To be a young Black student in this country, or perhaps to be a Black Canadian in general, is to routinely witness the erasure of your own history. It is quite possible (common, even) to be shuttled through the entirety of one’s school education without ever learning about Canada’s legacy of slavery, or its legislation of Black segregated schools, or anything, really, about Black history in Canada.
Over the last couple of months, the movement to incorporate more Black history into Canadian schools has intensified. Most recently, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) has mounted a campaign urging the Ministry of Education to make changes to curriculum that offer a more comprehensive look at Black history in this country.
This week, the Canadian charity — dedicated to “the study, preservation and promotion of Black history and heritage” — released an advertisement for this campaign called #BlackedOutHistory. The video illustrates what happens when you remove all the non-Black history from a Canadian textbook.
Just 13 of the 255 pages remain.
“Black History is Canadian History,” the video reads at the end. “It deserves to be remembered.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, Natasha Henry, president of the OBHS, said the campaign is an effort “to draw attention to just how little Black History is taught in Canadian schools and to elevate the demand of Black students and Black parents for the government to finally respond to the decades-long push to have Black history part of the mandated learning in Ontario.”
“As part of government responses to calls to tackle anti-Black racism,” Henry said, “the systemic exclusion of Black history from the curriculum across Canada must be addressed.”
What the OBHS wants is for explicit, mandated learning expectations on Black history to be integrated into Canada’s curriculum. Though education ministers and spokespeople have been adamant that the curriculum is already reflective of what’s being demanded in these campaigns, anecdotal evidence from students continues to offer a portrait of a school system that prefers to gloss over Black history, limiting teaching about it either to the month of February, or nothing at all.
Watch: Black Canadian students discuss how Canadian schools can do a better job at supporting them. Story continues below.
In June, following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a number of campaigns emerged with the goal of achieving exactly what the OBHS seeks. Over 40,000 people signed a petition demanding the Ministry of Education immediately address the “overlooked and under-taught” Black Canadian history in Alberta’s schools.
In Ontario, a similar petition started by a former student of the Toronto District School Board surfaced this summer. And in Nova Scotia, a group of educators organized an online program for African Nova Scotian youth that would correct the lack of history education in the province’s curriculum.
“Our children are taught very condensed and untruthful narratives about the experiences of Black people in this place,” Dr. Rachel Zellars, a founder of the African Nova Scotian Freedom School, told HuffPost Canada last month. “We wanted to create an environment where Black children could be centered, and come out knowing their histories, with the confidence to lead in their communities.”
In response to the OBHS campaign, a spokesperson for the Minister of Education said the province already does work “to ensure that curriculum is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the Ontario population.” The statement is at odds with the perspective of the many organizers who have been in these classrooms and have continued their long-standing calls for change.
“As the government continues to respond to concerns of anti-Black racism extending many years, that failure to respond to this concretely is reproducing the very same anti-Black racism that we’re trying to address,” Henry told Global News.
“The social studies history of geography curriculum and the high school history curriculum are due for revision, and so what we would like to see is that, as part of that revision process, the Ministry of Education is bringing on partners — Black scholars, Black historians, people who can help — to contribute to revising the curriculum that includes explicit learning expectations from K through to 12.”