Carl E. James holds the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora in the Faculty of Education at York University and is the Senior Advisor on Equity and Representation at York University, as part of the Division of Equity, People and Culture. Photo Courtesy: Carl E. James

Canada celebrates Black History Month every February. But the country still faces racism and discrimination at multiple levels and allies must commit to fighting for Black Canadians and against hate.

That was the theme of an online event hosted on Feb. 9, by the City of Calgary titled: Why a Black History Month? Shouldn’t we be past this by now?

The presentation was led by Carl James, holder of the Jean Augustine chair in education, community and diaspora in the faculty of education at York University.

The event opened with Mayor Jyoti Gondek acknowledging that, “Black history is Canadian history.”

While Calgary is committed to shaping a city that is inclusive, and officially became an anti-racist city in 2020, Gondek said there are still many challenges that Black Canadians face due to systemic racism.

“We recognize that Black Canadians experience health and social inequities linked to processes of discrimination,” she said.

While marginalized voices should be heard year-round, the month of February allows the space to discuss the adversity Black Canadians face, even today, James said.

“The particular circumstances of [Black] Canadians is acknowledged [in February] and given some attention,” said James. “We look forward to this discussion, despite being on trepidation at times.”

Embracing Black History Month is merely a stepping stone in the path to ending systemic racism.

“Until the incomplete history of Canada is acknowledged, and the presence of Black people in Canada…become mainstream or normalized in main history courses, then systemic racism will continue to erase Black peoples’ presence in history,” said James.

In order to combat systemic racism, allies need to recognize their privileges and “have to understand why they are [helping],” he said.

Allyship is necessary in order for society to recognize the toll that institutional racism, also known as systemic racism, has had and continues to have on Black Canadians.

“Allies have to be ready to be challenged. Allies will have to think of how they become complicit at times,” said James. “And allies have to be ready to lose some of the privileges…in order to make space for that other person.”

There is still work to be done in order to end systemic racism. Acknowledging and reflecting on the history of Black Canadians is just the start.

“Canada would not be Canada today without the contribution of everyone, including Black people,” said James.

The city hosted a number of Black History Month events, including talks by George Sefa and Bukola Salami, which you can watch below.

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