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Canadians Learn About Black Culture Not Black History

The Weeknd & Drake
The Weeknd and Drake | © @champagnepapi, Instagram

Let's be real. Everyone knows our superstars. Black pop culture in Canada is now fully on the map. It started decades ago, long before I was running around in my tender years developing an identity. However, Janet Jackson was my first live concert. Michael Jordan was our superhero. And Tupac became my favourite artist.

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While our homebred artists, Maestro Fresh Wes, Michie Mee and a whole string of Caribbean Canadian DJs made Black and Caribbean culture a real live vibe. Yet, the Jean Augustines and the Violet Kings were unheard of.

History classes — like English grammar lessons — are an integral aspect of learning. Just as we learn there is such a thing as "Canadianisms" in English — words or terms native to or used only in Canada — like parkade, washroom, butter tart and so on. We also learn the nuances of our history compared to other countries.

On this Canada Day, we’ll delve into the significance of our history — specifically Black history — to all Canadians no matter their ethnicity and the larger Black community in Canada.

Why Should We Study World History?

Educators and people who support the inclusion of history in school curricula agree on the significance of historical study in how it teaches, enlightens and cautions us about past events to inform the present and the future.

History is our door to knowing what our ancestors were like, how they lived and what events influenced or forced them to act in ways that changed our country’s course. Moreover, studies on world history expose us to the concept of cultural diversity and help us develop cultural awareness.

Historical accounts serve as our country’s (and world’s) repository of memories — our experiences, accomplishments and mistakes — that allow us to understand why things happened and where our history has taken us (present).

With our knowledge of history, we can rectify (or attempt to rectify) past errors, avoid making similar mistakes, plan for our future, create new goals and work toward achieving those objectives.

Knowing about our historical roots also gives us a sense of who our people were and instills a sense of pride, patriotism and even rightful indignation over the injustices committed against our ancestors.

Black woman looking at a monitor screen
© | Pexels

Why Are We Not Being Taught Black History?

Now that we have established that studying or learning about our different histories is important, we can dig a little deeper. Sadly, what we know to be history — the historical lessons we study in school — tells us about events only (or mostly) through the lenses of the status quo; that is, white people.

The conventional history classes we take repeat the same limited or narrowly focused narrative about how Blacks — specifically those from the African continent — arrived on these shores.

In Canadian Black history, The Canadian Encyclopedia provides accurate information regarding the first Black person to ever land in Canada: Mathieu Da Costa. He came to Canada not as a slave but as a free man hired to work as a translator by the Europeans.

While we do learn from history books and teachers about the role of the Blacks in Canada’s history, we’re only given a glimpse of the surface. Much has been censored, edited out or destroyed. Through no fault of their own, our teachers have been merely echoing what "facts" were once chosen to be worthy of mention in historical records or books written by Europeans or white Americans.

The trained eye for bigotry and ethnocentrism is not a skill curricula writers and teachers typically possess as they, too, were taught the same narrative. It doesn’t typically delve into the details of oppressive or genocidal events — especially ones involving Blacks. Names and places may be mentioned, but most of the narrative is reserved for those in power: white people.

This means that, in most cases, we’re only seeing one side of the picture — something we know today as toxic positivity, where the "positives" are emphasized over the negatives at the expense of truth. Very much like the way the lynching of Blacks is not given the attention it deserves in American history.

I had to search out my own history because I wasn't taught about it early on. I got my first exposure to Black history during high school. However, to get the subject accepted in the school curriculum, our Trinidadian teacher had to call it 'world' history. Thus, her students (myself included) were the only ones in the city with a history class that taught us the roots of all races, all people, all humans - African history.

There are ways and means to make changes to what and how history is taught in schools. However, proposing and implementing improvements that show everyone’s role in Canadian history must be immediate. The literature exists, the curricula is there, it is up to the powers to relinquish the status quo that keeps oppressive racist policies in place.

In the meantime, we must take it upon ourselves to dig into our past and lift the veil of historical inaccuracies, as well as deliberate untruths and omissions. There are scores of resources right on our site to begin with if you're not sure where to start.

Black family looking at a photo album
© cottonbro | Pexels

How Has Black Culture Shaped Pop Culture?

I expect my son to know his history from the eyes of various people who experienced it. It wasn’t until high school that I realized I didn’t know my history as a Black Caribbean Canadian. Before that, all I knew about my ancestors came from lived experience, stories, and usually musical celebrations. Some call it the Black Aesthetic, but for simplicity's sake, let's call it Black culture.

I learned quickly that we dominated the arts and sports scenes — the celebrities who excelled in those fields were the only role models we had. If you search for the "most famous Black person in the world" on Google, for example, at least half of those on the list of the top 10 would be celebrities. It's not that the results are inaccurate. The question here is, why are those the results?

I was both an athlete and an artist, so I had an inside peek at the music industry. I learned quickly that we had little power as artists to not be pimped by the record label owners. Likewise, we as a culture greatly influenced the sports industry but were also pimped by the team owners.

Some of my role models were Prince, Iverson and Bob. These legends set their industries ablaze and ushered Black culture into pop culture.

Who would've thought 20 years ago that hip-hop would be mainstream, and white boys could say the "N" word in a concert and not get punched in the face? We're still debating if the "N" word has a place in rap lyrics or an enlightened society, but it's a significant change where all that was once Black culture has now been appropriated fully and become pop culture — including dance, fashion, hair, body shapes and more.

In truth, Black musical culture is one of the only stories we've been allowed to tell for centuries. The most prominent Black people are usually musicians. Music is a noble art form and considered a universal language, and it remains an important element of Black culture around the world. However, it is not the be-all and end-all of Black culture.

To appreciate and understand the role of our musicality in how we developed our identities as members of the Black community, we need to know about our roots. We need to know our role and place in world history as a unique yet rich and diverse community.

For us to fully grasp why the freedoms we enjoy today are so important and why we must continue helping each other achieve our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals, we have to know ourselves in greater depth. This is only possible by studying Black history.

Make a Change in Canadian History

To understand and appreciate our real place in history, safeguard our rights and fight for our goals, we need to understand ourselves and the system. The only way to do that is to know our real, authentic history and to let the rest of the world know about it, too. And it’s not about how much you know — it’s about how much that knowledge changes you; how much you understand by having experiences that change the fibre of what matters to you and why; and what your integrity means and how you show it.

Canada Day is as good a time as ever to commit to change our history books, curricula, and government policies. Let's ensure Black history is included fully in Canadian history, that even our dark past is exposed so that it is not repeated, and Black culture can continue to flourish.

So you ask why does Daphne Magna care so much about curriculum?

There is a wealth of cultural knowledge and understanding in our multicultural communities that have produced professionals in DEI like myself who can guide you.

I am but one example of a Black female leader who founded Tough Convos and became an inclusion specialist in order to offer learning experiences, workshop facilitation and DEI strategy to increase your employees cultural awareness -because none of us learned it in school.

At Tough Convos, we know we can only take a forward-thinking perspective once everyone understands where we started from.

Book a call for additional information or to design a learning experience for your team.


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