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Black Culture is Underrepresented in Vancouver

Social activists say Black History Month events in Vancouver aren't doing enough to help the local black community.

Broudus Mattison, a librarian at the Vancouver Public Library who co-organized Where Are You Really From? On Being Black in Vancouver. Photo by Agazy Mengesha
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Reported by Agazy Mengesha

Black artists, writers and social activists shared their experiences about growing up and living in Vancouver with the public because they say black culture is underrepresented in the city.

A panel discussion at the central Vancouver Public Library called Where Are You Really From? On Being Black in Vancouver was hosted on Feb.13 by Chelene Knight, an SFU graduate and managing editor of Room magazine.

More diverse conversations are needed

Knight said she had noticed an obvious need for events like this in the city.

Black History Month events in Vancouver tend to cover the same topics and the same people every year,” Knight said in an email to The Voice.

“One of the biggest issues is that there is no real marketing around these events. They all tend to be put together last minute by people who feel like they should do something because it’s February and to me that is not good enough.”

Knight said that she chose the VPL in particular because she felt that they had failed to showcase black literature and art enough in previous events.

Librarian Broadus Mattison helped organize the event and said that the VPL was working to better represent the diverse communities of Vancouver.

“I know our focus now is to engage those communities and lift their voices up,” Mattison said.

A lack of awareness across Canada

Chantal Gibson, a Langara College alumni and visual artist, was one of the five panelists. She shared her experiences about confronting racist imagery in literature while attending UBC and how her work speaks to representations of blackness in old Canadian text.

According to Gibson, Canada’s awareness of black history is divided across the country partly because of population and geography but also because of interest.

She said in areas like Toronto and Montreal, there is more being done to showcase works of black artists and writers beyond Black History Month.

“That’s why this event is really important because we don’t see ourselves often. Black History Month comes and then all of a sudden there are spaces, right? But really this is an ongoing conversation,” Gibson said.

Gibson is currently part of a first ever art exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum celebrating black Canadian contemporary art.

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