Black History Month is as much about the present and future as it is about the past

Many in Calgary believe there needs to be more emphasis on teaching Black history in schools

By Halen Kooper | February 28, 2022 |5:00 am

The Calgary Public Library had a series of events over February for Black History Month.

Photo: Calgary Public Library

Black History Month may be ending but that doesn’t mean Canadians should stop reflecting on the history and legacy of Black Canadians around the country. 

Adora Nwofor, president of Black Lives Matter Calgary, says Black History Month originally started as Black History Week to deter from racist practices in the past.

Nwofor says Black History Week was created because people were facing racism, and to deter from Jim Crow era ideals and typical stereotypes. In 1995, Canada voted to adopt Black History Month.

Nwofor says Black History Month continues to be important due to the continuing racist practices in Canada.

“It’s important for Canada to celebrate Black History Month because Black people live in Canada and Canada has practised racism,” she says. “Canada continues to practise racism. Canada practised enslavement.”

Taking a deeper look at the statistics 

The Black Canadian National Survey found that 70% of Black Canadians experience racism regularly, and twice as many Black Canadians reported that they have been unfairly stopped by the police than any other group surveyed.

In addition, the House of Commons released a Systemic Racism in Policing in Canada report that found Black people in Toronto were more likely to be victims of not only police use of force, but excessive police use of force when compared to white people. 

There is no federal database that shows the number of people killed from encounters with police, or that archives data related to police use of force. 

Where there are statistics, those usually come from the private undertaking of researchers, journalists, or organizations — such as the CBC database which stopped collecting data in 2017.

However, that CBC database showed that Black and Indigenous people were severely overrepresented in incidents of deadly force by police.

Nwofor also asks why people wouldn’t want to work to change the story of Black Canadians when they’re still being taken advantage of and appropriated.

“We’re still living in oppression,” she says. “I don’t know why people would not want to just do all they can to change the narrative.”

‘More needs to be done’ 

Nicole Dodd, service design lead for diverse and inclusive service at the Calgary Public Library, says there needs to be more of an effort made in teaching Black history in schools.

“There’s definitely room for improvement in terms of the amount of Black history that’s taught in schools,” she says. “This month is an opportunity for people to learn about the long history of Black Canadians in the prairies, Black Canadians in the Atlantic regions, all across Canada.”

While Dodd says Black History Month is a time to recognize the barriers Black Canadians have broken and what they’ve achieved, she says it also emphasizes how far we need to go for racial equality.

“It’s something that helps us to recognize not only achievements and the hardships of Black people in this country,” she says. “But also to work towards debugging stereotypes and helping to break barriers that Black people continue to face.”

Beyond February 

When it comes to what people should focus on during the month, Nwofor says that those who care about Black history and Black Canadians already know what to do — and it doesn’t end on Feb. 28. 

“And they, quite frankly, should be consistently pushing the narrative that Black people deserve all of their rights, freedoms… We need support, access, and acceptance,” Nwofor adds. 

Something Dodd would like to see, though, is more recognition of the long history of Black Canadians and their contributions to society, as well as a debunking of the myth that Black Canadians are recent immigrants.

“The reality is that there’s a significant number of Black people who are the descendants of some of the first Black settlers in the prairies, for example, who arrived in the early 1900s and whose families still live in this province,” she says.

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Halen Kooper

Halen Kooper is a contributor at Calgary Citizen.

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