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Volume 90, Issue 73

Tuesday, February 4, 1997



Cultural mosaic has twisted threads

By Natalie Henry
Features Editor

I am a 21-year-old female student in my third year at the University of Western Ontario. I am partly Grenadian and Guyanese. If you were to see me walking across campus you might note the pigmentation of my skin – the cosmetician at the makeup counter might describe it as golden caramel or caffe latté. I prefer to call it black.

My skin colour does not make up "who" I am. It is a consciousness and awareness that gives me pride and incentive to work hard towards my goals. This self-respect is the same feeling that anyone from a particular race, culture and ethnicity might feel. Pride in one's culture is conveyed in many different forms – clubs, traditions, meals, etc. – in other words, celebrating and recognizing one's ethnicity.

When I left home I knew I would miss my mother's curried goat inside a roti shell – a dish passed on to her by my grandaunt. I try to enjoy curried goat as much as I can, however, I enjoy other dishes that are also very delicious. Sushi was introduced to me by a Japanese friend. Oxtail, a Caribbean dish, was introduced by a Trinidadian co-worker. Apple stew is a dessert my Histonian roommate created. All of these recipes, similar to the people who shared them with me, are wonderful and many times I find myself seeking refuge in them.

Due to my interaction with these different individuals not only has my cooking repertoire been 'spiced up,' so has my knowledge. I am making a conscious effort to not only learn from people of my own race but individuals from other cultures and religions. My pride in myself and my race motivates me to learn from others. I am an open-minded person.

I believe today's Gazette can be educational for the Western community. The Diversities issue can only help spread awareness and acceptance of the different cultures represented on this campus.

Risk-taking and change teach us. If our ancestors were not willing to accept change or try anything new where would we be right now? We'd probably be in our country of origin, ignorant of the other cultures and nations throughout the world. Society would be stagnant. Without taking risks and accepting change Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of integration between all races would be just that – a dream and not the growing reality we see at Western. Racism and a lack of tolerance still exists. This university is a cultural mosaic of individuals but we still have a lot to learn.

While working on this special issue I encountered conflict from different organizations which wanted to stop the publication of the issue, instead of taking a step forward by integrating all races and cultures. This rejection of The Gazette's attempt at integration sounds to me like segregation, something Dr. King and Rosa Parks attempted to stop.

Black Heritage Month is a celebration of black accomplishments but its goals also include learning about other cultures. For me, it means acknowledging how far we've come. But the conflict I have faced from others, who felt Black Heritage Month and black individuals should be the sole subject matter of this issue, showed me society still has some distance to travel. Success is not a destination. It is a journey.

By studying the years of racism and oppression our ancestors encountered I have learned that they fought for their freedom and equal rights by working together. There is strength in numbers. Why can't the same apply here? Why can't all races and minorities work together for more tolerance and understanding and less hate and ignorance? This shouldn't seem unrealistic – in a wide variety of activities it already has happened and continues to happen across campus.

"I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide/ Welling and swelling I bear in the tide." This is a line from Maya Angelou's poem Still I Rise. The black ocean symbolizes a person. The person does not stop at one point and continue at another nor does it discriminate or choose a certain path to follow. The black ocean encompasses everything and everyone black or white, brown or yellow, Muslim or Jewish, male or female. It sees no colour but becomes more swelling and beautiful with everything and every colour that it encompasses.

If you wish, ignore this issue and its purpose. But remember, this reaction is similar to the ignorance of others who are guilty of discriminating on the basis of a person's appearance. How does it feel to be associated with this category?

I am not attempting to offend anyone. I am merely trying to enlighten everyone. The refusal to educate others on your experiences, in order to make them more sensitive of what you face, does not make you open-minded and the reluctance to listen to the experiences of others does not make you more educated. Instead, you are missing out on three important facets of post-secondary education – learning, gaining further awareness and implementing these skills in an undoubtedly culturally diverse workforce.

To Contact The Diversity Department: gazed@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997