It’s that time of year again. No, not Valentine’s Day or reading week—Black History Month. As we all know, the shortest month of the year is dedicated to the important and integral topic of black history. We at The Concordian believe it’s not enough to confine the celebration of black history to a single month. Instead, it should be recognized throughout the year, and more importantly, black history should be taught in all school curriculums regularly.
There’s no such thing as “White History Month,” because every month is white history month. Our classes and our textbooks show the world through a white, Eurocentric lens. In elementary school, we were taught very briefly about Indigenous residential schools in Quebec, and our lessons of black history are limited to slavery—mostly in the United States, despite its prominence in Canada until it was abolished in 1834. This needs to change. We at The Concordian believe it’s time to start implementing courses that accurately include black history, and that those courses be taught by black professors. We think it’s about time to include black history as an integral part of Canada’s, Quebec’s and Montreal’s history.
In fact, it’s even an important part of Concordia’s history. In 1969, the largest student occupation in Canadian history occurred at Sir George Williams University, now Concordia’s downtown campus. Six black students accused biology professor Perry Anderson of racism, alleging their white peers received higher marks for identical work. The hearings for this investigation were a source of controversy among the student body, as Anderson was found not guilty of racism towards the six complainants. In response, the students led others to a sit-in on the ninth floor of the Hall building, in the computer centre. The protest lasted 14 days and resulted in the destruction of computers and windows, and the arrest of 97 demonstrators.
This example of institutionalized racism shaped Concordia into what it is today. We need to remember this, and we need to remember black history everyday. But our knowledge shouldn’t be limited to civil rights, racism and slavery. As Myrna Lashley, this year’s Montreal Black History Month co-spokesperson, told the Montreal Gazette, “We have always been here […] Black people have fought in wars here. Black people had their own hockey leagues. But nobody talks about that.”
We at The Concordian strongly believe we must stop separating black history from what is now understood as “white,” mainstream history. Black artists, educators, doctors, scientists, historians and athletes have made enormous contributions to the society we live in today. It’s unfair to limit their celebration to just one month, and to ignore them for the rest of the year.
To truly reconcile the mainstream history we’ve been taught with the history we never learned, Black History Month must be acknowledged more often. Universities, including Concordia, should implement more black history, culture and stories into courses. It also shouldn’t exclusively be the responsibility of black Canadians to publicize Black History Month.
One way to acknowledge this month is by reading more about black history; you can also watch the documentary Ninth Floor by Mina Shum that details the 1969 Sir George Williams University protests. You can take part in discussions and seminars that deepen your understanding of black history and black people’s contributions to our society. You can also view the Mois de l’histoire des Noirs committee’s website, where they keep a list of events held throughout Montreal. And most importantly: keep Black History Month alive throughout the year. Not just in February.
It’s our responsibility to learn more about our own history—and that history includes black history. If we look outside of what we’ve been taught, it is not difficult to realize the massive impact black people have made in our society. It’s easy for us to look around and see the ways in which our society has become a better place because of black people and our shared history. And we can’t limit that to the shortest month of the year.