BY JUSTIN FORD
Black History Month is a time for those in the black community to reflect and celebrate on how far they’ve pushed the racial barrier that’s harshly – and sometimes violently – divided us all. They will continue to reflect and celebrate this special month until the colour of our skin is as meaningless as the colour of our eyes.
Slavery seems like a thing of the distant past and we often brush it off, not realizing how recently it happened. Humans have been roaming the Earth for millions of years, so when the big picture is really considered, we are just starting to become tolerant, educated and accepting. Sometimes we need to be reminded of just how recently disgusting acts of racism really occurred.
“I had several blatantly racist incidents happen,” said Lee Evans, a 58-year-old biracial woman and graduate of Conestoga College. “A truckload of young guys tried to hunt me down in the streets. I was seven months pregnant. I heard the guy in the truck yell ‘speed up,’ and I looked back just in time to jump out of the way.
“When I was younger I was handing out pamphlets with my family, going door-to-door,” Evans said. “A man came to the door with a beater shirt on and yelled, ‘Get this nigger off my porch.’”
Americans have recognized black history since 1926, dubbing a special week, Negro History Week. Shockingly though, Canada didn’t nationally declare a Black History Month until February 1996. Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society, was the one responsible for pushing the idea through Parliament Hill.
“Black History Month means time to attend community events to celebrate all the good stuff,” Evans said. “Also, to raise awareness that not all the negative media attention is correct and to emphasize the contributions that the black community has made.”
Although Black History Month is a time where the majority of the black community celebrate what they’ve overcome, there isn’t exactly unanimous support behind it each February. Even Morgan Freeman has publicly called it “ridiculous” and questioned why we’ve relegated black history to a single month. He claims black history should be synonymous with American history.
“To me it just means it’s February,” said Dave Needham, a 28-year-old Jamaican-Canadian.
e. Why would it? We don’t really teach Black History Month in high schools in Canada.”
Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are the central figures who come to mind when Black History Month is mentioned, but there are many more historically influential members of the black community who tried to make people realize the colour of our skin shouldn’t separate us.
“I was taught Black History Month in high school, be it very minimally,” said Steve Csanyi, a white male from Woodstock, Ont. “The Underground Railroad being one of the major subjects.”
Born to parents who were former slaves, Dr. Carter G. Woodson spent his childhood working in coal mines in Kentucky. He enrolled in high school at the age of 20, and later earned a PhD from Harvard University.
Woodson was the first black American to challenge the history books and write black accomplishments into American history.
He was also the driving force behind Negro History Week in 1926, and he picked the second week of February to celebrate because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.
Lee Evans, who graduated from Conestoga’s journalism print program, gained some perspective on just how extreme racism can be after interviewing an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor. She said she could empathize, grasp and understand the context of the horrifying things she was told, but there was no way she would ever come close to truly understanding what it felt like to be Jewish then and experience that extreme level of racism.
“The easiest way I can tell you (what it’s like), is if I were to pick you up and drop you in the middle of Kingston, Jamaica,” Evans said. “It’s not that it’s necessarily reverse racism, but it would open your eyes to see what it feels like to be a visible minority.”
Evans stresses that education is the key. She believes the more travelled and educated a person is, the less likely they will be racist or ignorant. She said we must educate ourselves and pass down our values, that’s the only way that racism will ever truly meet its demise. Maybe one day ignorance based on the colour of one’s skin will eventually weed itself out of the less tolerant psyche.
Our society’s ideologies have come a long way since the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but we still have a long way to go.
Evans said until the day the colour of our skin is just as unimportant as the colour of our eyes, we will recognize, acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate the contributions the black community has made in North America, every February – during Black History Month.