By: C Icart, Staff Writer
Another Black History Month (BHM) and Black Futures Month have passed, so, I’m taking this opportunity to reflect on the mixed feelings that often come up for me this time of year.
Even though I’m a Black student, writer, and researcher, I feel like I’ve been less and less invested in BHM as I got older — I’m still trying to unpack why. Growing up, BHM was one of the only times of the year I got to learn about the achievements, contributions, and stories of Black people in school. In my teenage years, I often took the opportunity during BHM to educate others by giving presentations or coordinating activities related to Black history.
February became my cue to tell people who only knew about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. about Marsha P. Johnson, Africville, and Marie-Joseph Angélique. I could keep mentioning names, and I could spend this entire article telling these stories, but frankly, you should google it.
Spending my Februarys educating non-Black people for free — who often don’t understand why it’s even important — is no longer appealing to me. Also, I think that there is still a problem with the way Black history is often taught as something completely separate from other histories like so-called Canadian history. The experiences of Black people in this world are relevant to everyone. This is not a separate history that can be taught as a list of “interesting facts” on top of “mainstream” historical events. Why is slavery, for example, perceived as Black history and not Canadian history? Forced labour is part of what made Canada what it is today. Black history can’t be separated from the broader narrative of Canadian history.
This separation has often made me feel othered. So, instead, I’d rather surround myself with Black community year-round and support their healing and growth as much as they support mine. I had the opportunity to chat with SFU student and activist Balqees Jama who “spent this BHM resting intentionally and basking in joyful moments.” Jama also values connecting with community during BHM. She “took part in community spaces like Couch Jams, which celebrates Black creatives and artists” and spoke at the Vancouver Public Library about Black social media spaces. Jama ended the month “attending SOCA’s BHM Cultural Night, a wholesome night filled with laughter and traditional finery.”
Despite the change in how I approach BHM, I would never argue that we no longer need it. While BHM remains important, there is always the opportunity to learn the history and experiences of Black people as we continue to face challenges like police brutality and the erasure of Black experiences in mainstream education. This year, the month started off with Tyre Nichols’ funeral. Following the circulation of the video of his arrest on social media, his funeral was also televised. This continued the longtime practice of sharing videos of Black death. In addition to ongoing police brutality, there have been continued efforts to remove or at least heavily edit the curriculum for Advanced Placement (AP) courses in African American studies in the United States. In fact, “more than two dozen states have adopted some sort of measure against critical race theory.” This makes it almost impossible to discuss Black History and racism in the classroom.
These so-called “anti-woke” groups exist in Canada as well, and have been applying similar tactics. Groups like “Blueprint for Canada” push for the election of school board trustee candidates that support regressive views. They are often anti-LGBTQIA2S+ and align themselves with figures such as Dr. James Lindsay, a vocal critic of critical race theory, and Bruce Gilley, who has controversially argued for the “benefits of colonialism.” These groups often rely on misinformation “to rebrand bigotry as a resistance movement.” The “wokeism” they claim to be fighting against in schools and society at large is not real, but the right-wing hate for civil rights and social justice is.
This is the backdrop of this year’s BHM: increasing division and campaigns trying to prevent conversations about historic and ongoing injustice. Living in this context is exhausting. So what can be done about this and who is responsible for doing it?
Hiring a Black person once a year for diversity training is not enough. And honestly, this year it feels like fewer and fewer companies are doing that. Many Black content creators have taken to social media to talk about how they are receiving fewer opportunities this year. This year, “the rush of opportunities to partner with brands for Black History Month initiatives — many of which emerged within the past two years, following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 [ . . . ] — appears to have faded.”
When the options seem to be either performative corporate activism or mostly silence, the latter doesn’t seem so bad. Or at least it feels a bit more genuine. Regardless, the outpouring of public support and donations to Black organizations after the murder of George Floyd did matter and it did make a difference.
The month may be over but it’s definitely not too late for non-Black individuals to show up. Don’t rely solely on the Black people in your life to show you the way. Do your own research. As Jama told The Peak, “Every institution has a responsibility to centre Black folks, highlight contributions, and highlight Black histories and futures. It’s 2023 and we’re past ‘listening and learning.’” She added, “Support Black businesses, update your curriculums, and fund Black youth! I also want to remind everyone that Black people deserve respect and support year-round!”
There is so much work left to do to tackle systemic racism in our communities. Public education, donations to Black organizations, support for Black initiatives, having difficult conversations with family members, calling out your friends for saying certain things — even when there are no Black people around — are part of the many ways to fight anti-Blackness. If you need more ideas, you can check out this list.
And if you’re Black and you made it this far in the piece, you really didn’t have to. But I love you and I hope you take care of yourself. If you’re looking for community or ways to get involved in Vancouver, you can check out SOCA and the Vancouver Black Library.
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