Wallowing in ignorance of our Black History


At the end of a public meeting in November last year (2016), a school board trustee in her 80’s referred to a Black woman as a “nigger”.

What are we to make of that incident and the way that it was dealt with by the relevant authorities?

In matters of race relations, Canadian society does indeed suffer from a significant degree of ignorance about Black history and anti-Black racism.

This statement remains true, whether it refers to ignorance of the role and experiences of Black people in Canada’s history or to ignorance of the nature and extent of anti-Black racism in Canada today.

One major consequence of that lack of knowledge and awareness is widespread complacency.

Another common consequence of such ignorance and complacency is that Canadians are frequently so disturbed by the constant excesses of racism in the USA and in the countries of Europe, that we have become accustomed to resting on our laurels, lulled by the readily and snugly accepted idea that racism in Canada is not as serious a challenge as it is in those places.

Then, every now and again, individuals such as Ms. Nancy Elgie, a trustee in the York Region District School Board, shake us out of our complacency, at least for a brief moment.  At the time of the incident ,Ms. Charlene Grant, the woman who was the object of Ms. Elgie’s racist epithet mentioned earlier, was giving an interview a short distance away from where Ms. Elgie was standing and was unaware of the trustee’s utterance until a few days later.

How much does this trustee know of Black history? How sensitive is she to the hurt that her offensive language causes to Ms. Grant and to our Black community here in Canada?

Does she need sensitivity training? Or does she need meaningful education about Black history and the Black experience in Canada and in the world? Or does she need both?

Regrettably, Ms. Elgie, who appears to be of European ancestry, is not alone in her thinking and her “indiscretions”. Lots of persons of varied ethnic ancestries believe that Blacks and other ethnic groups are inferior the Caucasian “ideal”, in terms of both race and culture.

And such prejudices are in part due to ignorance of and disinterest in learning the facts of life. Alternative facts have always been part of human existence.

Even among Black Canadians, there is a certain amount of ignorance about Black history and of disinterest in learning about it.