Volume 90, Issue 82

Thursday, February 20, 1997



Claiming our space

By Pamela Rwankole
Gazette Staff

Canada has often been described as a multicultural society. However, one could argue that the true meaning of multiculturalism – respect and equality – has been lost. It has simply become a euphemism for a less-than-accurate situation in Canada.

Consider a scenario in which a group of university students is formed with the intent of discussing history. If each individual was asked to name five to 10 important people of another culture, most non-white people would know more about white Canadian or European history than the contrary.

It is still surprising when people ask when Black History Month is. Important dates in other cultures should be common knowledge to all.

If this does not convince you, consider your education throughout school up to the university level. In grade school and high-school, you learned about Cartier, MacDonald and Laurier. However, did you ever learn about the contributions of Japanese-Canadians, natives, African-Canadians and other minorities? In a truly multicultural society, the entire contributions of minority peoples should not be absent from Canadian history textbooks.

At university – a place of higher learning – one hopes these omissions will be corrected. However, this is often not the case. Many history students have found the situation disappointing – there are scant references in the index of textbooks of minority group history.

When one investigates black history, one may find a vast collection of black history that transcends the slave experience. Many contributions by blacks are not common knowledge. Who knows that blacks contributed to the development of Egyptian, Aztec and Greek civilizations? Egypt, one of the greatest civilizations in history, was ruled by black people such as Cleopatra and King Tut, yet this historical fact has been overlooked.

How many of us still believe that African history began with slavery? How many of us are aware of the wealthy kings and queens that ruled Africa, or the trade between Africans and South Americans pre-dating Columbus?

Our history has either been omitted or distorted. This is a disservice to all humanity because if we don't have knowledge of the different cultures in this world, we cannot fully respect and appreciate them. Multiculturalism is about respect and appreciation.

The importance of Black History Month is not an issue of black and white, but rather, a claiming of our space in history. Black History Month should be a celebration for all people regardless of colour, race or religion. In a truly multicultural society, every important celebration of any culture would be a celebration for all Canadians. Let's not just talk about equality, respect and other "feel-good" terms – let's act on multiculturalism.

To Contact The Features Department: gazfeat@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997