For the past 28 years, Canada has officially celebrated Black History Month with events, festivities and activities that highlight and honour Black Canadians and their communities. Yet even in 2023, many myths and misconceptions persist. Here are 5 Myths to confront, examine, and challenge during Black History Month and beyond.
1. Black History Month is About Acknowledging Slavery
- While it’s important to acknowledge the oppression faced by the Black community, it should not be the only topic of discussion during Black History Month
- Black history is so much more than just oppression; it’s also about focusing on Black joy and empowerment
- Remember, Black history existed before, during, and after slavery
2. Canada Has No History of Oppressing Black Communities
- Systemic racism exists in Canada
- In fact, Canada has a history of slavery that many Canadian political leaders have neglected to apologize for, or even acknowledge
- Consider the idea that once Black slaves were able to escape the USA, they were “forcibly displanted” into Canada rather than “settled”
- In the early 1600s, New France held over 3,000 slaves that were mostly Indigenous people, but due to the transatlantic slave trade, one third were Black people who were slaves
- Indentured servitude existed in Canada where someone could sign a contract for unpaid labor in exchange for food and shelter; however, once they had children, those children were also considered to be part of that contract
- While indentured servitude was not “technically” considered slavery, Black people were ripped from their homes, with no access to return, no resources, and nowhere to go. Systemic racism played a critical role in this process.
- Consider the story of Africville, Nova Scotia: founded in the mid-19th century, hundreds of Black Canadians built a vibrant, prosperous community. However, the government’s negligent and deeply discriminatory actions led to the town’s decline. In the 1960s the citizens of Africville were relocated without consultation or consent, and without sufficient compensation or support. Their homes were destroyed by the province.
3. The Black Lives Matter Movement is an American Movement
- While George Floyd was murdered in the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement’s ideals are an international feeling
- The BLM Canada movement sets to “actively dismantle all forms of anti-Black racism, liberate Blackness, support Black healing, affirm Black existence, and create freedom to love and self-determine”
- Police brutality is an ongoing problem in Canada, too. BLM Canada holds vigils to demonstrate solidarity to the many Black lives that have been lost due to police brutality in both countries.
- While the BLM movement arose as a response to police brutality, it’s about so much more than that; it’s a movement that seeks to decolonize spaces in which Black and Indigenous people exist
4. Black History Month is Only for Black People
- While Black History Month was established to honour Black people, it’s also for non-Black people to educate themselves on the diverse histories, cultures, and identities of Black communities
- Reading Black authors, listening to Black-led podcasts, watching movies and documentaries by Black individuals, and doing your own research about the month are actions you can take to be an ally during Black History Month and beyond
- Donating to Black charities, supporting Black-owned businesses, creators, and artists is something tangible that people can do to support Black communities year round
- Take the time to recognize your privilege and position of power. People have earned and unearned privileges, and Black History Month is a time to inspect and reflect on this notion.
- This month is an opportunity for non-Black people to recognize that while the past cannot be changed, the future can
5. Dismantling Racism Cannot Be Done by One Person
- While an entire system cannot be dismantled by an individual, anti-racism work can start with one person
- We can all take steps to ensure that we are not engaging in racist behaviour, and take a stand against people who do act in a racist manner
- People can take the time to understand their unconscious biases, their role in activism, and the ways in which they can ensure they challenge racist ideologies.
- Executives, senior leaders, and board members should prioritize implementing DEI policies, and pursuing professional development and training on anti-racism concepts and practices, to ensure that they are building workplaces that are safe and inclusive for everyone.
- It starts with you, and it can affect everyone
This Black History Month, let’s all make space to learn more about the histories and lived experiences of Black Canadians. Let’s challenge myths and misinformation with knowledge and facts. Let’s amplify Black voices, and listen and reflect on their stories. And let’s bring this spirit of learning and growth into our workplaces, communities and homes, throughout February and all year round.