“Another year, another Varsity loss”. Those were the words with which I started my editor’s letter, which was originally written two days before the finale – such is my lack of faith in my own University. Therefore, a congratulations is in order for all the sports teams who competed in the competition. Whether you won or lost your individual battles, you are a credit to your university, and should hold your head high, no matter how hungover you are. But now that I have to rewrite this entire letter in a very short space of time, I’m going to talk about something ever so slightly more important than kicking an egg-shaped ball through some oversized goal posts: Black History Month.
Every October since 1987, Britain has celebrated the history of Black individuals and the communities they have created across the country. It is a time for reflecting on the racial injustices which still plague our society, and for understanding how appropriate explorations of Black culture contribute to a fairer, less prejudiced, and less insular Britain. As such, we have dedicated this week’s edition of ‘In The Middle’ to featuring and discussing the work of Black artists who continue to campaign and work in the name of racial equality across the globe. I sincerely hope we have done our commitment to covering Black History Month justice, using grayscale images to envelop the thematic content within a tasteful colour scheme.
Clearly, since you may have noticed the Debenhams own-brand chequered lumberjack shirt that I’m wearing in the photo which accompanies this letter, I’m quite painfully, painfully white. In fact, I’d say the only person whiter than me is my predecessor, Reece Parker, a man whose unfaltering dedication to the Stevenage grime scene makes Eminem look like the upper echelons of white Middle-Class culture. That being said, I have spent the past few years studying race relations in American literature, and I know how important coming to terms with the lasting effects of racial prejudice and white privilege is to an accurate understanding of racism – both individual and institutional.
However, by designating one month to Black History, are we reserving the rest of the calendar for ‘white history’? Who gets left out by the definition of Blackness that this month perpetuates? And how do we prevent the month becoming merely a mode of token awareness rather than a bastion of lasting change? All are legitimate concerns. Nevertheless, Black History Month is essential because it provides students with an opportunity to learn more about the institution around them which is predominantly, in both its cohort and its curriculum, white.
Alongside Black History Month, tomorrow also marks the end of Mental Health Awareness week. Mental health at university is something we should all take very seriously. It’s no coincidence that, as issues of depression and anxiety are on the rise, mental health funding is steadily falling. All too often, students shoulder their burdens instead of adequately exorcising them.
Although I do not wish to detract from the importance of Black History Month, take myself as a case in point. At the start of my third year at Leeds, me and my girlfriend of three and a half years broke up. The months that followed involved intense feelings of loneliness made worse by a state of self-perpetuated hunger, sleeplessness, and ultimately, unhappiness. I lost a lot of weight and my confidence was non-existent. You see, a lot of people see me as an always-happy, always-smiling, always-winning-at-FIFA kind of guy. But the truth is, for a really, really, fucking long time, I forgot how it felt to be happy. And that’s no exaggeration.
Thankfully, I’ve had a wonderful support network of friends and family available to me throughout my life, which meant I was always confident I would get back to my normal self. It feels good to have the rose-tinted glasses back, to look around and see the world in technicolour again. But this reminds me of something Wes Nelson said on this summer’s Love Island, when he was considering ditching Laura Anderson for the *cough* love of his life *cough* Megan Barton Hanson. Torn between the two, Wes told the islanders: “I’m happy, but I could be happier.”
As someone who has experienced what it is to not be happy, thinking to yourself that you could be happier is dangerous. Many times over the past two years I’ve achieved something that I should have been proud of, only to hear a voice inside my head tell me “you could be happier.” As young students developing in an intensely complex social circle, we shouldn’t take our mental health for granted. Cherish every single moment that you can look in the mirror and know that the person staring back is happy. And in the end, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be able to look back on your time at Leeds and know, without hesitation, that you were happy here.
Image: [Digital Spy]