Updated: Jul 29, 2022
This guest op-ed was written by Hope Dennis.
Dennis is the student president of Belmont’s HOPE Council and the chaplain of the Black Student Association. She is a faith and social justice junior.
Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American astronaut who was a woman, once said, “never be limited by other people’s limited imagination.”
The truth is, now just as ever, in America we lack Black visibility which is negatively affecting the Black identity. And Belmont is not exempt from the work that needs to be done. It must be understood that the identity of a Black student within a primarily white institution is shaped by that institution’s understanding of Black identity.
The mere essence of unresolved prejudice against the potential and value of Black people and Black culture has continued to hinder the capacity of the Black individual in America. How can she see herself as a successful researcher and professor if she is not provided one?
How can he know the impact his ancestors had in all areas of academia if their work is never included in his curriculum? How can a student know the influence and value of their culture in music if it is not taught? Gospel, R&B, rap and their histories; all should have a place in music and its academia.
And when it comes to navigating the world with confidence, how can the Black student realize the leadership within them if there are so few leaders who look like them?
Little girls picture themselves as princesses after watching “Cinderella,” and doting parents tell them the world is their kingdom to reign. The community makes this princess fairytale come alive for her, to the point any doubt she may have in herself is eradicated and the most impossible thing becomes possible for her.
It is no different for a college student navigating a space that was not designed for them. For a Black student to enter the space of a predominately white institution, especially one with a history of enslavement, whether subconscious or conscious, they may doubt success is possible.
Visibility makes it all attainable to the Black student. It puts their goals within arms reach — it opens their imagination to the possibilities of who they can become.
Visibility is not just purely seeing someone who looks like you. It is not just having representation. Visibility is not taking up space, but owning it.
Black voices belong here. Black culture belongs here. Black leadership belongs here.
And they don’t just exist for diversity, equity and inclusion work, nor to specialize in anti-racism social work. To be visible, Blackness must exist outside of Black trauma. Not just glamorized for five minutes on a stage where Black culture and music is brought in as an afterthought, even though Black music was the blueprint.
Black presence should not be limited to a Black student union, a special event or segregated service.
The value of Blackness should be treated just as normative as whiteness. Since we have failed in creating that sense of normalcy and belonging for Blackness, we have failed to produce visibility for Black people across our community.
I need to see myself, so I know who I can become.