Despite gestures and promises of change, Black history remains untaught in most of our schools
If we don’t teach this history, we risk perpetuating systemic racism, writes student Naomi Hudson
In June 2020, at the height of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, I wrote an opinion piece for the CBC about the state of Black Canadian History in British Columbia.
I noted that B.C. was one of the only provinces where Black Canadian history is nowhere to be found in the social studies curriculum and I called upon then Minister of Education Rob Fleming to hold true to his pledge to begin incorporating this integral part of our country's history into the curriculum.
Much has happened since the release of that op-ed regarding the state of Black Canadian history in our province.
In November 2020, for example, the advocacy group Anti-Racism Coalition Vancouver petitioned the B.C. government to make Jan. 15 Black Shirt Day in solidarity with Black Canadians in the struggle against systemic racism.
That didn't happen because the group was not able to meet a December deadline to have the day recognized — though many students and teachers chose to individually participate in the initiative.
But while the recognition of Black Shirt Day from the government would have been meaningful, it would still have only been symbolic. There would be no assurance that students would learn about the rich and deep-rooted history of Black people in our country.
The fact is, at the time of writing, Black Canadian history is still optional in the B.C. curriculum — and I can find only one instance of a course dedicated to Black history in B.C.
In November 2020, the Vancouver School Board approved the creation of a high school level course called African Descent History in British Columbia 12. The course, which includes the history of Black British Columbians from the mid-19th century to the present day, was created in collaboration with the African Descent Society of British Columbia and will be offered in fall 2021.
Unfortunately, I found only one school in the district, Vancouver Technical Secondary School, that, at the time of writing, indicated they actually intended to offer the course in the 2021-22 school year.
This slow pickup in offering these courses appears to be consistent across most provinces and territories, with Nova Scotia continuing to be the only province that offers a province-wide course on Black Canadian history.
And, unfortunately, these challenges aren't unique to Canada. I was not able to find any Western nation where Black history is entrenched in the curriculum.
In the United States, for example, there is very little nationwide consistency in how Black history is taught. Some states mention slavery, while others use texbooks that refer to the enslaved people brought to the Americas during the trans-Atlantic slave trade as "immigrants."
Maryland and Massachusetts are the only two states that mention white supremacy, but Maryland is also one of 16 states that mention "state's rights'' as a reason for the Civil War — a phrase often used by people to try to diminish the integral role slavery played in this conflict.
I recognize that change does not happen overnight, and that there is no such thing as a perfect course. We want to ensure courses like this will be taught in a way that is appropriate and accurate. If done correctly, this will help raise awareness of systemic racism and the struggles faced by their Black peers.
As a recent graduate of the K-12 system, I think learning about the contributions made by Black Canadians to our province and country would have made a great difference to me and my fellow students.
Learning that Canada participated in the slave trade, that Jim Crow-style segregation took place in this country, and that our country continues to have a flawed race-relations record are all topics I believe should be included in an effective and inclusive curriculum.
What I fear is that we will be forever stuck in a loop of promises, symbolic gestures and celebrations of incremental change that ultimately won't result in improving anything.
But if young people are equipped with the knowledge of Black history from an early age, we can combat systemic racism.
After all, when one does not know one's history, one is doomed to repeat it.
Do you have a strong opinion that could change how people think about an issue? Are you a visual storyteller or photographer who can offer insight into a personal story or a community? We want to hear from you. CBC Vancouver is looking for British Columbians who want to write 500-600-word opinion, photo essays and point of view pieces. Send us a pitch at email@example.com and we'll be in touch.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.