February is Black History Month in Canada and the United States. For many Canadians, the month will mark the first time they learn about black civil rights icon Viola Desmond, or B.C.’s rich black history. Annette Henry, the David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education and professor in the department of language and literacy education, talks about these subjects, the need for black history in the school curriculum and the month’s significance.
Does Black History Month help right racism?
It helps counter the practice of excluding and erasing people of African descent from the Canadian narrative. As an educator, I suggest that we not relegate black history to February alone, but normalize black history, black arts and so forth in the curriculum throughout the school year. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has announced a new curriculum where they intend to right the wrongs of indigenous and Asian people. What about black British Columbians? They also should be included.
An understanding of the realities of black people in the Canadian experience is needed. An understanding of colonialism, the white settler history of Canada and the history racism in this country should be taught in schools and universities.
Why is Black History Month important to mark?
Black History Month is important because black history is important. All versions of history, of his-tory, need to be retold from diverse perspectives. Canadian and world history has overlooked black achievements, struggles and contributions to society.
What are the issues facing black people in Canada that differ from being black in America? How are they similar?
Many of the issues are the same and one could say it is a question of degree. Regions may vary. We experience, however, many of the same phenomena, a consequence of racism and a history of colonialism such as the shooting of black men by police, racial discrimination in the workplace and children of African heritage slotted in special education and underrepresented in academic programs. Of course, we are two countries with different histories.
In 2018, black civil rights icon Viola Desmond will become the first Canadian woman to appear on Canadian currency, on the $10 bill. What do you make of this decision by the government?
I think it’s marvelous. It’s an opportunity to be curious and to learn, especially with the stories available on the web, not only of Viola Desmond, but also of other African Nova-Scotians and of black Canadians generally. Each time we emphasize a Canadian contribution it helps expand the Canadian narrative and diminish the practice of only recognizing U.S. names like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Carver G. Woodson. Consider how wonderful it is for a child to see a black person on a $10 bill!
To learn more about Black History Month, visit http://equity.ubc.ca/2017/01/18/black-history-month-2017/