Saturday, 28 February 2015

Black History Month: Past and Present

A glass frame, underneath which Martin Luther King's face smiles, reflects the light of the lanterns on the wall. His frame is not alone. Mandela. Parks. Tubman. Smiling in the room of black history. I prowl the room, smiling back at each portrait. Each description of a noble act. Yet as I pass the doorway, something has caught the edges of my peripheral vision. On my next circle I gain a nanosecond's glance along the hall to the other open room. A nanosecond to notice Tanisha Anderson, shot to death by police. A nanosecond for the printed Toronto Star article, "Just 8 per cent of Toronto children under 18 are black, but 41 per cent of kids in care are black."

If you grow up in Toronto, you will spend the majority of your pre-university Februaries learning something about Black History.

I learned about Martin Luther King Jr. and "I have a dream." I was inspired by his persistence in the face of house arrest and his home being bombed when boycotting bus segregation in the United States. I was amazed. I read about Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad and saving at least three hundred slaves during nineteen trips. What stuck out to me was that her escape to freedom was not enough. I was amzed. I learned about Rosa Parks and how she didn't recall feeling anger as she stayed in her seat, but rather a determination to gain her rights. I was amazed. I learned about Nelson Mandela, how his advocacy led to his imprisonment and yet how he continued his advocacy beyond his release.I was amazed.

Yet from being appalled at the age of eight with "Why would you make all of them slaves just for their skin colour?" came an awareness at the age of fourteen of how many people with dark skin made CP24's breaking news to an unsatisfied understanding that even without slavery, even when your seat on the bus is not a function of the melanin (skin pigment) in your skin, even where your friends range in skin colour, racism lives. More black persons in Toronto between 2008 and 2012 were carded than live hereAlmost every day a black person is murdered by a person in authority. Now I am not amazed.

It is not enough to acknowledge Black History without acknowledging Black Reality. After all, isn't today's Black Reality tomorrow's Black History?

- FA

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