After dedicating the last 15 years to developing curriculum resources with a focus on Black history, I have decided to launch a website and blog to support fellow educators in incorporating the African Canadian perspective in the curriculum as part of meeting the goals set out in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Realizing the Promise of Diversity: Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy. I want this to be a one-stop site for all things on teaching African Canadian history and advancing the inclusion of Black history, which on a provincial level remains marginalized and stagnant after 30 years of deliberation and policy revision to make the curriculum more inclusive.
Enhancing the inclusion of the African Canadian perspective in the curriculum is essential to promote the ideals of inclusion, diversity, equity, and social justice. Current discussions about equity, inclusivity, and diversity often do not include the African Canadian experience in any meaningful way. One reason is because one cannot integrate the experience of people of African descent in Canada without discussing their experiences of discrimination and the anti-Black racism they experienced in this country. Not everyone is aware of these issues and not everyone is comfortable discussing them.
Teaching about the Black experience opens up a critical discussion about Canada’s history of unequal and unfair treatment based on race. We have to learn about and acknowledge the wrongs committed in our past against Black Canadians in order to understand our present situation. This will enable us to chart a course of social transformation for the future. Engaging in this discussion helps to develop a better understanding of the changes that have taken place in our society and the ability to name and identify the remnants of racism.
People of African descent were among Canada’s first immigrant groups along with the French and English. The Black presence in what we now call Canada spans over 400 years. Like European colonists, Black colonists contributed to the development of our provinces and our nation. Africans imported as enslaved labourers between the 1600s and early 1800s suffered the most inhumane conditions. Those who came to Canada fleeing enslavement and racism in the United States were also subject to racial discrimination and segregation.
There are many important reasons to teach and learn about the lengthy and complex history of Blacks in Canada:
1. Establishes Africans as early Canadian settlers
It is important to establish the historical context of the presence of Africans in early Canada. This locates Africans here as early settlers who worked to build this nation alongside French and English colonists and First Nations peoples and demonstrates how Blacks have continued to evolve and contribute to Canada.
2. Gives voice to a marginalized group
Another significant reason for incorporating the African Canadian experience is that it gives voice to a narrative that remains silenced or marginalized. By adding their voice to the landscape of Canadian history, it expands the paradigm of the Canadian story and provides a more accurate reflection of our history.
3. Helps Black student see themselves reflected in the curriculum
The Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, now woven into the policies of Ontario school boards, calls for students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum through the resources used. However, the African Canadian historical narrative continues to be underrepresented and marginalized in the Ontario Social Studies and History classrooms, contributing to the disengagement of African Canadian students, the persistence of stereotypes of Blacks in Canadian culture, and the public ignorance of the Black experience and contributions to Canada. For students of African descent, who too often experience high levels of disengagement and a widening achievement gap, exposure to culturally relevant resources helps in shaping a healthy self and group identity for African Canadian students. The ways in which the past is engaged impacts identity formation for all students.
4. Helps promote cross-cultural understanding and reduce anti-Black racism
For non-Black learners, the absence of an African Canadian narrative can reinforce a sense of entitlement and superiority over Blacks who have been rendered invisible. This can have far-reaching social implications within the school and in society. Inclusion fosters understanding and respect from non-Black students, while debunking persistent myths of African Canadian history and their presence in Canada.
5. Develops critical thinking skills
Students develop a more critical historical consciousness when they learn about some stories that are not typically told in the classroom or in textbooks. Using the experiences of Blacks in Canada, students are able to recognize the relevance of the historical context of injustice to issues that the Black and other racialized communities experience today. The development of a deeper historical consciousness can motivate people to challenge racism and discrimination, and drive social change.
I have always been passionate about sharing the dynamic history of African Canadians to young people in my classroom, through developing curriculum resources, and improving the achievement gap for Black students through rich, culturally relevant learning opportunities. More recently, I have been facilitating professional development workshops to assist fellow educators in incorporating Black Canadian history in meaningful ways and throughout the school year. This website and blog provides another avenue for me to share my knowledge and interest.
The enthusiasm with which students of all backgrounds engage in these discussions suggests that they welcome and hunger for a more diverse perspective and deeper understanding of Canadian history. The responses, feedback, and inquiries I have received from teachers, parents, and other community members illustrate the need and the demand for the inclusion of the African Canadian narrative. We won’t realize true equity until we do.