Painful truths related to Black History Month

By Michael Lashley

Whether we like it or not, there are some painful truths related to Black History Month that we have to face head on. And starting with my own sensitivities, I have no difficulty accepting it is my responsibility to put these issues down on paper for everyone to see in black and white, if you will pardon the very appropriate pun.

Here are four, loaded with my subjective choice of language.

First, it is a fact that many if not most people do not want to get engaged in communities. I refer here to people of all ethnic, racial and cultural ancestries.

Second, it is also a fact that many if not most Black people do not want to get engaged in the issues and activities of the Black community.

The third truth is less sensitive for me but I am still pained to accept the fact that, for the very reasons that explain those two truths just mentioned, many if not most people are not interested in the question as to how we can make Black History Month more meaningful to ourselves, as individuals and as groups.

As if all of that is not enough pain for us to bear, the fourth truth, in my opinion, constitutes a significant point of order: Black History Month is also supposed to serve the very important function of helping to educate non-black Canadians about an important part of Canadian history and identity, and about an important part of world history. I might add for good measure that Black History Month is meant to include the current realities of the Black community’s place in the present and to highlight all Canadians’ role in building Canada’s future in an informed and diversity- inclusive way.

On the basis of those four truths, let us take a look at the consequences that arise. For a start, the commentary by my colleague Oscar Wailoo in last week’s Caribbean Camera is not a condemnation of Black History Month but rather a criticism of the tendency to undervalue the concept of Black History Month

I interpret Oscar’s column as saying that we must not limit ourselves to listing who was the first Black person to do this or that. The more relevant issues are: what is the significance of achieving this or that and what are the lessons to be learned from the who, what, when, how and why of that particular achievement.

Furthermore, as members of the Caribbean Camera’s Editorial Board, Oscar and I know there is unanimous agreement within our board that our newspaper should stimulate, promote and publicize the principle and practice of both critical thinking and community building.

That is why I took the trouble to ask two active members of our Caribbean community in the GTA for their personal views on the contents of last week’s editorial entitled Building the Future with Black History.

One zeroed in on the massive undertakings identified in that editorial and was in favour of narrowing our focus to a project that is more manageable in size and more realistic in its financial implications.

She was suggested we draw up a proposal for a facility to house, archive and display all aspects of our Caribbean Carnival Arts. The facility is to be an educational resource for the public, students and researchers, as well a major attraction for local and international tourism. It must also highlight the fact that in the Caribbean and in Caribbean communities around the world, our carnival arts engage persons of all the ancestries that have enriched and continue to enrich our daily Caribbean lives.

The second activist shared that same twin-purpose approach of public education and tourism but he preferred to go for a much larger undertaking: a world class Centre for Black Culture and the Arts.

In his opinion, such a top-quality facility would showcase the diversity within our Black community, our varied culture, abilities and contributions; where we came from, where we have gone and where we are going. It should be essentially a project heavily influenced by our young people, a project in which their creative minds are engaged and in which they are continuously experiencing a learning process.

Our community, including our youth, should develop and build this project, using existing technology and creating some technology of our own. The project should also serve as a bridge for our young people to adapt comfortably to the duality of their Caribbean and Canadian identities.

Thank you, Bev and Lloyd.  Let us make it relevant then make it happen!

Michael Lashley
Michael Lashley