Black History Month

Jessica Ackerman Graphic Design Portfolio

Canada’s documented history tends to leave out details that don’t align with the current reputation as multicultural pioneers, tolerant of all newcomers to our country.  When we delve into our country’s history, even our province’s history, we leave out the parts about the racism, prejudice and segregation. In Alberta, elementary and junior high students are only exposed to a small amount of black history which is focused on the Underground Railroad. It is high time that we taught history from an intersectional approach, a term coined by a black woman named Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, that acknowledges there are multiple and intersecting forms of oppression and discrimination.

It was 1947, in a dark movie theatre, Canada was, again, confronted by its racism that found a woman being forcibly removed and arrested. Her crime? Tax evasion in the amount of one cent after sitting in a ‘whites’ only section of a movie theatre. Her punishment? Spending the night in jail and paying a fine 2000 times more than the province was defrauded. Viola Desmond, oftern referred to as Canada’s Rosa Parks was the first black woman to legally challenge racial segregation in Canada, Until 2016, when Viola was announced as the first woman on a banknote, history forgot this story.

History is often written by the ‘victors’ and overlooks the impact of marginalized communities. For example, we don’t teach about Alberta’s dark history with African, Caribbean and Black Canadians. Few know that Alberta was the only province to legally recognize the Ku Klux Klan, who used to openly meet in Edmonton or that Albertan politicians infamously said there should be “no more dark spots in Alberta”.

However, history took a different turn this week with Alberta honouring the history and contributions of African, Caribbean and Black Canadians by officially declaring February Black History Month for the first time. The proclamation makes Alberta the fourth province in Canada to recognize Black History.

The black community’s historical presence has had a substantial impact on Alberta from Violet King, the first black female lawyer in Canada who graduated from the University of Alberta, to John Ware and his contributions to the Calgary Stampede. We write out how many smaller Alberta towns owe their start to black immigrants seeking better lives with many escaping religious persecution or fleeing racism and violence. Particularly those coming from the United States who were leaving a country where they were oppressed and the victims of racial violence like lynchings.

We must look at our history with the intent to learn more in order to avoid repeating past mistakes. Collectively remain vigilant and aware of the deep seeded prejudices we may have based on a history we may not understand. Our province’s strength comes from its diversity. Despite the rich stories that exist from all communities, we know that history wasn’t written to reflect everyone’s experiences, so those who identify as a visible minority remain invisible, especially women.

At YW Calgary, through our work we demonstrate an inclusive and anti-oppressive approach. Women have the opportunity to engage based on their social identities and experiences.  We welcome all women, and their families and believe that our community is that much healthier and stronger when we embrace diversity.