The month of February marks a special occasion...
February has been designated as a month to celebrate Black people and Black achievements in politics, science, business, art and sport. Interestingly, it was originally a week-long event championed by historian and educator, Dr. Carter G Woodson (1875-1950). This tradition has been preserved in the United States, most notably in 1976 when it was expanded from a week to a month during the US Bicentennial.
|Charles Alston's Cartoon - New York Historical Society|
The tradition of Black History Month in Canada is much more recent. Jean Augustine, the first African-Canadian woman elected to Parliament, successfully gained national recognition for Black History Month in Canada in 1995. More on her here. Last February, Augustine appeared on The Agenda and took some time to reflect on the 20th anniversary of Black History Month.
Four takeaways from the video:
1. It is somewhat baffling to hear about Rosemary Brown's image on a stamp, and then to think about Viola Desmond on a $10 Bill. Things certainly have changed in a year!
2. Paikin asks "Is there one thing in particular, that you think Black History Month has failed at?"
Augustine responds with the need for Black stories to be interweaved within the existing narrative. Black stories should not just be mentioned during Black History Month, they need to be mentioned throughout the course of the year. Also, when Black stories are incorporated they should be treated as historical issues with equal weight. Sidebar anecdotes do little to create more accurate and inclusive narratives. Some dissenting opinions on Black History Month, (the film More than a Month as an example), directly address the need for systemic change. This is connected to emerging ideas that seek to shift away from surface-level diversity to sustainable models of inclusion.
3. There is much work to be done, but we are taking important steps. The strong activist environment is discussed. Researchers in archives and museums are mentioned explicitly. These platforms for inclusive practices matter as much as textbooks as we move toward a more complete understanding of Black history as part of Canadian heritage.
4. Lastly, widen the circle. Augustine affirms, "this is Canadian history and it is our history." This February I encourage you to explore the multitude of Black History happenings, giving special attention to the voices and the messages. I have included some links below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. There is a wide range of activities going on both inside and outside of museums.
Seek them out. Learn their stories. Participate not only this month, but in the months to come.
(February 2-26, 2017)
(February 4 - September 3, 2017)
What Black History Month event are you most looking forward to?