Spotlight: Black History Month, Cassie Torrisi Interviews Katelynn McIlwain

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Today’s spotlight is a woman of many words. She is so full of knowledge and grace and I am so excited to share her words with everyone. I will keep my thoughts short and sweet and let her words do the talking, without further ado, here is Katelynn McIlwain.

Katelynn McIlwain is twenty-one years old and is currently a Mizzou Tiger. She is in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree and has goals to become an arts and culture multimedia reporter. Katelynn also played a huge role in many clubs throughout her time at Freeport High School, where I had the pleasure to meet her. I know I am not the only one who realized how much of an impactful person she was going to become.

When I asked Katelynn what Black History Month meant to her, she said, “To me, Black History Month is a time to reflect over ALL the Black people (not just Martin Luther King Jr.) who have contributed to not only this country’s history, but also the world’s history, in a way that isn’t just to inspire, but also to soberly remind others of how this country was built on the backs of Black people who were needlessly hated and oppressed. I personally think the goal of this month is in flux among Black people, and I personally believe there should be a focus toward the Black future. Where do we want to see ourselves in five to ten years? How will we measure our progress as a race, given the generations of progress we’ve been denied? What does success look like in the constant fight for anti-racism?”

I asked Katelynn what she wishes those who are not Black Americans would understand. She responded, “I think people who aren’t Black should understand that so many of our society’s assumptions about what’s ‘normal’ have been rooted in white supremacy. It doesn’t mean that every white person who has accepted these ‘normalities’ is automatically a white supremacist. But everything that is considered ‘standard,’ from hairstyles to music, has historically been determined by white people, and has since then been enforced via hegemony, even by people of color. I think it would be worth it for all of us to consider whether we believe strongly in something just because it’s all we’ve known, or because it’s actually rooted in unbiased fact. When considering things in that way, what’s ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ to us might change. I say all of that to say — stop othering. Please. Black people and people of color and not ‘the other’ to white people. Please, let us be without drawing up a measuring stick for us.”

When I asked her what steps are needed to move towards equality, she said, “I think our creative media largely influences how we perceive the real world. So, I think something we all need to consciously do is make our films, television shows, cartoons, etc. more representative of what our world actually looks like. Enough cliche *enter belligerent Black woman here,* or *enter funny Black side character* here. Let children grow up seeing that anyone can be the main character of a story, no stereotypes attached. Let Black people see themselves as heroes in their favorite fantasy films, not just thugs in the periphery of a narrative. Let Black kids dream, too.”

Katelynn was brave enough to talk about her experience with racial discrimination. She explained, “My experience with racial discrimination is one that many Black women, unfortunately, face. While I was in high school, I had a panic attack because I was feeling sick the night before a speech tournament. So, I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to compete. Anyone who knows me knows how much I loved, and still love, competing in speech while I was in high school. It was practically everything to me. The thought of not being able to do it, and not being able to win points for my team, sent me into an episode. Unfortunately, it got so bad that my parents took me to the ER. Still a little hysterical, the nurse who saw me took one look at me and dismissively asked, “Are you on drugs?” I told her I wasn’t, that I was having a panic attack and was having trouble breathing. Then, she asked, “Well are you pregnant? Is that why you’re upset?”

Katelynn further stated, “Now, I don’t know if those questions are standard for someone who’s about to be injected with something to calm them down. But at the moment, they didn’t feel very helpful. And the nurse’s attitude threw me off. I did not feel cared for. I felt like the annoying Black girl that was messing up this nurse’s night. And since then, I’ve unfortunately been able to personally understand the aversion many Black women face to doctors and nurses. Historically, we’ve been made out to be dramatic and always wanting for drugs, so much so that we’ll “lie” about how much pain we’re in. Or, we’re believed to have a higher pain tolerance than white women. Whatever the myth is, it’s still hurting and killing women in our healthcare system. I’m glad that my bad encounter was only for a panic attack that usually resolves itself quickly.”

Katelynn is truly an amazing person, her words are nothing less than powerful and I am so happy I have had the opportunity to get to know her. Katelynn, thank you for being you and thank you for sharing your story.