History must evolve

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

February 8, 2008 Ed Cartoon

With the onset of February comes the arrival of Black History Month and time to reflect on black history â€" both the achievements and scars of black Americans and Canadians.

The original purpose of Black History Month, as envisioned by its creator Carter G. Woodson, was to recognize the achievements and contributions of black people to American society.

Woodson felt black history and black contributions were misrepresented or ignored, which is why he founded Black History Week (which was extended to a month in the ’60s) in 1926.

Ultimately Woodson hoped Black History Month would become unnecessary and all Americans would recognize African-American contributions as legitimate and integral to American history.

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman echoed this sentiment calling Black History Month ‘ridiculous.’ Black history, he said, is American history.

The penultimate goal then is the equal recognition of black history in comparison to white history.

At the moment, it is difficult to gauge what effect Black History Month has on the psyche of Canadians: there is still a feeling of separateness or otherness for black history â€" it has not yet been integrated into an inclusive Canadian history.

Many Canadians find it difficult to think of prominent African-Canadians, which could be a result of how our history is written.

Often, history is written by the people in power, who can ignore groups pivotal to the development of society. It is thus easy to understand why young black Canadians might not see themselves in mainstream history texts.

However, Black History Month appears to focus more on the African-American experience of slavery and the civil rights movement, which could also contribute to the lack of a distinct African-Canadian history.

It would be nice to hear more about the accomplishments and contributions of African-Canadians.

Canada is still a young country and our history is still unfolding, which could be one reason we don’t hear as much about African-Canadian history. Much of Canada is made up of recent immigrants and our history will be enriched as time goes on and Canadian society evolves.

An integrated history is a long way off though and, until that point, Black History Month is a positive and constructive time to remember black history.

Black History Month provides an opportunity for dialogue on black history and respect for human rights in general; remembering a painful past provides an opportunity to study what happened and ensure it never happens again.

Ideally, Canadian history should be a synthesis and give equal recognition to all groups. Hopefully one day Black History Month will not be necessary since black history is embedded in Canadian history.

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