Black history month

In Canada, black history month has been observed nationally every February since its inception in 1995. The original intention of the month was to highlight the achievements of African Canadians and create a specific space to celebrate their history in the public sphere. It is also a time where African Canadians can reflect and share the history that they discuss and live throughout the year.

Still, many myths persist around African Canadian history despite these efforts. A common myth is that Canada didn't participate in slavery, but was a safe haven. Slavery wasn't banned in the country until 1834, when it was outlawed in the rest of the British Empire.

 

Origin

Activist and American historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson started what he called "Negro History Week" during the late 1920s. The week coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln who abolished slavery and Frederick Douglas a prominent abolitionist. Woodson wanted to rewrite American history to include the voices of African Americans, who had been erased and silenced in its telling. The as the week continued to evolve it became clear that there was too much history for such a short amount of time (more than a month's worth as well).

Some cities adopted the observance of the month long before it became an official act. Toronto has been celebrating black history month since as early as the 1950s. The month was adopted in the United States in 1976. However, it wasn't until 1995 that the first female black MP Jean Augustine introduced the legislation to have the month celebrated nationally. It passed unanimously and is now observed across Canada, though is still relatively unknown.

 

Critiques

However, the month has many critics. Activists have argued that by allotting one month a year (the shortest one) to a public awareness campaign about African history, non-African Canadians can continue their year paying no attention to African Canadian history. It singles out children of colour in schools without acknowledging that every other month is essentially white settler history month.

It has also been dubbed a token gesture and a band aid solution to Canadian white guilt. Though many Canadian workplaces, municipalities and schools take part in black history month, there's a tendency to gloss over the history of racism and focus more on the achievements of African Canadians. These are valid and important but teaching historically valid instances of injustice (Africville) are pushed to the back burner. This has left many questioning how effective the month really is.

Read more about how to reinvent Black History Month as an inclusive Canadian History!

 

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