Black History Month is a period of observance and celebration, where we remember important figures and events that brought changes in the course of history, black history. It is a month where we remember stories of oppression, resistance and movements that took place, which have left its mark on history and culture. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, the civil rights movement, segregation, and disenfranchisement are just a few things the come to mind, especially in terms of American History. However, when it comes to Canada’s Black history, we either coopt American history as our own narrative or our only outlet is talking about the underground railroad in positive light and of Viola Desmond. It’s transparent that Canada’s black history is lacking perhaps partly due to the failure of Canadian educators shining light on Canadian Black history.
The Black Community Resource Centre (BCRC) is an English-speaking community centre which aids youth in recognizing and addressing their needs and reaching their potential through holistic projects. The organization held an event in commemoration of black history month, inviting 4 guest speakers to share their experiences as Black Montrealer’s, which focused on their positive contributions which they have made and witnessed.
The guest speakers agreed on the absence of black history in the education curriculum of Canada. This has been one of the major problems throughout the education system in Canada where there has been a lack of representation of black people in history lessons. The speakers point out that throughout the years, black teachers continuously militated the missing pages—in the textbooks –which still remain missing in the education curriculum. Especially with Quebec’s curriculum which has been problematic due to it complete erasure of Black people in Quebecois history, specifically slavery which existed over a century in Quebec, racism and anti-black practices, and along with other persistent issues. Not to mention the lack of attention to the vast number of contributions Black people have made to Quebecois society. Education of Quebec history uniquely denies its darker side, tending to overlook the difficulties black people have and continue to face. This erasure has only led to the further invalidation of Black peoples experiences in Canada and specifically Quebec.
Many of us have a vivid recollection of what our high school Quebec history classes consisted of: The French Revolution, the adventure of Christopher Columbus, Jacque Cartier, the quiet revolution etc.. The basic, watered-down education on the indigenous community and its people –which similar to black history, had been whitewashed with the erasure of the brutal mistreatment by the institutions, and the displacement of people from their land. The Quebec history course was the same tedious repetition of Quebec’s history, a whitewashed history which only presented stories of white saviours in the guise of some notable figures. Quebec’s white history curriculum is used to get students to perceive Quebec as docile; strategically leaving a gap in history which covers up the brutality that Quebec practised on black people, similar to their American neighbour.
Even though the Jim Crowe laws were adopted by the Americans, the black people in Canada faced the wrath of the policy through the hands of white Canadians, who went ahead and lynched them. The damage done on black migrants by white Canadians has been swiped under the rug, replaced by a perverted version of Black history which presents the underground railroad as it’s the focal point of history, dismissing the stories of many successful and positive encounters made by Black people. The lacking of black history in the curriculum is evident through the lack of classes on Black or African cultures offered in colleges and universities, while there’s a vast amount of classes offered to learn the history of European Canada and Quebec.
Canada’s education curriculum negates Black History, by overshadowing the cultural and social contribution made by Black communities throughout the centuries. Canada’s black history has been simmered down to an oversimplified narrative, where they paint a few aspects or events of black history in a positive light, giving off the illusion that racism in Canada is bare to nothing. It has taken prominent figures and turned them into idol worshippers which causes the oversimplification of the black history discourses, but also the erasure of black history and its identity. The reliance on American history as an outlet for black history has been a disappointment in Canada’s black history since it causes the erasure of the achievements, the excellence, the revolution and the contributions that were brought in the course of Canadian history by the Black. While we tend to talk a lot about American black history, we forget to distinguish that it is not our history; our history is and should be the existence of black legacy in Canada. In the long term, it affects our current generation and our future generation, since the history being taught is filled with ignorance and missing stories. It especially affects black youth in Canada, who have no grasp of the vast Black migrants’ contribution to history, therefore left with no outlets to learn about their people’s stories and devotion, especially in terms of important figures to look up to.
It’s the responsibility of our institutions to take charge of bettering the education curriculum in relation to Canadian Black History by exposing the students to the diverse work and contribution done by Black Canadians. Our institutions need to integrate more material and resources in their textbooks, courses, and programs which give a platform to black stories exposes students to Black history and cultures. It is important to give students and the community an in-depth narration of black history and not partial truth. Expose them to the poetry, essays, stories, important figures, the movements and current events which relate to Black people of Canada.
On an end note, I would like to name a few interesting topics which you all can look up and learn about in the honour of Black History Month, and educate ourselves on it:
- The Haitian taxi drivers fight against racism in Montreal taxi industry
- Mathieu de Costa – the first black person to set foot in Canada
- The Little Burgundy neighbourhood – home of English-speaking black people
- The Union United Congregational Church
- H. Nigel Thomas – Professor and writer
- Canadian-Caribbean relations
- Alan Emtage
- Black Nova Scotians
- Elijah McCoy – notable inventor and engineer, known for lubrication of steam engines
- Black contribution to jazz music and blues music
- Donovan Bailey, a Jamaican-Canadian sprinter who held the world record for 100 meters
- Sir George Williams Computer Riot
- The Fred Christie Case
- The working-class black people
- Joseph Seraphim Fortes – the first official lifeguard in Vancouver
- Black sleeping car porters