Dr. June Francis speaks on anti-Black racism in Canadian schools and universities

The event was hosted by BC Black History Awareness Society

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portrait of Dr. June Francis
PHOTO: Waltraud Greif

By: Yelin Gemma Lee, News Writer

BC Black History Awareness Society hosted Dr. June Francis, associate professor at the Beedie School of Business, for their Black History Month opening event. Her lecture, “History of Anti-Black Racism in Schools and Universities,” focused on historical and current case-study examples of institutional anti-Black racism in Canadian education. 

“We were intentionally erased from the history of this country in the same way that we have been erased from the history of the world in many areas because it was an intentional part of the colonial strategy,” said Francis. “From the time that we were liberated and before, we know slaves fought for the right to be educated. So this fight is not a new one, but it continues.”

Francis explained how the myth of white superiority shaped colonial education logic. She said the narrative of an advanced and enlightened Europe was made possible by ideologies of white superiority by scholars such as Voltaire and David Hume.  

“Anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism were intentionally there to support colonization. It was there to promote ideologies to dispossess Indigenous communities globally [ . . . ] and to justify Black subjugation and slavery,” said Francis. 

She emphasized Canadian curriculum at all levels of education needs to stop teaching Black inferiority, which is “not only done by exclusion, by who tells the story, but by how we tell a story.” Francis explained she was not taught the historical significance of Black success. “When I grew up, I thought William Wilberforce was who ended slavery. That was the narrative I was taught,” she said. Francis explained she later learned about Sam Sharpe, who “led one of the major slave rebellions globally.” 

She called for stories of Black heroes, resistance, and excellence to be embedded into education. “When I look at these beautiful young children seeing [Sharpe] as their hero, it just makes my heart glow.” 

Francis also noted key names who are a part of Canadian history such as Leonard Braithwaite, Canada’s first Black member of provincial parliament who moved the motion to end segregated schools in Ontario. 

She reminded the audience that the last segregated schools in Nova Scotia closed in 1983, only 39 years ago, and still exists today in the form of de facto segregation. She explained de facto segregation takes place when there is a high concentration of white and wealthy students in certain areas. Francis called for an examination of what these schools teach such as offering ballet versus African dance.

Francis also noted contemporary news stories of racism experienced and condoned in schools. She cited the fight to have the Cecil Rhodes sign removed from a Vancouver elementary school yard and said, “What’s missing behind these stories is the work and advocacy that still primarily rests on the backs of the Black community.” Cecil Rhodes was a 19th century politician and businessman in Southern Africa whose white supremacist beliefs and policies gave him the title “architect of apartheid.” 

She brought to attention the field of marketing and its history of racism in the form of advertisements that promote racism to a mass audience. 

“I entered a field of marketing and realized my own education did not address the ways in which advertising promoted racism as part of the foundation of the very discipline I was a part of,” said Francis. “I collected this work myself because I wanted my students to understand that when you see racism in advertising, it’s because it was foundational to its intellectual origin.”

Francis said the Scarborough Charter is a source of hope and opportunity as “it calls on universities and colleges to commit to promoting intersectional Black flourishing.” Some of the commitments include collecting “race disaggregated data,” supporting Black research, Black representation across all university levels including senior administration positions, and support for Black caucuses and student organizations. On November 21, 2021, SFU signed onto this Charter.

“We need to go up a steep hill because we have a long way to go and a short time to get there. Let’s make this as steep an incline as we can. We must go on and build on the work and remember the work that has been going on for decades in this province,” said Francis.

The recording of this event can be viewed on the BC Black History Awareness Society’s Youtube. For more information and upcoming events by BC Black History Awareness Society, visit their website.