• Alyssa McQuaid

CommonPlace Book Entry #1: Black History in the Making

Updated: Feb 9

I couldn’t stop smiling during our first day of class. The ancestors that came before us who made sacrifices in order for this course to become a reality were in the forefront of my mind. Ever since this course was announced, I knew it was something I wanted to take part in—my tiny contribution to Black Canadian History—but I hesitated to enroll. Our class’s first breakout room session was designated space to discuss our identity as Black educators. I explained to my classmates my hesitation to join an affinity space held for Black people to come together free of the confines of whiteness. Being Black-white biracial, that last thing I wanted to do was cause further harm. I used my time to explain to the group how this hesitation led me to examine my identity as a future Black educator in an Ontario secondary school.

I've come to understand identity, not as an achievement or something you gain, but as something that grows and changes with you. In its dynamism, identity is a place where we find refuge from external pressures and community with other people. Unfortunately for many, identity is sometimes pre-described based on physical presentation, religious affiliations, and/or stereotypes held by the dominant group. It’s because of this that I have struggled in the past to confidently claim “Black” as an identity marker. Within the black community, I have often felt a pressure to embody certain mannerisms, physical features, or family dynamics in order to maintain/ earn my “Black Card”. Once I understood identity as something that evolved over-time and moulded itself to the life circumstances of the individual, the confines I have placed around “Blackness” dissolved. I hope to grow this understanding of identity with my future students by reiterating the individuality that fosters identity. Whatever feels right, we can do it and that doesn't take away from who we are at our core. It's just a celebration of the different aspects of ourselves, because in no given situation can you really showcase every aspect of your being. For me, understanding identity and unpacking who I am and how I plan to show up in the classroom and other education, hopefully leadership spaces is of great importance.

Following the first class, I experienced a sense of overwhelming joy. I was proud of myself for jumping into something that I was feeling unsure about and I was elated that it turned out to be much better than I expected. I learned from this experience that taking risks is critical to growth as well as to healing; a concept I also hope to instill in and discuss with my future students.

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