As the initial ramifications of the Black Lives Matter protests began taking effect in Canada, one Black UW activist had a message for both Black and non-Black communities. Imprint interviewed Nyah Ainoo, the president of UW-BASE (University of Waterloo Black Association for Student Expression) to discuss what’s important to the cause right now.
“Next time, please do not wait until it gets this bad to say something. It can potentially look like you’re just standing up because everybody else is. So, my biggest tip would be, please care when this is all over, when the protests are over, when the postings stop, I hope that you still care,” Ainoo said.
To the community, Ainoo’s message reinforces strong, positive vibes that—we can only hope—resonate with other members of our community too.
“I would say to my community to keep your head up. This time is not like other times. I know that they think that, after all the ammunition, that the fire is going to die down, but it’s not until you see real change,” Ainoo said.
Expressing her disappointment with UW’s response to the movement, Ainoo made a strong point regarding the lack of concern by UW authorities.
“I know that you guys are devastated by the fact that we pay so much money to go to this institution, hold it up, keep its lights on and when it’s time to keep our lights on and hold us up, they don’t want to do it. Not unless we comment 500 times, get a petition signed 5000 times—nothing gets done.”
She also regretted how UWBASE was the only way Black people could speak up and let their voices be heard on campus, all with limited funding.
“That is how it’s always been for us, and we just need to keep fighting until real change is made, and we will. I will and BASE will,” she said.
Moving on to answering questions about how students who are not Black could help, Ainoo recommended beginning by checking up on one’s Black friends.
“I know that some of us are not personally going through the stuff that’s going on right now. But it hurts to know that the skin that you are so very proud of is seen as a threat by other people and is used to put you down,” she said.
Ainoo also said people could donate if they can and if they have the time, they can sign petitions. “Spread awareness, share information, share petitions,” Ainoo said.
Ainoo said she urges everyone to speak up about racism and use their platforms to spread awareness.
“There should be no reason for people to claim ignorance right now, but some people are. Take that right away from them. Speak up for us, stand up for us.”
Ainoo is also appreciative of everyone who has been taking the time to use their platform to spread awareness.
When asked if she has ever been denied any opportunities based on the colour of her skin, Ainoo spoke about the discrimination she has faced as a Black woman.
“As a Black girl, certain stereotypes and predispositions follow me, from everywhere I go, from middle school to university—that has never changed. Being called names, jokes about how dark my skin is jokes about how puffy my hair is, or how big my nose is, have followed me. The worst thing I’ve ever experienced is people assuming that I’m uneducated because I’m Black,” Ainoo said.
She also mentioned how she has faced racism by peers and professors on campus.
“[I get] put in groups at university, an institution that I pay the same amount to go to as everybody else, [yet they] ask the professor if they can be put in another group because they don’t think that I’m going to hold my weight. They assume that I’m dumb because I’m Black,” Ainoo said.
“I have had a professor shocked to see me retrieve my paper because of what the mark was, shocked to see that I could achieve that excellence,” Ainoo said.
She mentions how these things happen every day, and she has “almost kind of gotten used to it.”
“Even in simpler terms, I have been followed on campus, by campus police because of what my car was, and because I was Black and because I was driving it,” Ainoo said.
According to Ainoo, racism has become subtle in the last few years, because of what everyone is taught from birth.
“It blows people’s minds to see Black people on the same level as others, and it is so sad,” she said.
Ainoo’s professional life has also seen the sinister face of racism rear its head towards it.
“My last name speaks Blackness in every room it walks into. So, when that is seen on a resume, I think at times it can cause whoever is reviewing it to be blinded. All of a sudden, there are no skills on my paper, there are no references on my paper, there are no qualifications because I’m Black,” Ainoo said.
“I have been the most qualified for jobs, fit everything on the description and have lost it to a white person, who is undergoing training to build up the skills set I already have built up. I have had modelling agencies tell me that they didn’t submit me for a description that just said ’18 year old and above, female’ because I didn’t fit the look. Now, what is that supposed to mean? I’m Black.”
Signing off on her interview, she brings her feelings into the limelight, “The Black woman is probably the most mistreated human being on the planet.”