In Canada, Black History Month was first recognized by the federal government in the mid 1990s.
As a child of Jamaican immigrants, I was told umpteen times during my childhood about how I “wasn’t black enough” from the portraits of black images seen on television or in the media.
The announcement of Black History Month being officially recognized in 1995 gave me a sense of belonging, of wanting to get in touch with my roots. From hearing the stories of Viola Desmond; of Maurice Riddick, the only survivor of the 1956 Springhill mining explosion of Afro-Canadian origin; Or, even, Cito Gaston and Pinball Clemons, the first black manager and head coach to win championships in baseball and Canadian football, respectively.
Because of learning events like this, I gained a better appreciation for the struggle that Afro-Canadians experienced since first coming to Canada. With a population of nearly 1.2 million in Canada being black, the population has only doubled from 1996 to 2016, with projections by Statistics Canada suggesting that by 2036, around six per cent of the country’s population will be black.
But, with a shifting political and cultural landscape, with almost every report from media being set under the microscope, with massive protests in the wake of the meaningless killings of young black males which sparked the “take a knee” protests in the NFL, to the criticisms and controversies surrounding activist groups such as Black Lives Matter, and influential black celebrities occasionally calling for the “end of cultural desegregation” by cancelling the entire month, is Black History Month still needed in 2023?
This is a question that has many layers to finding out the true answer.
According to Statistics Canada, despite the progression Afro-Canadians have made in the past century, they are twice as likely to experience some sort of discrimination compared to the Caucasian population. In addition, this may cause less trust in the judicial system (46 per cent of discriminated blacks vs. 73 per cent of non-discriminated blacks), police (42 vs 80), and even the school system (56 vs 79).
In order to have a prominent dialogue and a foothold within our society, each visible minority should be represented.
This includes figures from the public services sector recognizing “the territories” of First Nations communities, of educating current and future students of accomplishments not seen in a textbook or a newspaper, of allowing those of a certain minority a sense of identity and belonging within the community of which we all call Canada.
This year’s theme for Black History Month within Canada is “Ours to Tell.” Of all things, this holds true. It isn’t up to others who reside within our cultural communities to cancel it.
Rather, Black History Month should be our time to tell the stories which shaped our community. For generations here and now, and for generations to come.