“We can continue to live in our bubble — be oblivious — or maybe instead we can just open our eyes.”
That is how actress, writer and director Issa Rae eloquently put it when she spoke to students last Tuesday in Bovard Auditorium. Rae was invited to speak at the University on behalf of the Graduate Student Government, who also partnered with various groups on campus focused on causes like representation of students of color, gender empowerment and feminist advocacy, to name a few.
The discussion, entitled “Issa Rae and the Black Perspective,” sought to address some issues that are explored in Rae’s self-created and self-starring hit television HBO show, Insecure. While only two seasons of the show have been released, Insecure has already packed a punch, with Rae using each episode to unpack masculinity, redefine womanhood and illuminate diverse experiences in Los Angeles and around the world.
This month, as many know — or should know — is Black History Month.
This month, more so than ever, USC students must take a cue from Rae’s wisdom and “just open our eyes.” Regardless of their individual backgrounds, students must look up, look around and recognize the rich presence and history of black excellence.
Naysayers question the purpose of Black History Month. Some object to its seeming inequity, believing it is unfair to devote a whole month to a single population. Meanwhile, others may oppose the confinement of black celebration to one month and argue that black lives must be celebrated throughout the year.
While it is undeniable that black history should be revered outside of a singular month, this is unfortunately not the case at the present. Black History Month, then, serves as a means of commemorating black achievements and ushering them into the mainstream, a way of never forgetting the atrocities that were once legally committed against black communities, the trauma penetrating into modern times.
Throughout this month, USC students should pay close attention to the banners that wave high upon the light poles that line Trousdale Parkway. For the month, these light poles will be displaying not USC programs or the five attributes of a Trojan, but paintings that seek to capture and celebrate the African American experience.
First debuted at the California African American Museum last month, these works were conceptualized by a group of 15 local high school students who, under the leadership of acclaimed Los Angeles-based muralist Noni Olabisi, attempted to translate the experiences of some members of USC’s African American community into sketches. Although Olabisi turned the sketches into finished paintings, each high school student had the opportunity to materialize their own imaginings. There is great respect due to both the creativity and artistry of these students: Across the paintings, one can see anything from Egyptian pharaohs and a Sankofa bird, a symbol of recovery, to black college graduates waving their diplomas, their wrists still bearing the remnants of shackles representing past and ongoing oppression.
Yet there is one common depiction among all the pieces: the sun. When asked about the significance of the solar motif, Olabisi responded, “The sun shines on all of us … It’s about black history, but it’s also about faith.”
USC is taking a step in the right direction by paying homage to its black students and their history. To display these paintings is to stand in solidarity with the experiences of the University’s black students. It is necessary that Trojans walk hand-in-hand with their peers as we celebrate Black History Month.
When walking through campus this month, one should focus less on getting from place to place, and more on appreciating the art around them.
As Rae concluded the Q&A segment of her discussion, she humorously interjected: “Use the sh-t out of this school. There is so much beauty around you.” And it’s time students recognize that beauty — this month and every month.