Black History in Canada

16 Bringing the rich history of Black people in Canada into the mainstream historical narrative is an ongoing process. Many Canadians are still less knowledgeable about Black Canadians’ contributions to building this country, and learning that Canada participated in enslavement remains a surprise to many. Although many Black Canadians have left indelible, positive marks on the country, the consequences and legacies of enslavement and discrimination have also created systemic barriers that prevent Black Canadians from fully engaging in many aspects of society. Some of these legacies include anti-Black racism; over-policing of Black people; high rates of leaving school prior to graduation; police brutality and violence against Black people; health disparities; the erasure of “Blackness” across Canada; and the over-representation of Black people in Canada’s prison and child welfare systems. Another subtle way that racism and discrimination are perpetrated is through racial microaggressions, which can leave targeted people feeling excluded and viewed as second-class citizens. The erasure of Blackness and Black narratives in Canadian history is manifested in the lack of representation of Black Canadians in all levels of society and across multiple industries, like politics, education, and business, as well as the media. That is why teaching the history of Black people in Canada is so important to the understanding and appreciation of Black Canadians and their narratives. Black History Month in Canada was introduced to the House of Commons by the Honourable Jean Augustine in December 1995, and was first celebrated across the country the following February. While Black History Month is an opportunity for all Canadians to learn more about the history of Black Canadians, it is important to take what we have learned about this history, as well as systemic and anti-Black racism, and attempt to address it year-round, whether at school or at home. Movements such as Black Lives Matter have worked with Black communities, Black-centric networks, and allies toward dismantling all forms of state-sanctioned oppression, violence, and brutality, and to redirect money from the police to other services affected by racism such as social housing, education, transit, and food security. More recently, apologies have slowly been made from all levels of government to many communities and individuals for harm done and discrimination against them; examples include the federal apology to the No. 2 Construction Battalion, and from the Mayor of Halifax for the demolition of Africville. Yet concrete steps and reparations have not always followed these gestures. In January 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government’s recognition of the International Decade for People of African Descent, which had been declared by the UN as the period between 2015–2024. He committed to allocating money towards local community supports for Black Canadian youth, as well as towards mental health programs for Black Canadians, and to funding various projects that promote, share knowledge, and build capacity in different Black communities. Black Canadians have achieved so much despite the many systemic obstacles along the way. We as a nation have also made strides in acknowledging and confronting our racist past and addressing it in the present, but we still have more work to do to achieve equity for all Black Canadians. Part of that process includes understanding the essential role Black Canadians have played in building Canada as we know it today. SECTION 6: BEYOND BLACK HISTORY MONTH Black Lives Matter protest, Toronto ( Baisch/ID 186568098) Jean Augustine (Althea Thauberger/Library and Archives Canada/R12496) Jean Augustine came to Canada through the West Indian Domestic Scheme in 1960. She would go on to become the first Black woman elected to the House of Commons, and the first Black woman to be appointed to Cabinet. Jean was instrumental in establishing Canada’s annual Black History Month in February. Read more about her achievements on TCE.