The RBC Black History Month Student Essay Competition
December 7, 2018
Who am I? Not you.
In our world, you pay to be different; you pay to compensate for not being the same as the person beside you. Whether it be to pay an extra sixty cents for cheddar cheese instead of processed in your sandwich or be arrested for refusing to give up your seat on a bus to an ethnic majority. However, many people such as Dionne Brand have worked to make this world more accepting of differences. Her words educate many about Canadian Black History, and motivate people to help define Canada’s identity and heritage as a non-conforming society.
Dionne Brand was born in 1953 in Guayaguayare, Trinidad where she studied in Naparima Girls’ High School (May and Young, “Dionne Brand”). In 1970, she emigrated to Toronto where she obtained her BA in English and Philosophy from the University of Toronto, and MA in Philosophy of Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (May and Young, “Dionne Brand”). She proceeded to share her wisdom through teaching English and Creative Writing at several universities before settling into the University Research Chair in English and Creative Writing at University Guelph (Ty, “Dionne Brand Biography”).
As a black, lesbian woman, she is the epitome of a visible minority. However, that did not stop her from challenging the assumptions of gender identity, sexuality, and race that she faced. With her passion for creativity and language, she set out to change the world’s general opinion one word at a time. She reached out to those sharing her feelings of being oppressed by taking on different media, such as directing and editing documentaries, writing books, and researching for journals.
In the 1980s, newspaper played a large role in keeping the public informed. However, the information released was limited, only sharing what was allowed and wanted by the general public, mostly consisting of white people. Together with a group of black woman, Brand co-founded Our Lives (May and Young, “Dionne Brand”). As the first newspaper to be produced by black feminists, it explored the experiences of Canadian black women and recounted their events of poverty, and racism. There were many existing newspaper establishments, but none that shed much light on the lives of black people. Brand refused to be assimilated into the white culture by only receiving updates about white societies. If being black was part of her identity, she would embrace it and learn more about it. This encouraged her and the other co-founders to make and publish Our Lives.
Within her infamous poetry volume, No Language Is Neutral, she describes her experiences with typical white, heteronormative males. Brand is not afraid to publicly challenge the attempts to marginalize identity, whether personal or national. Recalling her history of residing in an oppressive society, she shares her feelings on cultural displacement through her poetry. Canada’s diverse heritage is typically interpreted as the multicultural environment that we reside in. However, heritage is not limited to culture or race but also includes gender and sexual orientation. Making its way into the Canadian curriculum, this book pushes the readers to define themselves and avoid being defined. Our unique, individual identity is what collectively defines Canada’s national identity - a diverse society.
Brand’s views were not openly embraced by everyone. She was criticized for overdramatizing her experience with provocative language to prompt pity from the readers. However, that did not stop her from expressing her point of view. She continues to write more books and participate in activism to speak out against gender, racial, and sexual orientation discrimination. Her perseverance in battling inequality has made her a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a Member of the Order of Canada to commemorate her efforts in further defining Canada’s diverse identity and heritage (May and Young, “Dionne Brand”).
Dionne Brand is a writer, filmmaker, educator, activist, and poet. She is also a woman, a black person, and a lesbian but most importantly, she is a visible minority who did not hesitate to speak through the inequality. Though faced with many hardships and criticism for who she identifies as, she remains unwilling to lose her identity and be assimilated. She, like many inspirational figures of Black History, has left a footprint in the sand that we aim to follow; one that cannot be washed away by meager waves. We are all a visible minority because we are different and unique individuals but that is what makes us the vast majority of Canada; that is what makes us Canadian.
May, Robert G., and Jessica Young. “Dionne Brand.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 15 Jan. 2012, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/dionne-brand.
Ty, Eleanor. “Dionne Brand Biography.” University of Minnesota, 4 Dec. 2000, conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/166103/Brand, Dionne.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.