[originally posted on SchemaMag.ca]
February is Black History Month in Canada and the U.S. While the history and struggles of African-Americans are much more widely known, African-Canadians do not receive as much attention or awareness as they should.
It is little known that slavery did exist in Canada at one point, and that many British Loyalists (who fled to the Maritimes after the War of Independence in the U.S.) were black. Later on, Canada became a haven for escaped slaves, as slavery was abolished by the Abolition Act in Upper Canada (1793), and the British Imperial Act (1833).
It was in 1995 that Canada’s House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month, following the election of the first black woman elected in Parliament, the Hourable Jean Augustine. In March 2008, the first black senator Donald Oliver started a motion to have the Black History Month officially recognized by the Senate — the motion was passed with unanimous approval.
But the work is not all finished. African-Canadians are still the most commonly targeted racial group for hate crimes, according to a Statistics Canada report in 2008. As recently as last year, the home of the only black man in a small community of Poplar Grove, NS, had a cross burned on its front yard. While Black History Month is a celebration of milestones, it should also be a sobering remembrance of the work that needs to be done to address the inequalities that still exist.
Here are my Canadian content recommendations on Black History Month:
Listen: Cadence Weapon’s music is energetic, fun, and irreverent. He’s remixed music for the likes of Lady Sovereign and Ciara, He is also the current Poet Laureate in Edmonton, and contributes hip-hop reviews to Pitchfork. Here’s one of my favourite songs from Cadence Weapon, “Sharks”.
Read: George & Rue by George Elliot Clarke is a novel inspired by true lives of George and Rufus Hamilton, two brothers who were hanged for the murder of a taxicab driver. Through lyrical prose, Clarke explores the destructive consequences of how subtle and overt racialism and racism around them drives the Hamilton brothers to internalized self-hate and ruin.
Watch: Sisters in the Struggle (1991) is a documentary about Black women activists by Canadian poet Dionne Brand. The women share their stories about growing up in different parts of Canada as black women, and the need for black women solidarity. You can watch the film directly on the National Film Board website at nfb.ca.
Donate: A Past, Denied: The Invisible History of Slavery in Canada is a documentary in progress about the forgotten history of slavery in Canada, by independent filmmaker Mike Barber. The film is still looking for more financial support — donation information can be found here.