Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For Historica Canada Women Of Color Are Invisible

There has been a push for some time to expand knowledge of  Canadian history.  Many function with the belief that the events in Canada are not nearly as fascinating as the US.  To help eradicate this erroneous thinking, Canadian networks have been playing shorts featuring important people in Canadian history. 

They were well aware that given the terrible history of the marginalization and near genocide of our First Nation citizens, that they had to be included and so aboriginal peoples received their own section.   To deal with the sexism that is still rampant in Canada, women also received their own section.  Watching these shorts, I learned is that you cannot be both a woman and be of color.

The women listed are:

  • Jennie Trout
  • Agnes Macphail
  • Laura Secord
  • Nellie McClung
  • Rural teacher (again white)
  • Midwife (again white)

Each of  these women were given a short which airs in commercial format.  This is seen as bringing Canadian history to the masses.  This is particularly important because although we have a very unique identity, we are often  so inundated with American pop culture, that our contributions to advancing equality and human rights are forgotten. These shorts are a decided effort to increase Canadian patriotism.

image Learning that Agnes Macphail, the first female  MP worked tirelessly on prison reform in the face of great resistance and ridicule from the male members of parliament was wonderful, however; given that racism in Canada is a pervasive today as in previous generations, how can the exclusion of women of color possibly be justified? 

Seeing the struggles of Jennie Trout, who was the first woman licensed to image practice medicine in Canada was certainly eye opening.  This is especially important information, when we consider that U of T, the institute from where she got her degree, is still to this day a bastion of masculinity.  This is further problematized by the fact that though the University of Toronto remains one of Canada’s most elite schools, and yet professors of color continue to be a rarity.  What were the struggles of the first woman of color to earn a degree from U of T?  What was her name and what did she specialize in?

image Then we have Nellie McClung, who worked tirelessly for the vote.  Without the ability to vote, women would never have the ability to have any access to power within Canadian society.  McClung held a mock parliament, in which she speculated the ruination of society should men be given the vote, thus illustrating the ridiculousness of sexism in civil rights. She is celebrated today as one our leading suffragettes and yet the vote which she so tirelessly fought for only involved White women.

It was not until 1960, that the federal legislature abolished the last formal restrictions on the political citizenship of Aboriginal women and men.  Prior to that time, in order to vote First Nation citizens had to give up their treaty rights and Indian status.  Certainly, the government of Canada did this out of the graciousness of their heart and no Aboriginal women worked on ensuring that they had the right to vote; or  so one would be lead to believe given their lack of coverage.

These shorts are very much a reflection of Canadian identity as largely White.  Often our First Nations peoples are only grudgingly acknowledged and all others of color are erased entirely.  We proudly announce that a Canadian wrote the Declaration of Human Rights for the United Nations, and yet Canada's historical record is atrocious.  To erase the contributions of women of color is to once again colonize us for the befit of upholding a White supremacist state.  There can be no accurate depiction and or understanding of Canadian history, without the inclusion of women of color.   

Though our labour is unrecognized we are the foundation upon which this country stands.  It is our labour that completed the jobs that no one wanted. It was our teachers that struggled to give our children a sense of humanity, when Prime Ministers openly displayed their bigotry and hatred. We have given birth to a nation and a history.  Our blood is entwined in the very soil upon which we all walk and screams for our validation.  Expressing true national pride means owning the sins that have been committed against women of color and honouring our triumphs in the face of immeasurable difficulties.