– Marco Brasil, staff
In Canada and the United States, February is designated as Black History Month. Britain also has month dedicated to black history, although it takes place during October. It is meant to be a month of national remembrance of important people and events in black history. It began as Negro History Week in the United States in 1926 and took place in the second week of February because this was the month Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and Frederick Douglass, a leader of the abolitionist movement, were born in. It became Black History Month in the 1960s and was officially recognized in Canada in 1995.
During February, different things are recognized, such as African-American Scientists, Poets, Artists, Writers, Entertainers, the Civil War, slavery, and notable speeches by African-Americans that helped African-American rights. At Laurier Brantford, we are celebrating in a few different ways this year.
Laurier Brantford is hosting a scavenger hunt meant to educate students about Black History Month, the seventh annual Beating the Odds Conference, and a Black Think Tank, in which participants discuss different topics regarding the black community as well as racial and societal issues.
Dr. Edward Shizha, a professor at Laurier Brantford teaches a course entitled Race and Oppression. “Having a ‘Black’ History Month trivializes the history and achievements of people of African descent and perpetuates the marginalization of African history on the mainland and in the diaspora, or migration out of Africa. We should not relegate the stories and narratives of African people both on the mainland and in the diaspora to a specific month per year, as if their history is a passing episode,” Shizha says. “By the way, is there a ‘White’ History Month? Why isn’t there one? The reason is that European history is perceived and glorified as ‘the story’ worth telling continuously and uninterrupted, while ‘other’ stories are not worth the continuous attention European history ‘deserves.’ What happens after the ‘Black’ History Month? Do we forget about the event until the following year? African and any other history, for that matter, should be seen as continuous everyday commemorations otherwise we will end up causing distortions, misrepresentations and paying lip service to the history of the oppressed and marginalized.”
While some do feel the same as Dr. Shizha, it can be argued that if we did not celebrate Black History Month, some people would never take the time to get informed about black history. By having a month dedicated to the topic, it tries to ensure that everyone is informed about black history to a certain degree.
Brantford is a city with plenty of black history. In the 1780s, Joseph Brant and his supporters came to the Brantford area and brought some slaves with them. Through marriage with natives, they ended up having families on Six Nations. When slavery was abolished in Canada, the slaves moved to an area near Cainsville. Over the following years, blacks who came to Canada using the Underground Railroad moved to this settlement in addition to Joseph Brant’s ex-slaves. The population grew even more after a school opened up for white and black students in 1838.
Dr. Shizha thinks that anti-racism rallies or marches, seminars on race and ethnic relations, watching and discussing movies or documentaries on the fight for civil rights or on the political careers of prominent African or African-American figures, and reciting important speeches of prominent African figures are some of the most important events during the month.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada states that this year, Black History Month will recognize the bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812 and the contributions of black soldiers in the fight for Canada. And according to CBC, The Canada Post has released its latest commemorative stamps for Black History Month, which this year honour the Alberta rancher-turned-folk-hero John Ware, who established one of the earliest ranches in the future province during the 1890s, and Viola Desmond, who was dragged out of a Nova Scotia theatre and arrested in 1945 for sitting in the “whites-only” section.