Black History is Canadian History
February 10, 2023
Black History month is recognized in some form on three different continents, but only Canada and the US observe it in February. Given our close ties to the US, it is no surprise that there are shared experiences between the Black communities on both sides of the border.
Yet, when it comes to historic discrimination against Black communities, Canadians seem to only be familiar with the American experiences of slavery, understanding that slaves escaped to what is now Canada. But Canada has its own shameful past of anti-Black racism including 200 years of slavery, followed by segregation and forced displacement.
Unfortunately, anti-Black discrimination is not confined to the past. As we have discussed before, anti-Black racism persists in workplaces, and this is especially true of systemic racism.
An awareness of this historic context is vital to understanding the disadvantages some individuals and communities continue to face. Systemic discrimination can often occur unintentionally because organizations are not mindful of these disadvantages, which can cause the cycle to continue. For a more fulsome discussion of systemic racism and ways organizations can combat it please see our previous thoughts here.
Awareness around Canadian Black history is growing.
There is a growing chorus to differentiate between the historic experience of Black Canadians and Americans. The pervasiveness of American narratives of Black history within Canada is undoubtedly attributable in part to the dominance of American cultural exports. But there is hope that changes in the media landscape could give new opportunities for stories about Black Canadians to find audiences. Similarly, curriculums in Ontario schools are being updated to feature content that is specific to Black Canadian history.
Canadians should also use this time as an opportunity to celebrate our Black communities. Local organizations across the country are hosting events, exhibits and activities throughout the month. Many feature Black speakers, artists, businesses and more and are an excellent way to observe the rich history of Black Canadians.