Students debated whether Black History Month was “racist” and a number of other controversial topics, including interracial marriages and abortion, at the Racial Ties debate and panel discussion hosted by UTM’s  Black History Month Committee, composed of executives of the Erindale Campus African Students Association and Carribean Connections, on February 10.

“The event was organized to talk about sensitive issues that people are not very confident [talking about],” commented Nneoma Okafor, a member of ECASA.

Students argued that dedicating a single month—“let alone the shortest month of the year”—to the entire history of black people was an “insult”. Others felt that if there was no longer a Black History Month, there would be more ignorance about black people.

The event also featured guest speaker Jonathan O. Shaw, creative director at G98.7 FM, a “black music” radio station. Shaw shared his own family’s history of immigrating to Canada and encouraged the members of the audience to step up and defend the legacy of African-Canadians.

“Each and every one of you is a brand,” said Shaw to an audience of about 30 students. “Protect it.”

The event was among several organized in honour of Black History Month by the committee.

“Black History Month is important because it’s necessary for us racialized, oppressed folk to show that we were and always will be a very important part of history,” said Melissa Theodore, UTMSU’s VP external, who attended the event. “It empowers black and other racialized students to sit in the positions of power so we can change this white-supremacist, unequal system.”

This year’s Black History Month theme at UTM is “Moving Forward”, meant to encourage black students to progress beyond stereotypes in their perceptions of themselves and of their shared history.

The month’s activities will culminate in a banquet on February 28.