Black Canadians are delving deeper into celebrating their ancestors and culture in observing their history in February, but one expert says exploring the community shouldn’t be limited to one month.
“Black History extends beyond February,” Kimberley Tull, a director for the Community of Learning Partnerships and engagement manager at the Scarborough’s University of Toronto, said. “There is no reason to only limit it to that.”
She said celebrating each other’s accomplishments is a form of Black Excellence.
“Black Excellence to me is self-determination. It’s about being able to stand on our own and standing outside of these oppressive systems,” Tull said.
George Elliott Clarke, a Canadian poet and arts and science professor at the University of Toronto, said it is worth celebrating as people of colour come in all forms, which combines to create the mosaic that is Canada.
“Diversity is our strength as diversity is also the strength of Black Canada,” Clarke said. “Canada’s strength is diversity and multiculturalism.”
African-American history overshadowed the story of Black Canadians, who have overlooked their story.
The story of Black Canadians has largely been overlooked in the long history of oppression, with scholars focusing instead on the United States. The earliest records of slavery were in the early 1600s in New France, the old North American colony of France that stretched from today’s Quebec to Louisiana.
There were 500 to 700 slaves in Upper Canada (Ontario) before the Anti-Slavery Act in 1793 was adopted. Slavery was then abolished in the British Empire in 1834.
“The African-Canadian struggle for equality in Canada is different from the struggle for equality in the United States,” Clarke said. “Canada has the largest northern Black population on Earth.”
The U.S appears to be working towards confronting the issue of racial divide, with the development of Black Lives Matter movement in response to police brutality and racism, especially after the death of George Floyd last May while being arrested in Minneapolis, and Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead during a March 13, 2020, no-knock search warrant in Louisville, Ky.
Clarke said Canadians of African and Caribbean descent are struggling with income equality lower-paying jobs, and often face the downturn of the economic crises harder than other communities.
A study by Verlyn Francis, a Toronto family lawyer, found Black communities were targets of employment discrimination in Canada.
Celebrating Black History Month is going to be difficult during the pandemic. Virtual events are one way to celebrate along with book clubs and readings, which offer intimate spaces for community members to connect.
“I plan to wear my hair naturally in braids and wear my African prints,” said Tina Nalova, a post-grad journalism student at Humber College.
Nalova, who was born in Cambodia, said she considers it special to learn how Canadians of African descent helped contribute and make Canada what it is today.
“It’s a moment of getting to know more and being proud of being Black,” she said. “It’s a celebration where I want to connect with people and hear their experience.”
The gruelling events of 2020 and the acknowledgement of systematic racism within Canadian institutions pushed schools to make changes in their curriculums, including courses focusing on Black and Indigenous history.
Tull said these changes are one step closer in the right direction but there still is a long way to go.
“Some of the courses I took in my undergrad years ago introduced me to Bell Hooks and Patricia J, Williams right away,” she said. Hooks and Williams are American Black intellectuals figures and activists for women’s rights and social justice whose works are being taught in post-secondary education.
Tull thinks not everyone is fortunate to have diverse courses. She said people need to seek out BIPOC teachers, courses and interaction with all communities, to develop a fairer country and it’s long overdue.