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"Don't Forget Black me"

Sola Olowo-Ake's reflections on ‘Resisting Erasure: Black Artists in Vancouver’

Yesterday, I attended an online conversation that was hosted by the Vancouver Public Library. Lama Mugabo moderated a conversation between himself, Jane Wade, an artist, and Nya Lewis Williams, a writer and curator. The conversation explored how we can resist erasure as black artists in Vancouver and offered reflections, as Jan and Nya spoke about their experiences being a black artist and curator (respectively) in Vancouver.

I was intrigued by the topic itself as a black designer. I have also been reflecting on this issue of black erasure through whitewashing and my experiences with the stifling effects of that awareness through storytelling. But this conversation really inspired me to reflect.

What happens when we also forget ourselves (alongside the systems that continuously erase us)?
For me, I’ve found it somewhat difficult to navigate this environment with the awareness of the history and current practices of black erasure in Vancouver. I’ve found it even more difficult at times to resist in my design work without compromise- leaving necessary pieces of my identity behind to ‘fit in’. So after I graduated from my Master of Design course and transitioned into ‘the work life’, I was so conscious that, like Nya and Jan, I would also be one of the very few black people in my daily spaces. And no matter how fitting these spaces are with my ever-growing design skills, I’ve never really felt a sense of belonging in any of them.
So I wrote a poem to remind myself to carry all of me into the spaces that I go into. And in honour and celebration of the conversation yesterday, I would like to share it here.
This is ‘Don’t forget black me’.

Don't forget black me

Don't forget black me
When you're running in the streets
Climbing corporate ladders
Getting degrees in institutions with white surround sound

Don't forget black me
When you're tasked with work
When you begin to earn a living and it's becoming increasingly easy to forget your identity

Don't forget black me
When they pay you to forget me
Directly, or indirectly
Whether it came in the job description
Or it snuck in through the back door at night and powered your pen

Don't forget black me
When your work is centred on creating
And you don't see more bodies- black

Don't forget black me
As you sit in meetings
At the break of day or the crack of dawn
Don't forget black me
As you write in ink as a version of you that has conformed
Switch back and remember black me

Don't forget black me
When the birds in the sky sing
Or the blues in the sky grey
Don't forget black me
Don't let the rain wash you away

Don't forget to speak, black me
When you are uncomfortable
Say what you need
Do not begin to believe that everything they have will be alright for you too
You are not them
They are not you
Don't forget black me too

Don't forget black me, that you are black
And the way black keep keys
Does not resemble white

Don't forget to feed black me
Don't forget to build black me
Don't forget to care for black me

And don't forget to sing, black me
If music has journeyed with you thus far
Let your soulful renderings of heartfelt words and songs unspoken lay bricks to the paths that you would walk till eternity.
Don't forget to be, black me
Becoming is a process but it must be practiced
For in order to become, one must ‘be’ - continuously

Don't forget to be me, black me
Don't forget me, black me

Posted on: 8th April 2022 Written by: Sola Olowo-Ake

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