The blatant and rampant racism in our society occasionally appears to be never-ending. It can often make the strongest of us worry for our community members who experience this discrimination first-hand. Yet racism does not exist in a vacuum; it pervades every facet of our society, so it is going to take passionate and dedicated prosocial activists to make a positive change. Luckily, you can be a part of this by investing your time and energy into valuable resources that strive to educate and promote equality, organizations such as Making it Awkward: Challenging Anti-Black Racism [MIA]. I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with the incredible Princess Doe, a second year law student at the University of Windsor and co-chair of MIA, to discuss the organization as a whole, issues of anti-Black racism on our campus, and how we can continue to move forward in fighting racism. So if you are looking for a place to become a committed activist to combat anti-Black racism, read on.
Her Campus: What does MIA do as an organization?
Princess Doe: We are a student-led advocacy group that challenges anti-Black racism. We look to build capacity both on-campus and in the wider Windsor-Essex community in addressing anti-Black racism in all its forms. Our flagship event has been our annual symposium which is held during the third week of March. It’s an interactive forum with community members where we bring panelists from different fields and backgrounds to speak on issues relating to systemic racism. We also have performances and a local market with Black-owned vendors. Outside of that, we also facilitate workshops and presentations to classes and groups on anti-oppressive practice and anti-Black racism. We work with various stakeholders for smaller events throughout the year; for example, last semester, we helped in co-organizing a to bring Black urban planning professional and author Jay Pitter to speak about anti-Black racism within city context Also, with the Art Gallery of Windsor last semester, we co-organized and moderated a panel on addressing anti-Black racism within the arts. We are also looking forward to working with partners in the community this semester to do outreach to Black youth.
HC: How can people contribute and/or participate in MIA?
PD: You can follow us on our social media pages for all of our latest events and our advocacy efforts and public anti-racist education. People can also contact us if they have any further questions or want to be a member of our group! At MIA, we operate on a horizontal structure, meaning that there really is no formal hierarchy, and folks are able to take on as much responsibility as they have the capacity to do so. Building capacity for folks including allies, which we have many in our group, taking on the labour to be advocates, challenging racism in their communities, and doing their work through an ongoing anti-racist lens has always been a key mandate for the group. We hope by attending our events and following our advocacy and organizing efforts that people gain more knowledge in their continuous anti-racist work.
HC: How does MIA advocate for Black students on the UWindsor campus?
PD: The reason why we are named “Making it Awkward” in the first place is because we not only look to push critical, progressive perspectives on [addressing] systemic racism, but we also believe it is important to name and shame anti-Blackness in all its forms. Apart from our events, we often make public statements and speak to the media regarding various issues Black students face on-campus. Members of our group have also supported other Black and racialized groups and activism to make our campus a safer one. Our symposium this year will be online due to the ongoing pandemic, but it will be focused on student activism on-campus because it is important to give a platform to the essential work that Black students have been doing this past year.
HC: What change do you think needs to happen to achieve racial equality both on our local campus and throughout our society in general?
PD: From a more macro-level, racism, anti-Black racism and white supremacy specifically, are woven through the fabrics of our societal institutions; and how could it not be when our society really is made on the backs of stolen people from stolen lands. Of course, there are specific things that we can be doing to transform our society to achieve true racial equity; we must continue to name and shame racism and anti-Black racism and not sweep it under the rug when it occurs, as often happens. Institutions, such as the university, must be publicly accountable for their actions and failures and not hide behind excuses if we are to start any sort of reconciliation process. We must continue to listen to Black voices and take action immediately and not wait for more reports or reviews to be done, given that the issues are nothing new.
HC: What is the best way for non-POC students to be effective allies for Black students?
PD: I think solidarity must be open and public. Many people who call themselves “allies” may send private messages of encouragement and support to Black students but they never speak up openly in solidarity with the demands of Black student advocates. Many Black advocates on campus have placed themselves at a greater risk through their essential organizing and labour, which everyone (Black or non-Black) benefits from. There have been, unfortunately, many Black and racialized community members on campus who have received violent threats of harassment and further prejudiced messages because of their advocacy work, so allies have to ensure that they are doing the work in supporting publicly if they want to be true allies. For example, have you spoken up and emailed your department or administration heads ensuring a zero-tolerance policy on using the n-word in class? This is just one specific way you can be an effective ally.
HC: What racial inclusion issues are apparent on our own campus, and how can we ensure progress as a community?
PD: On our campus, Black, Indigenous, and people of colour have collectively called upon the failure of the administration in protecting them from anti-Black racism and white supremacy, as well as the further intersecting oppressions within those areas. The past semester alone, with the use of the n-word in class by professors and the horrific behaviour and violence from the Delta Chi fraternity prove just that. There have been a couple of Black students who have told me privately that with all the barriers and struggles of online school during the pandemic, it has ironically made them feel safer since they do not have to physically be on-campus. There have been some positive steps taken forward by the university, but in order to build that trust with the Black community, there needs to be a commitment to ensure that when we eventually return to campus that Black students, faculty, and staff feel comfortable doing so. Echoing demands of others on campus,This could include having a Black student space, accessible funding for Black students to organize and feel supported, having a well-funded Black students program at the university centering Black history, present and future on these lands, especially here in Windsor where we are the end of the Underground Railroad. There should also be a targeted cluster of hiring for Black faculty across all programs and departments. Non-Black allies can also use their voices to call for their demands, and I would encourage everyone to follow the work of other Black, Indigenous, and racializedactivists on campus to learn more about how we can ensure true racial inclusivity.
Some phrasing has been changed to ensure clarity for the reader.