Black history goes contemporary

February events aim to have ‘more critical and more anti-racist focus’

Black History Month Co-ordinator Anna Thomas and cultureSHOCK! Managing Editor Christina Hermanns relax in cultureSHOCK!’s art installation in the JDUC. Hermanns designed the installation.
Black History Month Co-ordinator Anna Thomas and cultureSHOCK! Managing Editor Christina Hermanns relax in cultureSHOCK!’s art installation in the JDUC. Hermanns designed the installation.

Black History Month is a time to speak about contemporary issues of race, Black History Month Co-ordinator Anna Thomas said.

“Black History Month is this weird construction that has implications I don’t believe in and the history presented isn’t necessarily an accurate reflection of reality,” she said.

Thomas said Black History Month is often presented in a very positive way and celebrates Canadian multiculturalism while ignoring more negative issues.

Thomas said the story of the Underground Railroad traditionally presented during Black History Month says the railroad ended in Canada which gives an unrealistic perception of what Canada was like for escaped slaves.

“The fact that Canada was the end of the railroad perpetuates the idea that Canada never had slavery or racism,” she said, adding that the story of the Underground Railroad is one problem when it’s presented by itself because negative or contemporary stories are often forgotten.

“It’s presented as ‘underground railroad, people were liberated and here we are in this wonderful multicultural Canada,’” Thomas said. “We’re trying to have a more critical and more anti-racist focus to the month.”

One negative history which is often ignored during Black History Month is about a black community in Halifax called Africville, she said. The residents of Africville paid taxes but didn’t receive services like garbage removal or running water. They were evicted in the 1960s.

Thomas said a documentary about Africville will be playing this month.

On Feb. 18 an event called The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere: Anti-Black Racism Following the 2005 Boxing Day Shooting deals with racial profiling in the wake of the murder of 15-year-old Jane Creba on one of Toronto’s busiest streets in broad daylight.

Thomas said she thinks this kind of event takes a critical look at notions of race and racism.

Black History Month is co-ordinated by the Ontario Public Research Interest Group and Queen’s Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination. Other organizations hosting events are the African and Caribbean Students Association, cultureSHOCK!, the Arts Centre and Immigration Services Kingston and Area and Reelout Film Festival.

Thomas said she’s also planned an Africa Days event with discussions, presentations, a dinner and an African drumming workshop. She said she hopes the event will highlight the potential for Queen’s to create an African Studies department.

Thomas said she thinks Black History Month is very relevant to Queen’s.

“Queen’s as a campus has had a history of racism and ignorance about a lot of marginalized people,” she said.

Many events, such as film screenings and radio programming are geared towards educating the wider Queen’s population.

Thomas said she thinks black students have a different experience at Queen’s.

“It’s important to highlight the history of the people who are usually marginalized in the institution and in the institutions curriculum,” she said, adding that students usually learn about western traditions of art, literature or science and so students of other descent don’t often learn about their heritage.

Thomas said black history is often taken out of context and dehistoricized.

“The place of marginalized voices within the academy is often covered in a cursory way,” she said, adding that instead of learning about black history in chronology like western history there will often be one day out of the year for black history. This pattern is similar in other classes too, she said.

“Students have a right to see themselves reflected in what their learning,” she said. “Black History Month isn’t a solution to the lack of black history within wider disciplines but it’s a start.”

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