Special Feature: I speak to the BC Humanist Association

Last week I gave a 20-minute presentation to the BC Humanist Association on the importance of understanding Black History. It is a longer version of last Monday’s post, given to about 30 Humanists at one of the Association’s regular meetings. The point I was trying to get across is that it’s important to study our history honestly, as it can help us adapt to challenges we face today, and those we will face tomorrow.

The video is below the fold: [Read more…]

Black Canadians: where, when and why

This is the second in a series of posts I am writing in my annual commemoration of Black History Month. My inspiration, and source of historical material, is a book by Joseph Mensah called Black Canadians: history, experiences, social conditions. As I work my way through the book, I will be blogging my reactions and things that stand out. You can read the first post here, and its follow-up here.

Mensah spends some time reviewing the causes of emigration from countries, and immigration to Canada. The relevant factors are the usual suspects: political instability, economic strife, security concerns – nothing particularly surprising. Considering the post-colonial disaster that is much of the African continent and the Caribbean (another major source of black immigration to Canada), it should also surprise nobody that black immigration into Canada has been happening at a steady pace as a main source of skilled and unskilled labour.

And it that case it should surprise you that black immigration into Canada has been a feeble trickle throughout its history. In fact, of the ~400,000 black people who have immigrated to Canada since such records were collected, more than half have entered since 1991. You remember 1991, right? First Iraq war, Sonic the Hedgehog, Rodney King, Smells Like Teen Spirit? That’s also the year that Canada passed the ‘halfway’ point for black immigration.

Understanding why this startling (to me, at least) fact exists is contingent upon accepting the reality that Canada has been, since its beginnings, an institution steeped deeply in the attitudes of white supremacy. Even after the era of slavery, Canada did not simply shuck its attitudes about the inferiority of black people. We continued to be a country with racism woven into our very fabric. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Ten OTHER Things Martin Luther King Said

Because it’s Black History Month (and because I can’t get enough Jay Smooth), here’s a few choice quotations from one of the greatest Americans to ever draw breath.

He could be speaking to our time right now. In fact, he is – these themes are eternal and will not die as long as we fail to learn from them. While it is convenient and gives us fuzzy feelings to think of Martin Luther King Jr. as a patient saint who had a colourblind dream, such fantasy robs us of a much richer portrait of a tireless warrior for equality who refused to capitulate to the status quo.

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Black History in Canada: some interesting stories

It is easy for me to stand up and insist that you all go learn about black history. The fact is, however, that I am mostly chiding myself for my own ignorance. After all, it wasn’t until relatively recently that I took an active interest in black history beyond whatever tidbits I could glean from organizations with a mandate for education. As a result, reading through Mensah’s book, I’m learning quite a number of surprising and fascinating things.

Canada has a hundred-year history of black slavery

“It was towards the end of the seventeenth century that acute labour shortages prompted the importation of Blacks in significant numbers. And, as Walker (1980: 19) points out, ‘from then until the early nineteenth century, throughout the founding of the present Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario, there was never a time when Blacks were not held as slaves in Canada.” (p. 46)

The narrative we pick up from the little black history we learn in school is that Canada was the promised land at the end of the Underground Railroad. The truth is that Canada, like most of the colonies (and, by extension, Europe), was built using slave labour. Much of this labour was carried out by African slaves. This was happening during the same point when the original provinces were coming into existence, and yet even the existence of these slaves is omitted from the account. [Read more…]

Understanding black history

This is the first in a series of posts I am writing in my annual commemoration of Black History Month. My inspiration, and source of historical material, is a book by Joseph Mensah called Black Canadians: history, experiences, social conditions. As I work my way through the book, I will be blogging my reactions and things that stand out.

Imagine for a moment that you were stranded in a lifeboat somewhere in the ocean. You have no way of knowing which direction the land is, but if you have any chance of reaching safety, you’ve got to start paddling somewhere, right? What piece of information would be useful for you to have?

Aside from “which direction land is in”, you would probably do pretty well knowing which direction you came from. You may be too far out to be able to paddle back, but you could possibly move forward in the correct direction. Simply paddling forward without keeping track of where you’ve been could have you going in circles indefinitely.

Such is how we have to understand our own history. We cannot (or should not) pilot a safe route forward if we don’t take time to reflect on how we came to be here. This is certainly true of all history, but it has a particular relevance to black history. After all, while the historical contributions and narratives of minority groups within Canada are generally under-represented in classical narratives of Canadian history, that may be no more the case than for black Canadians. [Read more…]