Black History Month celebrates the rich contributions that people of Caribbean and African descent have made in our society despite their ongoing struggle for equity and social justice. It is a time to recognize the strength and resiliency of Black people in Canada, while we reflect on how we can combat discrimination in our communities.
The Canadian government’s theme for Black History Month 2020 is ‘Canadians of African Descent: Going Forward, Guided by the Past.’ This theme is inspired by the United Nations declaration that 2015-2024 would be deemed the International Decade of People of African Descent, which has its own theme and focus: “People of African descent: Recognition, Justice and Development”.
This year’s Black History Month emblem, the Sankofa Bird, is derived from the word “Sankofa”, taken from the Twi language mainly spoken in Ghana, Africa. Sankofa is translated as “Go back and get it” and it is inspired by an ancient proverb that states “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind”. This reflects the spirit of Black History Month; the necessity to reflect on the past to build a prosperous future.
Reflecting on the past
In order to embody this theme, the federal government must acknowledge and address the historical racism that Black Canadians and people of Caribbean and African descent have experienced not only through colonization and slavery, but also the racist immigration, education, criminal justice, economic, and employment laws and policies that continue to marginalize and oppress these communities.
In 2019, the federal government announced Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy driven by the shocking statistic that hate crimes motivated by religion, race or ethnicity had increased in Canada by 47% in 2017. This strategy includes funding for various community initiatives, such as programs that address mental health issues amongst Black youth, as well as projects that build greater capacity and vibrancy in Canada’s Black communities. This is a start but, this is not enough. To truly address anti-Black racism, the federal government must examine the negative impact its laws, policies and practices have on these communities. Yet, there has been no concrete action from the federal government to actively address these issues.
Celebrating the future
To celebrate Black History Month, throughout the month of February PSAC will highlight the achievements of members who identify as Black or as having Caribbean/African heritage. Not only do these members serve Canadians every day by providing vital public services, they are also activists in their union and they play a fundamental role in strengthening the labour movement. Many of them volunteer hours of their personal time giving back to their communities by organizing community events, providing education and fighting for social justice. Their contributions ensure that Canada’s labour movement and Canadian society has a prosperous and diverse future. Let’s recognize the great work these members do, not just this month, but every day.
Join us this February in celebrating the many accomplishments of Canada’s Black community as we reflect on the past to build a successful and bright future.