In Honour of Black History Month

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I am a Black Woman.

I am a black woman who is a Canadian citizen. I am a black woman who was born in Trinidad where I spent the first quarter of my life and I now call Vancouver, British Columbia my home.

I don’t feel qualified or that I even have the right to write about my blackness in honour of Black History Month. It has always seemed to me more of an American celebration. Then it occurred to me that I live in this world—on this earth—and the colour of my skin is milk chocolate. I have a kink in my natural hair that becomes tight soft coils. There is a wide roundness that shapes my nose. I have curves.

I am a Black Woman. I am qualified.

I didn’t observe Black History Month until we moved to Canada. Being black was what I knew. That was how I lived. I was a curious child, so I tried to understand what I could of other races and I asked questions of my parents. I watched shows on cable television and grew in awareness. But being black was something I lived.

My parents explained the colour of my blackness to me when I asked, why do my mum and sister and some cousins and aunts and uncles and friends have lighter skin than mine? We all come in several shades, all because of our multifarious roots.

This was not the first time I realized I was Black, but it was the first time I realized the shade of my skin. Though my dark-milk chocolate skin was never blatantly subject to colourism, still something was seeded in me to believe I was different. I began to believe that the darkness covering my knees, elbows and knuckles were ugly. I remember grabbing a cloth and meticulously scrubbing each darker spot in the shower, trying to remove any trace of it from my body. My young body.

It would be easy to say that it was only a phase. But that phase lasted well into adulthood.

Last year while lotioning my body after a shower, I noticed my knuckles blending in with my fingers. My elbows and knees, too. I am afraid to admit it, but I began to smile. Not long after, all I could see was the image of that little girl discovering ways to erase parts of herself. She believed a lie that with these darker parts of her skin, she was not beautiful. I wept for her, wishing to hold her close. I wanted to tell her that every inch of the colour of her skin is beautiful. Darker shades included.

***

When we moved to Vancouver, I came face to face with my blackness. I found myself in a new primary school, with new words and new names for things we already had our own verbiage for. The foods we ate felt foreign, even down to an orange. I felt embarrassed to eat the carefully peeled orange my mother prepared as a school snack. She would then slice the now peeled round ball in half, exposing their juicy edible portion. Shame filled me as I looked at the halved slices. How was I going to publicly place my mouth on the juicy sacs and bite into its segments? What would everyone say? My new friends were predominantly white, with some who were Asian, Indian, and Hispanic. It seems silly to think that an orange can conjure up such inner turmoil in a young child. But it did.

One major way for an immigrant of any age to be fully aware of who she is, how out of place she feels, and how far away from home she is, is through her native language of food.

***

Being Black in Vancouver is still not all that easy. Trials come, racism still exists. There’s often a battle to prove myself worthy and I constantly feel like the outsider. It’s easy to choose to conform in order to fit in. I am often the only black person in my circles. But more and more, I am seeking out my community of people. Young Chervelle asks me to step more into my being and embrace the blackness I embody. In doing so, I cannot help but want the same for other black women and men. I see them, and—my goodness—are they beautiful, strong, brave, and intelligent.

I see the stories of black women who rise above.

Stories like:

Ava Duvernay. Film director, producer, screenwriter, filmmaker, and film distributor.

Issa Rae. Giving voice to the awkwardness most of us black women go through every day and are concerned about vocalising in front of our non-black friends in her highly-recognised TV series, Insecure.

Executive (of the world!) Oprah Winfrey. Multi-billionaire, philanthropist, trailblaiser of the highest-rated television program, and Queen of Media.

Michelle Obama. Writer, lawyer, former first lady and wife to Barack Obama. She reminds me of my mother and is my role model. The greatest early birthday gift I have received recently is a ticket to see her this March, which so happens to be a few days after my birthday. It’s not even an issue for me that I am attending on my own. Words cannot describe my excitement to be in the room with her greatness.

Elaine Welteroth was the former Editor-in-Chief of Teen Vogue at the age of 29. She is one wise journalist and activist. I admire her and I am very excited to see where she leads in the years to come.

Poet, writer, and speaker, Cleo Wade. Leading the charge and inspiring the world with her words. Our generation needs the light that she brings.

Originally, Black History Month was started as a week-long celebration back in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week. I thank him for championing the cause. It enforced the recognition of people like Maya Angelou, one of the greatest poets to ever grace this earth and Viola Desmond, who now adorns the Canadian ten dollar bill.

These Persons of Excellence had the audacity to dream big, see themselves as more than their circumstances and more than a shade of skin. They rose above stereotypes and believed they could have more. They believed in equality. Roads have been paved, and their stories are our maps.

Because of them, we can. 

The story of young Chervelle has led me to today. She has grown into a strong, beautiful, and intelligent Black Woman.

Because of her, I can.

So, in honour of Black History Month, celebrate your stories and traditions. Revisit your history. Remember who you are. Remember where you came from. Honour your ancestry. This month is dedicated to us. And may it be so every day after.

Happy Black History Month.

 

Dear SheLovelys, we’d love to know:

  • When was the first time you felt Black/Brown/White, etc?
  • How do you resonate with Black History Month?
  • Who are the women you see rising above?
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Chervelle Camille
Chervelle is a dreamer with the strong desire to see women flourish. She colours her life with the mission statement: “To inspire and bring out beauty from the deepest heart of the soul.” Chervelle is a stylish storyteller who speaks her mind, lives a uniquely creative life, and is convinced she lives in a perpetual state of musical bliss. Chervelle spends her days as a yoga aficionado, freelance wardrobe stylist, writer, and event coordinator. You can find her over at chervellecamille.com, or musing over food, fitness and life on Instagram @chervelle.camille.
Chervelle Camille

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