British Columbia·Opinion

Black History is B.C. History: We need to give it more than 2 measly paragraphs

I’m a Grade 12 Black student — and I barely learned anything about Black history in class, writes Naomi Hudson.

The integration of Black history education into B.C. schools is long overdue

I’m a Grade 12 student — and I barely learned anything about Black history in class, writes Naomi Hudson. (Supplied)

This column is an opinion by Naomi Hudson, a Grade 12 student in Delta, B.C. who organized her school's first Black History Month celebration. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine this. You are a bright-eyed, curious Black Canadian student in Grade 5 and your teacher announces that your social studies class is going to learn about Black Canadian history tomorrow. How exciting! Up until now, you've learned a plethora of European Canadian history and while you've definitely found it fascinating, you're so excited to learn about the history of your own people.

You arrive at school the next day and your teacher tells you to open your textbooks to page 258. To your dismay, all you see are two measly paragraphs on the page; one about the Underground Railroad and another briefly covering immigration to Canada from predominantly Black countries. You'll probably never have another opportunity to learn about your history at school for the rest of your K-12 education.

Unfortunately, this is the reality for Black Canadian children across British Columbia and across Canada — myself included. Black Canadian history is ignored in our education system, despite the long and intricate history that Black people have in Canada.

If one were to ask the average young Canadian about the history of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia, Canada's involvement in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade or the dismantling of Hogan's Alley in Vancouver in the early 1970s, they probably would not be able to tell you much. This is not entirely their fault, despite the resources available to them to learn about these issues online.

As we have seen in the past few weeks in the wake of the worldwide protests against police brutality against Afrodescendants, there are many Canadians, including those in power, that continue to overlook this country's tumultuous past and present with various minority groups, specifically the Black Canadian community.

When those in positions of great influence perpetuate the narrative that Canada is superior to other countries in terms of our history with the Black community, it gives others, particularly young people, the freedom to ignore these pertinent topics.

Hudson is a student at Burnsview Secondary School, where she organized her school’s first Black History Month celebrations. (Naomi Hudson)

Unhappy with my experience in school, I organized alongside my classmates at Burnsview Secondary School our school's first Black History Month celebration in 2019. The event proved very effective in educating students about all aspects of the histories of their Black Canadian peers.

Students were engaged in all of the informational displays we created for them and even staff members who attended the celebration commented that they left the event more educated about Black history and culture than before.

However, while these kinds of celebrations can be a fabulous starting point in teaching others about Black Canadian history, they alone will not do enough to address the dire need for more education surrounding Black Canadian history on an official, province-wide scale. 

In examining the British Columbian Social Studies curriculum, I failed to find any mandatory mention of the history and culture of Black Canadians. It's up to individual teachers to decide how they will teach concepts of social studies — which means they can choose to drop Black history.

Both the Quebecois and Saskatchewanian Social Studies curriculums are also mum on the issue of Black History education. While other curriculums mention certain issues in Black Canadian history as examples of how to more broadly teach about the history of different ethnic groups within Canada, only Nova Scotia has a section of their Social Studies curriculum dedicated to the history of Black Canadians.

If the past few weeks have taught us anything, it is the importance of education in righting the wrongs done against minority groups. The integration of Black History Education into B.C. schools is long overdue.

Education Minister Rob Fleming has already espoused an interest in integrating Black Canadian history into B.C. schools. We need to make sure we are able to harness this interest and convert it into a tangible and meaningful step in the fight against racism.

Right now, the world is at a tipping point with regards to reconciliation with Black people and other people of colour and we need to make a choice. Are we going to use the momentum from the last few weeks to create positive and lasting change, or will we allow ourselves to return to complacency? 

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Naomi Hudson is a first-year student at University of British Columbia where she studies economics and mathematics. As a Grade 12 student in Delta, B.C., she organized her school’s first Black History Month celebration and has done research on the inclusion of Black Canadian history into Canadian curriculums.