Each February, we observe Black History Month to celebrate and remember that Black history is Canadian history, Black culture is Canadian culture, and Black experiences and achievements are essential to the ongoing story of Canada.
But it hasn’t always been seen this way. Federally, it has only existed since 1996. In Alberta, Black History Month in Alberta was only first recognized in 2018.
Highlighting Black history today is vital to understanding ourselves as Canadians and growing stronger as a nation.
There is a concerted attack on Black History because our story is one that would upend most people’s perspective of themselves across the Americas. Just in October, there was an attempt at the UCP AGM to ban the teaching of anti-racism in our schools.
Thankfully it failed.
However, internationally these pushes have seen success. In Florida, the teaching of AP African American history has been banned because it, “significantly lacks educational value.” Imagine saying your own history lacks educational value.
All around town, I am still receiving reports of white supremacist material being stickered, or distributed in our neighbourhoods.
I want to speak of Black joy and Black excellence but there is an attack on the teachings of Black History and the realities of today that cannot go undiscussed. We need to come to grips with the sobering realities of our past if we are to honour our present.
Racism rears its head every time an individual uses the word “woke” to deride any progressive movement because they are, in fact, deriding concepts founded in the study of Black intersectional feminism while simultaneously mocking Black culture by co-opting language in an effort to trivialize the concerns of the marginalized.
A very long road to being anti-racist: Walcott
Calgary is the third most diverse city in the nation. Calgary and Alberta have sizeable Black populations. One-third of Black Canadians live in households where it is difficult to meet their basic financial commitments.
But sitting in this room, as a councillor with you all as my peers, it is clear to me that we have a very long road to meeting the call of becoming a group of anti-racist individuals, let alone a council, let alone administration, and let alone a city.
Three years ago, I did not imagine being here in this seat. Instead, I was a teacher who signed up for the anti-racism hearings as an advocate hoping to get an idea across to council at that time.
I wanted that council to know they had blood on their hands. I want this council to know that we have blood on our hands.
By sitting in these seats, by wielding the powers that we have, we have the power to heal, but we are also practitioners of violence, both physical, emotional, and psychological.
During my speech in 2020, I compared our role now to that of a judge. A judge has to be keenly aware that a swipe of their pen, one way or the other, is to authorize an act of violence or to authorize an act of compassion.
They wield this pen knowing that their decisions will be carried out by actors who have been given a monopoly on state-sanctioned violence. And thus, it is stressed upon judges to be extremely cautious in their decisions because they are aware of the depth of pain to be inflicted if they are careless.
And it is easy to be careless. To delude yourselves to think you are separate or isolated from the violence that might result – or that is likely to result – from the decisions we make is a similarity between elected representatives and judges.
An aloof carelessness can result in violence against so many people.
Like I said before, we have blood on our hands, and some people have become really good at washing it off rather than stopping the harm that bleeds.
I share in that guilt.
Take time to observe Black History Month
So, I ask this to my colleagues, to Calgarians; Black History is an opportunity to offer recognition that we need to learn the complexities and nuances of our history, to learn how it has coerced and guided us here, and to learn that it is shared among everyone, Black or otherwise and I implore you to take this opportunity to learn.
Supported by our own Anti-Racism Program Team, events and activities organized in the community will celebrate Black Canadians’ immeasurable contributions, honour the legacy and achievements of generations past, reckon with centuries of injustice, and confront those injustices that still fester today.
Several groups and organizations in Calgary will host events, share resources, and make presentations throughout Black History Month. Do not hesitate to join one or many, you are welcome.
Take the time to observe this month, attend events, engage in conversations with your neighbours, read and learn more about our Black Canadian history, and above all, play a role in making lives better for our fellow Black Calgarians.
Editor’s Note: This was first delivered publicly at the Jan. 24, Regular Meeting of Council.