Monday, February 28, 2011

Black History Month - What's Your Story?

As February and Black History Month in Canada and the United States comes to an end, as well as my time here in Mwanza before leaving for Arusha, this is a good point to reflect on what this month means to me especially since I am in Tanzania, Africa.

Sometimes when you live your life through a Black lens, like what I do everyday, it's difficult to see things and people for what they are and who they are as human beings. If you didn't know me personally, it may seem that my life only revolves around my Black identity and who I am as a Black man in Canada. And to a certain extent it does.

I would bet the vast majority of people would say that I'm a racist for thinking and seeing the world the way I do.

On that note I would then ask, why do we as a society continue to see Black people as Black first and people second? Why do we continue to see and treat Black people and their, I mean our, history as something different?  Why are Black people seen as important for one month of the year, and for the other 11, no one really cares?

Tanzania has forced me to break my racist mould and realize that racial stereotypes, especially North American ones, are not universal. People don't care about their colour if they're suffering from malaria, worrying about having enough food to feed their children, or living day to day and are just happy to be able to see the sun shine every morning. Poverty, sickness and death do not care about the colour of your skin.

All that being said, being here in Tanzania has raised several questions about what I believe Black history to be, and what Black History Month in Canada represents.

Is Black History Month actually North American Black history, or Canadian, or just African-American history? What about Black people worldwide? What about Black people in the Caribbean, in Europe, in South America, in Africa. What about Tanzanian history - is that Black history, or just history?

It's interesting that in schools around Canada from February 1st to the 28th (or sometimes 29th), we pull out the same story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks or the Underground Railroad. By all means those stories are extremely important and I believe everyone should know them. But what happens if that's the only picture you get of Black people worldwide and their history?

What if one hundred years from now during Black History Month we only remembered Obama as the first Black president in the history of the world? What happens to the hundreds of Black presidents and prime ministers throughout Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean? If I was to ask for someone to name five Black presidents/prime ministers of any country in the world, dead or alive, how many people could do it? Has a Black woman ever been president or prime minister?

Writing this piece on Black History Month in Canada from Tanzania has given me the opportunity to take a look at who I am from a completely different perspective. Yes, I do feel that learning about Black people and their history is needed, and that Black History Month is a great opportunity to do so.

However, the world is much bigger than Canada. And Black history runs much deeper than just North America. But the beauty of living in such a multicultural society like Canada, is that we have Black people from all over the world that can share a little bit of their stories and respective countries' history.

And I don't think we should draw the line there. I think that every Canadian, doesn't matter what colour they may be, has the right to tell their story. Not only a right to tell it, but a right that everyone should listen to what they have to say.

Why? Because we can't have a country or world full of people like me. One full of racists. It's time to start working on the next generation of Canadians and citizens of the world that will break down racial barriers and keep them down.

You don't need to fly halfway around the globe to have an open mind and learn about the world. How about asking the person sitting next to you their story. Where are they from and what's that place like? They might be from a different neighbourhood, city, province, or country. Just ask and you will be surprised about how much you can learn from asking a simple question.

So I ask, what's your story?


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