Revisiting past to mould future
By Sara Marett
When Femi Ayenia, president of the African Students' Association, introduced Esmerelda Thornhill before she spoke yesterday, he had a long list of accomplishments to read.
Thornhill is a lawyer, linguist, lecturer, educator and writer who delivered a lecture to Western students entitled, Blacks in the Americas: Fact and Fiction. Some of Thornhill's extraordinary credits include her 1992 award for Quebec Woman of the Year for Humanitarian and Social Action; her position on the editorial board of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law; and the Canadian Bar Association advisory committee on racism in the legal profession.
"Much has changed and nothing much has changed," she began, referring to the state of black people in the Americas. "I think particularly in February, Black History Month, it is important to pause, replay and turn up the volume on the real role blacks play as protagonists in the building of the Americas.
"This month can be unsettling for some as it is sometimes difficult to face the truth or challenge the status quo," Thornhill said, adding history must be rewritten as the achievements and concerns of an entire segment of society have been left out.
"We must reconstruct the past to better understand the present. We must trace black heritage right back to the African roots," she said. "We must separate fact from fiction. Black history has been fictionalized la Hollywood and these stereotypes must be changed."
Thornhill's message attempted to separate fact from fiction by retelling the history of the Americas. "The fact is the comings and goings of blacks in ancient America long predates Christopher Columbus' arrival," she said. "Black Africans move through all the significant American historical moments."
Thornhill said the impact of the period of black enslavement is sorely underestimated by today's society. "The European attitude towards slavery reduced the human self to a marketable commodity that could be bought and sold," she said. "The black family was deliberately and systematically destroyed as a result of slavery.
"Despite this harsh lifestyle, we were able to come together and draw strength from the legacies before us of resistance and survival. Every ordinary day of survival is a victory of resistance for all black people."