Black History Month - An interview with Agnes Nekaa
As you probably already know, this month is an important month for the black community. In order to highlight the issues that the community still faces to this day, we wanted to give the chance to one of our clients who are facing this reality to tell us her story and reality of being a black woman.
Today we are interviewing Agnès Nekaa, one of our clients whom we had the chance to meet during our last photoshoot. We simply connected with her vibrant personality and, since this is a subject that is close to our hearts at DRAE, we wanted to give her the chance to delve into the subject and share her point of view with us.
DRAE: So Agnes, could you start by explaining a little more about the Black History Month?
A: Black History Month means a lot of things! It was celebrated for the first time in 1976, in the United States. This is a month that particularly comes to celebrate black excellence and to commemorate the path we have traveled. To do this, we highlight the Afro culture through music, reading books addressing the accomplishments of black public figures and then we discuss among ourselves the various hardships that we have to live in everyday life.
DRAE: And can you tell us a bit more about the challenges the black community faced at the time?
A: In all honesty, I won’t be able to comment on all the challenges of the time, but those who have definitely marked our history and on which the majority of stereotypes and prejudices with negative connotations have arisen are the following: the slave trade, segregation, Blackface, colorism, fetishism and the lack of representation of black people in the media, in the artistic field, in the school environment and even in the workplace.
DRAE: And if we look at today’s reality, what would be the similar challenges that the black community in our country still faces?
A: The list is horribly long! Unfortunately, the problematic source of all these challenges in Quebec, in my opinion, is that our society does not sufficiently recognize systemic racism. Our society should consider this issue more seriously as it’s still omnipresent in several important institutions. People should take the time to think about intervention plans, programs, etc. which aim to create a better "living together". This is a big issue for my community given that the system is preconceived by ideologies that aim to make us look like school dropouts, street gang members or others that can lead to unfortunate situations related to racial profiling, for example. The political leaders of our country should use their influence on society to help the black community in these challenges and thus give them the chance to have a better quality of life.
In addition, I can say that one of my personal challenges is the reflex of repeatedly questioning myself in front of white people, to constantly debunking all stereotypes about black men and women. Every time I go on a job interview, despite my background and skills, I always wonder if my skin color and the prejudices attached to it, will question my qualifications. This thinking follows me every day. In my opinion, we are held back in several spheres of our lives because of the media and movies which often do not present a positive image of the black community.
DRAE: If you're comfortable telling us a little more about it, could you tell us what it's like for you to be a black woman on a daily basis? Are there still injustices that you suffer from regularly or occasionally?
A: I have a lot to say about this. One day I was reading a book written by an incredible man who greatly influenced my field of study, as well as the woman I am today. His name is Doctor Denis Mukwege. He’s a gynecologist and activist who dedicated his life to women in eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) who were victims of sexual abuse used as a weapon of war, by creating "Cité de la joie" an establishment where he was treating and saving with his team thousands of women for more than 20 years. I discovered it during my identity quest at the age of 15. Then, by dint of reading books and watching documentaries on his devotion to the women he took under his wing, I finally began to realize the emotional and social charge that it takes to be who I am in this world.
There is a pejorative image that has been circulating regarding the black African woman for a long time. Apparently, we are submissive to our illiterate spouses and spend our time reproducing so that our children end up on the streets begging.
Being a black African woman means that every day, I expect to have to educate an individual about the injustices that women in general, black people AND Africans face! Whenever I hear comments today such as "Right… the women of West Africa are all submissive, like the hostages of Boko Haram (Nigerian terrorist group)", I just can’t hold myself but to heave very long sighs of discouragement.
Despite everything, I would not change my place for the world. Since the 15-year-old Agnès opened her eyes and accepted her origins, sex and skin color, she spent her time learning and educating herself on the subject. The black woman, African or not, is endowed with an inhuman resilience. I find that life has shaped us so that no matter what obstacles are presented to us, we emerge as warriors. There are no two people like us!
DRAE: We can imagine that it’s not an easy reality for you. However, would you say that you have observed an improvement from society in the inclusion of the black community compared to your childhood?
A: Definitely, yes! The improvement is not obvious, in my opinion, but it's there. Although, I believe there’s still a great lack of representation in the Quebec media. I would like for my future children to be able to identify with black men and women without having to interpret the role of the villain or of negative stereotypes.
We are still far from the desired result, but I remain optimistic. I’m also happy to see that black women are finally embracing their beauty. There are a lot of Instagram accounts that share images of black women at their best, and I think that's awesome. It's a sad truth, but I think it's a nice way to get revenge on non-blacks who told me that black women were ugly or not smart when I was in high school...
DRAE: We can imagine how frustrating this must have been and still be today to be facing such injustices. And what could people do to help the black community in spreading the message of inclusion and equality?
A: Listen! The writer Naomi Fontaine wrote in her book Shuni a passage that resonated with me a lot: “If you really want to help the Innu, and I think you do, why not start by asking them what you could do for them.“ She was speaking to a childhood friend, Julie, a white woman, who wanted to help the Innu.
I think a lot of people want to help out and be allies. However, as many people may think, it’s not by imposing their own ideas that they will make themselves useful and make a difference. You have to be on the ground and listen, collect testimonials to know where to start. Black people are best qualified to know what they need.
Moreover, the inequalities and forms of discrimination that we experience on a daily basis are perpetuated by a society shaped in the image of the will of the white man. So, white men and women have no choice but to feel concerned by all this, since it’s people who look like me who suffer the consequences of the actions that have been or are being taken by people who look like them. Too many individuals are still comfortable in their ignorance and it’s essential that society get out of this denial to face the problems and listen to the solutions that my community wishes to put in place.
DRAE: So where can we get more information on this and related topics?