Canadian Black History Month teaches us that Canada is “not racist”.

In Why I am Skipping Black History Month Renee of Womanist Musings writes:

When I was a child, Black history month consisted of the traditional lecture on Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, because heaven forbid we actually admit that as an English colony, Canada had slavery [too].  Many Canadians grow to adulthood and never realize this historical truth.  Because the underground railroad has become such a fixation, it has allowed many to have the false belief, that unlike our American cousins, that we were far to civilized to engage in this great crime against humanity. Instead, we will focus on the fact that Harriet Tubman’s church still stands in St. Catherine’s.  We don’t want to talk about the fact that White Supremacist Canada was hardly welcoming to escaped slaves, or that our Prime Minsters were not fans of people of colour.  Instead, we will wag our fingers and scowl about American founding fathers owning slaves.

Not only do many falsely believe that slavery did not happen in Canada, far too many are unaware that Jim Crow laws existed here as well.  In 1946, Viola Desmond was arrested for daring to sit in the White section of a movie house.  She was dragged out of the theater by two men, injuring her knee in the process.  To further shame Desmond, after her arrest, she was held in a male cell block.  Eventually, she was charged with tax evasion because of the difference in price between White seats and Blacks seats.  It was a difference of one cent.  With the help of the NSACCP (The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), Desmond would take her fight to the supreme court of Nova Scotia.  Desmond was a trailblazer and instead of being recognized as such, the Canadian government recently sought to pardon her, as though her arrest was actually a stain on her life, instead of the government itself.

Growing up and attending Canadian schools, I never learned a single word about Desmond and I believe that this was to continue the indoctrination that Canada is a tolerant, racially just society.  I did not learn about the porters strike.  I most certainly did not learn about the destruction of Africville.  As a child, it forced me to look southward to find examples of people of the African diaspora to function as role models, rather than in my own country.  I would continue to live in ignorance, had I not made a great effort to look beyond the lack of education I had been given in schools.

Read the whole thing.

Link: Why I am Skipping Black History Month

3 Responses to “Canadian Black History Month teaches us that Canada is “not racist”.”

  1. Anti-Status Quo Voice Says:

    Growing up and attending Canadian schools, I never learned a single word about Desmond and I believe that this was to continue the indoctrination that Canada is a tolerant, racially just society. I did not learn about the porters strike. I most certainly did not learn about the destruction of Africville.

    …………..

    In Why I am Skipping Black History Month, Renee of Womanist Musings has made some critical points that reflect our educational system’s ongoing strategy of disavowing an inconvenient past in favour of a more democratic one. It remains a persistent problem within the Canadian educational system.

    I would like to add to Renee’s comments with the reminder that in February 2006, there was some controversy around Toronto District School Board Trustee Scott Harrison contentious motion to rename Black History Month to a homogenized “Heritage Month”.

    Luckily, some public protest ensured that it did not pass.

    Far from appearing “innocent” in his intentions, Scott Harrison’s colourblind overture in renaming Black History Month—-lumping all racial and ethnic groups without any distinctions, was more a tactic for eradicating Black consciousness and self-determination from education, under a guise of extolling multiculturalism’s “best interests” and “equity for all”.

    But it has larger and more insidious consequences, because the erasure of Black history, any interrogation and representation of race in Canada would repress and efface the ongoing political significance of colour and racial awareness.

    Attempts to dismantle the program, articulates the dominant group’s ongoing struggle in ensuring that education re-center hierarchical Eurocentric notions of culture and politics as the practice for regulating Students of Colour, in particular Black children.

    This is perhaps why Renee and so many other Black students have/had only a vague knowledge of Canada’s Black past and those struggles with Jim Crow and Apartheid that the educational systems likes to tone down or better yet banish into oblivion.

    We had to seek out that particular history out for ourselves.

    While I believe preserving and broadening the scope of Black History remains critical, I’m often dismayed that since its introduction in the 1980s, Black History programming has always been under siege with relentless attacks to under-fund, de-politicize and reduce it to “show and tell” and “flavour-of-the-month” triviality.

    In high-school history class, I often got the sense that students often felt “put-upon” in having to hear about slavery/Blacks in Canada and were so relieved when it was over, cause then we could re-focus again on “our legitimate history” and the well-meaning White people who really built the nation.

    Much worse, in my experiences as an Adult educator and counselor, I found that many European and dare I say, some Latin and Asian newcomers to Canada are often painfully unaware of the historical presence and struggles of Blacks in Canada.

    This lack of knowledge can potentially result in them regarding Blacks as cultural/political outsiders, perpetual foreigners, as not belonging to the nation’s fabric—-as the only “true Canadian” within the mainstream consciousness, remains a White or Anglo-Saxon one.

  2. Jayn Says:

    In high-school history class, I often got the sense that students often felt “put-upon” in having to hear about slavery/Blacks in Canada and were so relieved when it was over, cause then we could re-focus again on “our legitimate history” and the well-meaning White people who really built the nation.

    Only speaking personally, but Black history would have been a welcome break for me. We spent so much time learning about Aboriginal and especially Acadian history that I was rather starved for anything else. (Being Acadian myself, it was also a bit…depressing).

    On the other hand, I’ve also always been a bit odd, you know, actually wanting to learn about other cultures and that sort of thing.

  3. Anti-Status Quo Voice Says:

    Jayn Says:
    February 3, 2011 at 7:54 am Only speaking personally, but Black history would have been a welcome break for me.

    ……………

    Hi Jayn,

    You are perhaps one of the rare few. But to put my experiences in context, this was back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was when there were fewer students of colour in Toronto schools, especially Collegiate Institutes as opposed to Vocational Schools where most Blacks were located. There was an elitist and ideological difference.

    I’m afraid I did sense boredom from the majority of White students, while I usually felt mixed pride and humiliation over that history. I also felt, many teachers, as well-meaning as they were, never worked to update/connect the past; they preferred to consign all the politics and ideology to the past without recognizing how they being re-inscribed in the present.

    This is how colorblindness as an ideological policy came into practice, by rendering race and racism into the past. This is why tollers like fred and Sam have had such fierce views of entitlement and resentment in these discussions.

    ……………….

    I feel it’s also critical to include Aboriginal – Native and Asian-Canadian History as well. The latter’s presence is still downplayed in the Canadian system. But I feel the Asian community needs to rally in bringing it to the forefront. It is perhaps happening, I don’t know what’s presently occurring in the school system? I know many Asian-Canadian scholars have written on various immigration – citizenship histories…but again, these are academic studies not likely to reach teenagers.

    I think there continues to be much resentment around Black History month, without understanding its history and Dr. Dr. Carter G. Woodson, its father. Also, just recognizing the why it’s become a “Black and White” thing, because Blacks had the most visible and violent racial history, especially in the US and the Caribbean.

    And I’m not trying to negate the history Native genocide or their struggles with White supremacist oppression.

    In grade 7 through 9, I do recall getting smatterings of Native History / Culture. While I thorough enjoyed then, I look back rather critically about the context in which Native history was taught—a New France colonialist context. I also remember Native Canadians being framed as “quaint primitives” and/ or warriors in the text books and that student assignments were always focused on researching or “recreating” traditional Native ways of life. The “warrior trope” was also de-contextualized, not was there too much examination of why and how Native groups continue to be the poorest and most marginalized group in Canada.

    This new paradigm shift needs to keep happening. And I believe it has in some areas. But whether these outcomes remain consistent, as critical teaching / learning remains contingent on funding and developing new anti-racist pedagogy. So, when the Ministries and Boards of Ed declare, “well we just can’t afford this anymore, we need to get back to the Three Rs, etc”, then this kind of policy ensures that such programming eventually goes out the window.

    It becomes now a question of commitment.


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