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Children sitting together on the carpet in a crowded elementary school classroom. Photo by CDC on Unsplash.

The Erasure of Canada's Racism in Public School Curricula

Written by
Alicia McLeod
and
and
February 14, 2022
The Erasure of Canada's Racism in Public School Curricula
Children sitting together on the carpet in a crowded elementary school classroom. Photo by CDC on Unsplash.

The teaching of Black History in a culturally responsive way was omitted from the daily experiences of Black youth within Nogojiwanog. As a former student of the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (KPRDSB), my personal experience demonstrated how eurocentric advancements have inculcated educational environments in Canada and how this has, in turn, left tangible consequences on the daily lives of Black youth who flow through the school system. Here, my positionality as a biracial student with predominantly Black characteristics and feminine presentation provided me with a lens that most other students did not have. 

The rich history and achievements of Blackness deserve to be celebrated, but they are omitted within curricula. I argue that excluding Canada's involvement in the transatlantic slave trade from the educational curriculum has left damaging consequences on the lives of Black youth in Canada. Here, I instrumentalize historical data compounded with my personal experiences growing up in Nogojiwanong to describe how this erasure has left Black children underprepared for the systematic forces of anti-Blackness that are utilized against them. Thus, contributing to the purposeful barriers that prevent Canadians from identifying a dire need for change. 

Growing up in the KPRDSB, the topic of “Black History” was rare. If these lessons occurred, they were rooted in a narrative that presented the struggle and strife of the transatlantic slave trade to be limited to the United States. In grade school classes, the transatlantic slave trade was presented as a historical phenomenon isolated to the United States: and the Underground Railroad was historicized into a national self-image that obscured the effects of racism and colonialism through its promotion of Canadian helpfulness and impartiality (McKittrick & Woods, 2007 p.98-99). The erasure of Black history in Canada from the curriculum coincides with the governmental approach of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act adopted in 1971 and institutionalized in 1988. This policy was enacted to support the development of cultural communities in Canada and promote intercultural contact between the differentiating cultures (Berry, 2013). The basis of multicultural values was to be implemented within all Canadian institutions, including education, healthcare and policing etc. Thus, the multicultural narrative created a sense of normality within the Canadian state, establishing it as anti-discriminatory and inclusive of salient differences across visible and cultural lines. Due to the Multiculturalism Act, Canada has received global recognition for being an all-inclusive, multicultural state that functions to benefit all cultural communities. However, the educational environment presents a natural flaw in the multicultural narrative, as the means of education lies directly in covert forms of discrimination that continue to isolate racialized students. Here, the educational environment demonstrates just one manifestation of how the Black body has been entirely erased and re-written by the multicultural narrative (Davis, 2018). 

For instance, it was not until my second year of university that I learned Canada had its ties to the global dispersion of Black bodies through the transatlantic slave trade. This glaring historical omission was reinforced through fourteen years of formalized Canadian education, thus showing the discursive intent to erase the bodily schemas of Black enslaved people. Compared to the rest of the Americas, Canada's enslavement conditions were produced on a smaller scale; this is because Canada's climatic conditions made plantation slavery not only unprofitable but unattainable. However, that did not stop Canada from partaking in horrific formulations of state-sanctioned abuse against the Black identity through the transatlantic slave trade. To put this into perspective, in 1759 there were over 1000 slaves in what is now Quebec; documents of Black enslavement date back to 1749 in Halifax; and in 1783, loyalist settlers fleeing the United States brought approximately 2000 enslaved people to Canada, a substantial number given that Canada had a population of merely 120,000 (Bakan, 2008 p.11). These are merely three illustrative examples and do not represent the totality of the identities of those who were enslaved. 

By failing to implement a proper narrative surrounding Canadian enslavement practices within the curriculum, Canada has received global recognition for its role as the “safe haven” within the Underground Railroad between 1833-1865 (CMHR,2020). The Underground Railroad was an illicit passage that aided escaped enslaved individuals to Canada to be extricated from their former enslaved status. In 1834, under the Slavery Abolition Act, the importation of newly enslaved individuals was abolished in all British holdings, including Canada (Henry, 2020). However, enslaved Black people born in Canada after 1793 were to remain enslaved until they were at least 25 years old. Paradoxically, most enslaved individuals had no knowledge that they had a chance of freedom, meaning that many would remain enslaved for the rest of their lives. Considering such, numerous Black enslaved Canadians fled to the northern United States where the formalized transatlantic enslavement network had already been abolished. This escape is referred to as the 'reversed Underground Railroad,' a narrative that has been obscured within educational practices to maintain Canada's multicultural discourse (Tseghay, 2015).

The omission of Black enslavement practices that occurred on Canadian soil from the formal discussion of Canadian history within educational environments is, in and of itself, an act of violence. For Black children to engage in a history that illustrates the historical treatment of Black individuals in the very location they inhabit is crucial to forming aspects of identity and self. Although the formalized economic network of the transatlantic slave trade was abolished, it has left tangible institutional consequences on the lives of Black individuals globally, including in Canada. To demonstrate this from a personal account, I was underprepared to handle the personal and systemic barriers utilized against Blackness and femininity within Canada, as I was ignorant that they originated in stereotypes constructed within the transatlantic slave trade. I felt the consequences of these historically persistent archetypes; however, I was unable to see them as a structural force that has been weaponized in order to maintain the status quo. Canada's historical anti-Blackness was hidden within my educational journey. Consequently, I began to internalize racist acts and put myself at fault, as opposed to those who were oppressing me. 

In ninth grade, I was approached at Rugby practice by a white teacher. I was told off for wearing the same outfit as every other girl on the field (i.e. a t-shirt and shorts). Although my race was not explicitly stated as a factor in my disciplining, my race was the only thing that differentiated me from my white counterparts. Instead, I was viewed as the stereotypical jezebel, a highly sexualized indicative of Black femininity, signifying her "inherently inferior" status. During the transatlantic slave trade, Black women were represented with an insatiable craving for sex - this was weaponized to justify their sexual abuse at the hands of their enslavers. However, after the formalized network of the transatlantic slave trade was eradicated, the hyper-sexualization of Black women and girls was never resolved and continues to permeate the cultural outlook on Black femininity. 

When I was approached and disciplined, I was not viewed in the same light of innocence as my white counterparts. Instead, I was humiliated for failing to meet her white-washed standards of "ladylike" representation. As a child who was deprived of adequate representations of the history of Blackness within the educational environment, I internalized this expression as an accurate display of how others viewed me. I was the slut, no matter the context, nor the validity of the claim. Here, the role of race raises concerning questions surrounding the policing of Black girls' bodies and how this can affect a Black girl's self-identity. Understanding how Canadian institutions have contributed to the conception that Black women and girls are more sexually advanced can help eradicate this harmful way of thinking (Center, 2019). 

This example portrays how anti-Black racism can manifest in covert and sometimes, undetectable ways - especially within the Canadian education system -and how this can, in turn, leave damaging consequences on the way Black youth navigate within their daily lives. In my case, the KPRDSB is at fault; however, the erasure of Black history from the eurocentric curriculum is a national issue. The exclusion of Canada's involvement in the transatlantic slave trade within the account of Canadian history cost my Black peers and I almost two decades of understanding and a lifetime of un-learning internalized anti-Black racism. Though I graduated from the KPRDSB in 2017 the -history of anti-Blackness in Canada remains erased from the KPRDSB’s curriculum to this day.

To conclude, the exclusion of Canada's involvement within the transatlantic slave trade in the Canadian historic curriculum obscures the racialized forces that have been covertly institutionalized against the Black identity. Thus, Black children are left underprepared for the reality of anti-Blackness set against them within the Canadian state. This is not to say that the advancements and the achievements of Black people should not be celebrated, as that remains another crucial aspect of Black history that deserves to be acknowledged. However, in Canada, the historical subordination of the Black identity deserves representation, and the Black identities who were directly affected deserve to be heard.

References

Bakan, A. (2008). Reconsidering the Underground Railroad: Slavery and Racialization in the Making of the Canadian State. Socialist Studies/Études Socialistes, 4(1). 

Center, B. (2019, February 20). The historical roots of the sexualization of Black Women and girls. blackburncenter. Retrieved February 7, 2022, from https://www.blackburncenter.org/post/2019/02/20/the-historical-roots-of-the-sexualization-of-black-women-and-girls

Davis, A. (2018). “The Real Toronto”: Black Youth Experiences and the Narration of the Multicultural City. Journal of Canadian Studies,51(3), 725-748. doi:10.3138/JCS.2017- 0039.r1 

McKittrick, K., & Woods, C. A. (2007). Black geographies and the politics of place. Toronto, Ont: Between the Lines.

Tseghay, D. (2015, February 15). A forgotten history of slavery in Canada. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://ricochet.media/en/331/a-forgotten-history-of-slavery-in-canada 

Henry, N. (2022). 1793 Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada. In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/1793-act-to-limit-slavery-in-upper-canada

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