Today is the first day of Black history month. Schools throughout North America are going to spend the next month educating students on the history of the people of the African Diaspora. Teachers will pat themselves on the back for having inclusive pedagogy and many students of colour will only feel further ‘othered’. White supremacts will spend the month whining about the fact that a Black history month exists, and will therefore call it racist and exclusionary. While they are at it, they may even through in a few digs at BET.
When I was a child, Black history month consisted of the traditional lecture on Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, because heaven forbid we actually admit that as an English colony, Canada had slavery to. Many Canadians grow to adulthood and never realize this historical truth. Because the underground railroad has become such a fixation, it has allowed many to have the false belief, that unlike our American cousins, that we were far to civilized to engage in this great crime against humanity. Instead, we will focus on the fact that Harriet Tubman’s church still stands in St. Catherine’s. We don’t want to talk about the fact that White Supremacist Canada was hardly welcoming to escaped slaves, or that our Prime Minsters were not fans of people of colour. Instead, we will wag our fingers and scowl about American founding fathers owning slaves.
Not only do many falsely believe that slavery did not happen in Canada, far too many are unaware that Jim Crow laws existed here as well. In 1946, Viola Desmond was arrested for daring to sit in the White section of a movie house. She was dragged out of the theater by two men, injuring her knee in the process. To further shame Desmond, after her arrest, she was held in a male cell block. Eventually, she was charged with tax evasion because of the difference in price between White seats and Blacks seats. It was a difference of one cent. With the help of the NSACCP (The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), Desmond would take her fight to the supreme court of Nova Scotia. Desmond was a trailblazer and instead of being recognized as such, the Canadian government recently sought to pardon her, as though her arrest was actually a stain on her life, instead of the government itself.
Growing up and attending Canadian schools, I never learned a single word about Desmond and I believe that this was to continue the indoctrination that Canada is a tolerant, racially just society. I did not learn about the porters strike. I most certainly did not learn about the destruction of Africville. As a child, it forced me to look southward to find examples of people of the African diaspora to function as role models, rather than in my own country. I would continue to live in ignorance, had I not made a great effort to look beyond the lack of education I had been given in schools.
Black history month was intended to be inclusive, and teach about the sacrifices of people of the African Diaspora and instead, in my education, it served to further White supremacy — because specific events were chosen to frame Canada as a nation of tolerance. If we factor in that Black history month creates Black history as an additive, because it is not deemed important enough to focus on throughout the year, with the fact that it is often structured in such a manner that places importance on reducing the effect of White supremacy, the very existence of the month is problematic. It is hardly surprising that White supremacy would effect the celebration of our history, given that there is nothing outside its purview in North America.
Over the years I have written about the Black history month fails. These include putting White and Black signs on drinking fountains, staged slavery, and commercialization to sell products like coke. These are not isolated events, and something similar happens every year, under the guise of having students experience the racial apartheid that has become normal in North America. These little stunts do nothing to destabilize Whiteness, and they make a mockery of what it is to exist as a person of colour in a White supremacist world. At the end of 28 days, Whiteness walks away from this with a false confidence that comes from believing that one has confronted all racial privileges and that the world really is equal. Black history month soothes the senses, because it is easy and over quickly, thus allowing Whiteness to continue to fixate on the project of colonizing people of colour. Instead of settling for this false mission, I suggest that it is time that we demand that Black history become something that is part of the daily agenda. There is no reason to believe that we deserve any less, and I absolutely refuse to settle for being part of a side show.