Column: Why I don’t celebrate Black History Month
I know – you read the title and thought, “doesn’t every Black person celebrate Black History Month?”
Let me be clear: I love being Black, I love being a Black woman!
I love the culture I was raised in and still live in.
My mother is from Trinidad and Tobago, and my father is from Jamaica – two Caribbean immigrants who met in cold Canada and started a family.
I have always been taught to take pride in who I am and never to hide it. In fact, growing up, I loved Black History Month! I remember writing a 100-page essay on Malcolm X when I was in Grade 7!
We would have potlucks at school and assemblies that celebrated Canadian Black history every February!
But that’s where it stopped.
On March 1st, we would go back to our textbooks written by white authors that didn’t mention Olivier Le Jeune, Mathieu Da Costa, George Washington Carver, Elijah McCoy, and many others.
We would read about World Wars I and II and yet, not know Indigenous and Black soldiers served alongside the white ones.
It was as if a large part of our history – North America’s history – was redacted from the textbooks we read.
Except, of course, when it suited the dominant culture and made Canada look like the promised land. Mention of Canada’s role in being a haven for those travelling on the Underground Railroad was one of only a few references to Canada’s role in the Black narrative. And yet no mention of Oliver Le Jeune, the first Black slave in New France or Mathieu Da Costa, the Black translator who travelled to the New World. Or how about Mary Ann Shadd, the first woman publisher in Canada – a Black woman who settled here after escaping slavery in the U.S. None of these Black heroes were ever mentioned in the books given to us in history class.
And while that was over 30 years ago, the sad reality is that this remains the same for my children today.
One of my son’s teachers told him that Rosa Parks’s bus sit-in was, “just a publicity stunt.” When my son told me this, I was in disbelief.
So, why don’t I celebrate Black History Month?
Because there is no such thing as Black history if there is no such thing as white history. If white history can be interchangeable with Canadian history, then why can’t Black history? In our attempt to be multicultural, diverse, and inclusive, we need to make sure we hand down a narrative to the next generation that highlights all people – Black, Indigenous, Brown, white…. we all played, and are playing a role in building this country.
There is success in all of our stories; and they all make up this beautiful country we call home.
But a hard question to ask is: “How do we work toward harmony if our history is segregated by the shortest month in the year?”
Mary Ann Shadd’s accomplishment was one that every Canadian should celebrate. Elijah McCoy’s over 50 inventions is a success for all of us. Oliver Le Jeune, the first recorded Black slave in Quebec is a dark part in our history we need to acknowledge.
As part of our history all year long…. not just in February.