To mark Black History Month, we invited Pathways alum Tatiana to reflect on what the celebration means to her. Here’s what she had to say:
When I was younger, I always wondered why there was a month dedicated to Black History. There was not a month dedicated to other races, and it left me wondering why such a month exists. Once I learned about the history behind the development of Black persons, I understood why it is essential to honour our history in this way. When I think about the significance of Black History Month, one word comes to mind: representation.
Historically, Black people have been under-represented in society and made to feel out of place. When I was young, I always wondered why there was not a Barbie who looked like me. It made me feel as if I had to assimilate into a certain standard of beauty that Barbie represented. This made me absolutely hate my thick, curly, dark brown hair. My mom spent so much time to make my hair look cute, but I never appreciated it because it didn’t look like the other girls’ hair. My mom always reminded me that I had beautiful hair, beautiful skin, and that Barbie wasn’t a standard of beauty. I told my mom I wanted new hair, or at least to make mine look like the hair of other girls in my class. I wanted it to be straight. I wanted to be blonde and look like my Barbies. I never saw the value in my beautiful hair because society’s ideal and standard of being beautiful did not look like me.
As I got older, I began seeing curly hair influencers on YouTube who taught me so many tips and tricks. Seeing myself represented really made me love my natural hair, but even more so made me embrace it. I started to take care of my own hair, and once I learned what styles and hair care worked for me, I started to love my hair. I am unique, and my hair is a big part of my identity.
Now, little Black girls always come up to me and compliment me on my hair. I know these experiences have a lot to do with representation and the lack of seeing girls with hair like ours in the media. It feels good to embrace my natural beauty and I hope that young Black girls know their value along with the beauty and tradition they carry in their hair.
Looking back, I realize how disheartening it was to want to change my appearance to conform to what I believed at the time was a norm of beauty. I realize that this was most likely because I never saw people with hair like mine on TV, on shows I watched, and barely on the toys I played with. Representation matters—it allows you to feel a part of the bigger picture, and without that, it is easy to feel out of place or unappreciated.
The representation of Black people in media is so important. Systemic racism has held us back, and unfortunately, continues to run rampant. But, movements, such as Black Lives Matter, and various protests to protect our rights, are fighting against an oppressive and prejudiced system and remind us that it is okay to be ourselves.
Black History Month brings us together and allows us to focus on the representation of Black people in society. It is an important history to honour and represents the development of Black people all over the world.
We are proud of Pathways alumni, like Tatiana, who are working to inspire other youth to feel confident in who they are and what they can achieve.