Black History Month has not yet found its true vocation in Canada.
The reasons for this are many, but it is clear that two of the most commonly agreed objectives of Black History Month have been receiving more attention that the others.
For example, Canada Post deserves commendation for its recent decision to issue two 2018 postage stamps commemorating the achievements of Lincoln Alexander and Kathleen “Kay” Livingstone. These are two Black Canadians who have blazed trails for other Blacks to follow and whose immense contributions are a source of inspiration to our Black community, particularly our young people (in the case of Alexander) and our Black women (in the case of Livingstone).
That Canada Post initiative effectively addresses two of the generally accepted objectives of Black History Month. It inspires Black persons by instilling in them greater awareness and pride in their Black heritage. It also serves to educate the wider public about the past and present realities of the Black experience, including the very positive role of Black persons in Canadian and world history.
But, there are at least two other major objectives which should be built into Black History Month in a structured and strategic manner.
One such concrete objective is the systematic opening up of pathways for Black persons to reach their full potential in both their careers and their personal lives. This noble mission, which includes the fulfillment one seeks in one’s family, social and cultural environments, in one’s hobbies and personal interests, relates to a critical factor in meaningful living.
As our Black community moves forward in that direction, Black History Month is the ideal time to collate, analyze and evaluate the data that will tell us whether we are making any significant progress.
For that purpose, the criteria and targets that we set every year can be applied to reviewing the thousands of initiatives that are implemented throughout the year by individuals, community organizations, private sector companies and the three levels of government. The review process will provide a clearer picture of the changes and strategic re-alignment of approaches that are required for greater effectiveness and efficiency.
At least one more objective needs to be given higher priority in our agenda for Black History Month: our pursuit of equitable treatment in all aspects of life.
How do we devise a structured and strategic approach to reining-in the anti-black racism which remains a painful reality in Canada?
Notwithstanding the racist attitudes and behavior of individuals, how do we address the anti-Black racism that is systemic, that is ingrained in the operational principles and practices of the society itself?
Furthermore, how can we deal with something like racism, if so many powerful segments of the society in which we live refuse to acknowledge it as the social illness that it is?
Those questions also remind us that Canada is a political entity whose colonial and post-independence existence was grounded in racism against the Indigenous peoples. The latter were dispossessed of their lands, freedom, culture, sovereignty and of their socio-economic and governance structures by the European settlers and colonial powers.
Canada has made some progress in anti- racism in recent decades. There have been official investigations, public acknowledgement, and formal apologies by the federal government for racist acts and policies in the two centuries of Canadian statehood. In a few cases, financial compensation has been paid to ethnic communities victimized by government policies.
But, too much racism still remains.
We will know when we shall have reached the next historic milestone. That will be the time when we see a massive anti-racism movement flooding the streets of cities and towns worldwide.
It will involve the shaming of racists, racist practices and racist policies with the same intensity and consistency as we are shaming sexism, sexual harassment and sexual violence in today’s workplace, in today’s entertainment and sport industries, and everywhere else in today’s world.
Let us start by challenging ourselves to take action on the basis of one simple truth. That simple truth is: the establishment and celebration of Black History Month is an excellent initiative, but its true potential is yet to be realized.
One would like to think that our community organizations have the political will and the visionary capacity to lead the way so that the whole Black community can get to work on realizing the true potential of Black History Month.