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Testimony of Terri Marks, February 14, 2021

What Black History Month Means to Me

Thank-you for this opportunity to share a reflection on what Black History month means to me.

Did you know that Black History month was first introduced into parliament in December 1995? It was introduced by Jean Augustine, the first black woman elected as a member of parliament.
I did not know that.

Award winning author Lawrence Hill, who wrote the Book of Negroes, ponders why so many of us Canadians have read our American neighbors’ novels such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Roots, but haven’t read our Black Canadian authors, such as Dionne Brand, Dr. Afua Cooper, and George Elliot Clarke.
And no, I haven’t read these Canadian authors.

As I reflect, it turns out that I don’t know a lot about Black history and culture. Perhaps because when I was growing up, all my family wanted to do was to assimilate into Canadian society. I was told to speak properly, not to use patois and to dress properly. Which I guess meant to speak and look like a regular Canadian. Sure my aunts and mother would gather at Christmas time and other holidays and share stories of “home.” And I remember a black and green felt map of Guyana hanging on the wall. But my Caribbean culture was never really passed down. And in school it was no different. I did not have 1 lesson in my pre-university education on Black history—not ONE lesson.

It is for this reason that it strikes me as odd to have a month, ONE month out of a whole year, to share and highlight Black history.

And for that matter, it makes NO sense to have only one month to celebrate and highlight our First Nations history and achievements. But that is another reflection.

Sure it is fine to celebrate our culture, to eat traditional foods and wear traditional clothing. But celebrating for one month doesn’t make any sense anymore to me, when black people are DYING at that hands of police who have sworn to serve and protect.

Aren’t we PAST the point of a Black History month?? Aren’t the tragic deaths Black men and women of the past years proof enough that we have to do something MORE? Really…Shouldn’t we be integrating more fully anti-racist education in our school, communities, and dare I say congregations, so that we no longer NEED to set aside a month for Black history?

Yes, indeed. I think we are WAY past the point. I think we need to let go of just celebrating and highlighting during certain months and let the REAL work of anti-racism begin.