Reflections on Black History Month

February is Black History Month. It is a month dedicated to paying homage to the diverse contributions and experiences of ordinary and extraordinary Black Canadians, members of the African Diaspora around the world, as well as those who live and whose roots stem from the continent of Africa. There are, in fact, many months that have like-intentions to highlight the narratives of historically marginalized groups in Canada: Women’s History Month in March, Asian Heritage Month in May and National Aboriginal History Month in June. The presence of these months speaks to the result of historical silencing of these narratives from mainstream discourse wherein a call for intentional action in addressing missing voices have been issued in public spaces. But how might we authentically achieve the goals of heritage/history months within our classrooms in ways that go beyond their designated months?

As noble starting points, heritage/history months, and in particular, Black History Month, can be addressed in tokenistic or celebratory ways that miss the intention behind their existence. Songs and dances, foods and celebrating public icons are great starting point in capturing the wealth of often untold histories/her-stories of the Canadian experience. Narratives of pioneers, inventors, politicians, “rebels” and “heroes”, civil right leaders, doctors, nurses, mothers, fathers, caregivers, veterans, children and their experiences in schools, laws, lawsuits, inclusion, exclusion, all make up the rich tapestry of Canadian nation building. With narratives so rich and deep, it important to have these included in the discourse of everyday schooling regardless of the month. As such, heritage/history months should be seen as an impetus to intentionally integrate the diverse narratives of Canadian communities in the everyday-discourse of our classrooms.

What does it actually look like to go beyond a heritage/history month? More than having images of people of racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds posted around the classroom, moving beyond the month might look like intentionally including diverse voices and perspectives in the classroom conversation. It may not solely be reading texts where the protagonist comes from a minoritized community, but rather inviting a discussion around the missing voices in existing texts. It may not be limited to including math questions that include ethnic sounding names, but rather investigating the practice of name changing or prevalence of anglicizing names in general. In grappling with what moving beyond heritage/history months might look like, consider some of the following questions:

  • How might diverse narratives be shared in ways that do not reinforce limiting and sometimes harmful stereotypes?
  • How might teachers engage students in learning opportunities when the student body seemingly is void of students who share the specific heritage that is being acknowledged during the month?
  • What might the conversation sound like or feel like when addressing painful memories as well as uncomfortable truths?
  • How might one invite the telling of stories by those who love them rather than telling their stories for them?

I end this post with more questions than answers. Perhaps this is an invitation to engage our students/colleagues in uncovering that which lie beneath the surface.

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Updated: February 25, 2016 — 4:01 pm

The Author

Tisha Nelson

Tisha has taught in five schools in the Greater Toronto Area over the past seven years. She has experience as both an Occasional and Contract teacher teaching in Primary, Junior and Intermediate grades. Tisha is a workshop presenter and blogger for The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning. She also is an AQ instructor and an author of the book Rights and Equality published by Rubicon Publishing (The Sankofa Series). Tisha’s passion for teaching and learning can be summed up in her six-word philosophy of education, “Love and ingenuity commands sustainable transformation.”

1 Comment

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  1. Corinne Bess says:

    A great piece! You articulate the sentiments of my heart so eloquently.

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