers. That doesn’t help us. That doesn’t help with the humanistic approach that we preach, so those things are actually conflicting. I would say that’s something that every university needs to grapple with. We’re grappling with that, but also marketing departments need to grapple with that. That balance between numbers and making those numbers and also that humanistic piece.
Also one of the things I forgot to mention earlier, another way to change things up is to actually hire folks who look a certain way or to hire someone who looks different from you. I once worked at a school where literally the vice president, the associate vice president, and director all looked alike — White, blonde, blue eyes. For a lot of students, they didn’t couldn’t even tell the people apart, so thinking about all of those things is so important to the conversation, it’s not just about education, it’s also about action.
Meligha Garfield: I like that! Thank you. The next question is “Locally we have two BLM factions. One being a nationally recognized chapter and the other a club started before the chapter was recognized. Do you think the two being separate, contributes to the non monolithic message or perpetuates divisiveness, contributes to the diversity of Black/Pan/African culture, or hurts our ability to mobilize and bring our people together?” Sendys, I see you’re mic went off. Did you want to answer that?
Sendys Estevez: I mean, it’s a complicated thing. It’s a great question, but there’s not one answer to that, right? In very real ways within the Black community as a whole, there’s a lot of things that are still being figured out, right? There is anti-Blackness. There is colorism. There’s all these things that play into being Black and what Blackness means, and it absolutely is not a monolith. So what one group of folks stand firmly behind and believe as Black people is what they’re about, but there could very well be another group that has a different vision, a different mission. Also in this day and time in the 21st century, we’re in a place where there are so many moving parts. There are so many things going on, and where we’re moving from one space of being treated one kind of way to, finally, so many of us waking up and being those people that our ancestors hoped would come down their lineage of speaking up and fighting joining the work, you know, the grassroots work that needs to be done to move forward. We can’t all unite, and we’re all not going to agree on all different sorts of things, but there we’re all active about doing something to attack the bigger issue: White supremacy. We’re gonna call it what it is, right? We’re all doing something for that, and there has to be a space created for all of us to do our part and to provide our contributions to Black liberation and just our Black experiences and whatever shape, color, or form those take.
It’s a complex question. It’s a very complex answer, but the work is getting done, slowly but surely, it’s getting done. We need to honor that for what it is.
Meligha Garfield: I like that. Thank you.
Yeah, it’s really important to kind of recognize that, again, going back to that statement that Black is not a monolith. We’ve all had different ideas and things that we bring to the table, and they were representing Black Lives Matter, but other people have other objectives of what they would like to do in carrying out that Blackness and supporting different people that are under that umbrella of Blackness itself. So yes, very important. The next question, if Franque or Maryan would like to answer, is: “there is an article out about how Utah schools are allowing parents to opt students out of Black History Month. How do we combat this awareness when it is being removed from the institution that should be promoting it?”
Either one of you want to answer that? Go ahead.
Franque Bains: I’m already unmuted and everything. I think the subtlety of how harmful that is…I don’t even think it’s subtly harmful. It is just, to me, can be very typical of the type of things that you see from Utah; when you need people to stand right by you — you need our schools leaders and our educators to stand right by us in this moment — that type of thing happens.
Now, let me make sure — right when you set that I got into my feelings, because it’s just so appalling — let me make sure that I did not forget the root of your question. Can you repeat the end part of that question again?
Meligha Garfield: Yes, just what are your thoughts as far as in them kind of canceling Black History Month. It is a problem, but how do we kind of combat that?
Franque Bains: Yeah, how do we combat that…um, I’m gonna speak to an answer that I saw on a Facebook post. I wish I remembered the person’s name, but thank you for this answer. I feel like this is an opportunity for students to say, “this is not okay. It’s absolutely not okay, and it is an opportunity for people to learn about our culture in a school system that doesn’t teach about our cultures and our stories.” I wonder if a part of the solution can be the students rising up and saying “that’s not okay.” Kids who don’t like math can’t opt-out of math.
As a math teacher who found math curriculum very discouraging and as a Black person who was able to do math, I saw my dad be good at math. I had, like, this mother who didn’t allow me to get any messaging that math was hard. I just went through it and became a math teacher, but a lot of people have really challenging messages behind something that’s really attainable. They could go ahead and opt-out of that if they wanted to, and me — as a former math teacher — would say…that’s a whole other conversation, but at the end of the day something that’s so important for unlearning racial bias should not be optional. If one thing’s gonna be optional then f— the whole system, because number one, they don’t care about us anyway. I have a lot of thoughts about the educational system. If we’re gonna opt-out of that, then I just want to have my child be able to opt-out of it all. I teach my child the education I find is valuable, and they should be able to get into whatever schools they need to because that’s just how much you don’t care about us. At the end of the day, I would love to see students uprising and saying “that’s not okay.”
Meligha Garfield: Alright, thank you so much. Nikki, you’ve got five seconds.
Nikki Walker: Five seconds? Okay, here’s five seconds. Black history is American history. Period.
There should be no opting out, and the fact of the matter is American history was heavily influenced by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who went on a marketing campaign to change the way we looked at the Confederate States. That is the history that is still being taught in classes today. The fight is a real fight, because what we’re learning is propaganda and is marketing messages. Now we’re being asked to unlearn other pieces that are real and painful, so parents and students need to stand up. We need to be talking to legislature and we need to make sure that we get our voices heard on this.
Meligha Garfield: Yes, thank you all. I’m gonna turn it over to Mary Ann. I know we’re right at the time but thank you so much.
Mary Ann Villarreal: Gracias to all of you. My gratitude for all that you shared.
I want to give a public thanks very quickly to Maryan Shale. It’s through her leadership and an incredible EDI team that after months of crafting a timeline, we’re launching a Black Advisory Council in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, so thank you for your leadership.
I want to thank all of you in the audience who joined us today for Reframing the Conversation: Black is Not a Monolith. I think you heard that.
Thank you to our moderator and our panelists. We’re coming back for part two; I know there was a lot left on the table.
And in part two, to our friends in the deaf community, my deepest apologies that we did not have an ASL person on board today, so we definitely need a part two so that you can all be a part of this conversation. We enjoy a partnership with KRCL 90.9 FM. You can listen to a rebroadcast of this session on their program RadioACTive later this month.
One of the privileges that I have been working with Student Affairs and Vice President Lori McDonald is that not only do we share this stage on Reframing the Conversation, but we build on each other’s work toward making the U a more inclusive campus. When you leave today’s session, please visit thriving.utah.edu to learn more about I AM U Thriving that is being led by today’s panelist and Associate Vice President for Student Development and Inclusion, Dr. Bryan Hubain.
We look forward to having you again, please join us on March 10th, where in celebration of Women’s Week: “Inspiring a Movement,” we will host the panel “Women who Run.”
Be well. Take care. See you out there.
Bryan Hubain: I think it’s knowing your population — being authentic with the representation. I think that’s number one. The other thing is something that I say all the time; it’s creating an experience of being authentic. Let’s say one of the goals is, especially, recruitment of maybe students or, maybe, let’s say, employees. How are we creating an experience for folks to grapple with what might life be like in this organization — what might life be like or not on a daily basis — and giving someone a glimpse of that?
Also, show that as a department, we’re able to have some of those conversations. Some of that might be going to conferences and engaging in some of some deep conversations around being critical, which oftentimes we don’t like, and using some words that make us feel uncomfortable, make other people feel uncomfortable, to really share that story in order to show folks that we’re serious about this.
Nikki Walker: I think there’s a burden on universities, just in general, struggling for financial backing and trying to work within their own constraints to ensure that their students are being well taken care of, so I don’t necessarily know that it should be on the shoulders of universities. While universities and colleges have always been a place of new experience and expressing ideas, this idea of racism and how race is portrayed in the media is so much bigger than universities. It really is up to corporations to put on their boots, take up this cause, and say, “we need to start to level the playing field for people.” Then it sort of trickles down. I think that young minds are having these conversations, and they will be the generation to help to move universities along, but right now I just think we’re at the very beginning of this kind of conversation in these kinds of needs.
Meligha Garfield: I think it is important to kind of realize that it is not just the university as far as shaping what Blackness is even though it is like the groundwork for every new idea and things of that nature. There are other avenues that define Blackness, and we need help from various institutions, but again those institutions are controlled by the White, colonial narrative.
Bryan Hubain: I think another part, too, is kind of like, the dark side of neoliberalism which all universities play into. Let’s be real. One part of that is results, and so for us — especially as universities, and I’m throwing myself in there — it’s because it’s numbers. That doesn’t help us. That doesn’t help with the humanistic approach that we preach, so those things are actually conflicting. I would say that’s something that every university needs to grapple with. We’re grappling with that, but also marketing departments need to grapple with that. That balance between numbers and making those numbers and also that humanistic piece.
Sendys Estevez: In very real ways within the Black community as a whole, there’s a lot of things that are still being figured out, right? There is anti-Blackness. There is colorism. There are all these things that play into being Black and what Blackness means, and it absolutely is not a monolith. What one group of folks stand firmly behind and believe as Black people is what they’re about, but there could very well be another group that has a different vision, a different mission. We’re in a place where there are so many moving parts. There are so many things going on, and where we’re moving from one space of being treated one kind of way to, finally, so many of us waking up and being those people that our ancestors hoped would come down their lineage of speaking up and fighting joining the work, you know, the grassroots work that needs to be done to move forward.
We can’t all unite, and we’re all not going to agree on all different sorts of things, but there we’re all active about doing something to attack the bigger issue: White supremacy. We’re gonna call it what it is, right? We’re all doing something for that, and there has to be a space created for all of us to do our part and to provide our contributions to Black liberation and just our Black experiences and whatever shape, color, or form those take. It’s a complex question. It’s a very complex answer, but the work is getting done, slowly but surely, it’s getting done. We need to honor that for what it is.
Franque Bains: It is just, to me, can be very typical of the type of things that you see from Utah. I wonder if a part of the solution can be the students rising up and saying “that’s not okay.” Kids who don’t like math can’t opt-out of math. As a math teacher who found math curriculum very discouraging and as a Black person who was able to do math, [there are] really challenging messages behind something that’s really attainable. I have a lot of thoughts about the educational system…At the end of the day, I would love to see students uprising and saying “that’s not okay.”
Nikki Walker: Black history is American history. Period. There should be no opting out, and the fact of the matter is American history was heavily influenced by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who went on a marketing campaign to change the way we looked at the Confederate States. That is the history that is still being taught in classes today. The fight is a real fight because what we’re learning is propaganda and is marketing messages. Now we’re being asked to unlearn other pieces that are real and painful, so parents and students need to stand up. We need to be talking to legislature and we need to make sure that we get our voices heard on this.
The resource lists are intended as a starting point for support and community in Utah and the U. For a more comprehensive list of resources, please visit the Utah Black Chamber’s Utah Black Pages website.