Black History Month in the Canadian Context

As we are in the month of February, Trent is recognizing Black History Month with a series of events including lectures, discussions, concerts, and performances, as it is recognized across the country.

As a history major at Trent, I have a deep appreciation for history, particularly the sides of history that people prefer not to talk about because it doesn’t paint certain people in the best light or it’s deemed too controversial.

For those reasons and more I completely approve of Canada’s following in America’s path of having a month dedicated to “Black History”. Too often, Canadian history is made to be a series of chronological events depicting the actions taken by a select number of white men, from Jacques Cartier and Sir John A MacDonald to Mackenzie King and Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Canada is made out of more than these figures.

However, I don’t believe that February should be the only month out of the year where other groups are focused on in terms of what they have brought to our country.

Why only this one month? Why only “Black History”? Surely there are many groups who have accomplished great feats and played important roles in Canada’s history? What about women’s history? Aboriginal history? Chinese Canadian history? Jewish Canadian history? Irish? Italian? German? Japanese?

There are countless groups, some who made larger impressions than others, but nonetheless many who had large impacts on Canadian history. Should their contributions be ignored?

I know, I know – I know exactly what you’re going to say. There’s already Women’s History Month in October and Aboriginals’ History Month in June! Really? Had you only heard about it vaguely and had to Google it to find out the exact month? Because I did.

Canada has formed a habit of following the United States of America which, it could be argued, is the reason why there is a Black History Month in the first place. Such an influence was hard to avoid given that we share quite a long border, but does that mean we as a country have to copy their every move?

Canada has remained separate from America in one very fundamental way, in that it is not a melting pot where culture and language melt away, but rather forms a mosaic of countless countries where one can be proud to speak another language and follow different traditions.

This should be reflected in the way we think back on our history, because looking at it now, you would think that it was mostly French and English guys with a couple Aboriginals sprinkled here and there.

Clearly we need to make more of an effort to properly address these already existing “History Months” and, in my opinion, consider adding a couple more. Canada is so much more than French, English, and some Aboriginals too.

You look around at other people on the bus and no one looks quite the same. We aren’t a physically uniform country and we never will be but that’s not a bad thing.

We are Canada, a people from many backgrounds, and we should celebrate that more in our remembrance of our great history.