GRAPHIC BY SARA SHEIKH / THE SPUTNIK PHOTOGRAPHY
When asked to summarize Canada’s history curriculum, students commonly mention topics like World War One, The Holocaust and Jacque Cartier’s arrival in Canada.
Black history month, seems to be the only time that students are exposed to a part of Canadian history that is often overlooked. However, it seems to always be the same events and people we are told about and it is often focused on the American perspective.
Rosa Parks is infamously known for refusing to give up her seat to a white man in Alabama.
What many Canadians do not know is that we have our own “Rosa Parks,” except her name is Viola Desmond.
A decade before Rosa Park’s refusal, Viola Desmond refused to give up her seat to a white man at a movie theatre in Nova Scotia.
Another Canadian Black activist that students were never taught about is Winston LaRose, a Toronto native. LaRose has dedicated his whole life to empowering Canadian Black youth.
In the 1990s Black students were being pushed out of mainstream public schools and being labelled “dangerous,” or “troubled.” Unfortunately, these labels are still commonly associated with Black youth today.
LaRose advocated for these students and founded the Jane-Finch Concerned Citizens Organization (JFCCO), which helps Black Canadians navigate issues like police brutality.
Students are rarely told about Black history events that occurred in Canada, which is problematic because the whole point of teaching history is to prevent the same mistakes of the past from occurring again.
Regis Korchinski-Paquet was a Black Canadian woman who fell from her balcony while Toronto Police were in her home last year. Her family has yet to receive any answers as to why this occurred but police brutality is suspected.
Paquet is one of the thousands of Black Canadians, Indigenous people or people of colour (POC,) who fall victim to institutionalized racism.
Canadians need to be taught about Canada’s racist past and present or else things will never change.
Canadians often brag about being different from the United States, but racism is just as alive in Canada as it is in the south. If anything, it can be argued that it is worse in Canada because of how hidden it is.
Chisom Okwudii is a Black Student Collective (BSC) event planner on the Brantford campus who has been exposed to both the Canadian and Nigerian educational systems.
Okwudii completed grade 12 in Hamilton and took a history class.
“I was just taught about the Holocaust […] I don’t recall learning any Black history though,” said Okwudii.
Her experience was also similar to the education system in Nigeria.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t taught anything on Black history in Nigeria. We didn’t even have a history class, to begin with […] I think this is typical for most African schools because racism is not something we experience in our daily lives. Except for South Africans who have white people and a history of apartheid.”
Apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning “apartness,” and it refers to the South African legislation that institutionalized racial segregation. This system supported an all-white government and segregation up until the ’90s.
Despite the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa, poverty, unemployment and discrimination is still a reality for many Black South Africans.
This mirrors the situations of various African decedents around the world, such as Black Canadians as they still face repercussions from a segregated past.
Okwudii thinks the reason why Black history is not taught in most countries is that governments fear reparations.
“They want to make us forget our history so we don’t seek reparations. In Nigeria, I believe they don’t place much importance on Black history because they don’t want to talk about their role in the slave trade,”Okwudii said.
The whole point of teaching history is to prevent the past from repeating, and at best students in Canada get a watered-down version of Black history during the month of February.
Black history month is a good start, but in order for racism to cease to exist in our country, students need to learn about it early on and more frequently.
When asked when she thinks schools should introduce Black history, Okwudii said, “As early as kindergarten […] although young Black kids don’t necessarily know the difference between themselves and white kids, the rest of the world can clearly differentiate them. Racism doesn’t see age, unfortunately.”
“POC’s of different ages go missing and die all the time. It’s important that we learn Black history to enlighten Black people and hopefully show white people how not to act,” said Okwudii.
Just like how the Holocaust or Columbus arriving in America is taught, Black history needs to be an area of focus during history class or else Canada will never become the inclusive and racism-free country it claims to be.
Noma Khosi, an event planner at BSC, says her high school in Mississauga did an amazing job at educating kids about Black history month.
“They genuinely did a good job in educating us on Black history and Black culture around the world,” said Khosi.
The main reason that Khosi’s school did an amazing job at educating kids was that Canadian Black history was consistently taught throughout the year, not just during February.
“For Black history month, we often had guest speakers who shared their knowledge and experiences concerning issues revolving around Black people. We often watched documentaries about Black history in many classes and this was not only during Black history month but throughout the entire school year,” said Khosi.
With the consistent exclusion of Canadian Black history from Canada’s curriculum students are being cheated of the full story. It is important to teach students about Black history because it is Canada’s history.
Between institutionalized racism, police brutality and the effects of our history of racism it is essential to consistently educate students on Black history so that we do not repeat the past.