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Underscoring the role of education in confronting anti-black racism

Published:Friday | September 1, 2017 | 12:00 AMNeil Armstrong
Natasha Henry

Toronto, ON:

Educator and historian, Natasha Henry, says education is a transformative tool that can address anti-black racism. She says education plays a crucial role in combating the racism faced by African Canadians.

Based on her work as a historian and curriculum consultant, Henry advocates for a history education that mandates the inclusion of the experiences of African Canadians in public schools through the direct inclusion of learning expectations in the Ontario curriculum, including the racial discrimination they faced and a history-based anti-racism teaching approach, supported by required teacher training in anti-racism

Henry was a presenter at the two-day Faculty of Education Summer Institute (FESI) 2017 held at York University on Aug. 23 and 24.

Under the theme, "Relationships to Canada 150: Paradoxes, Contradictions and Questions," the event brought together educators, teacher candidates, parents and community members to engage in critical discussions about the purpose, impact and quality of education and social outcomes since the birth of Canada and what the next 150 years look like in these areas.

Henry's presentation was entitled "Black Canadian Citizenship in the Time of Canada 150: A Retrospective and a Call to Action."

Other workshop and keynote presentation topics included: Indigenous perspectives on violence against Indigenous women and girls; Indigenous experience in education; Chinese exclusion and Indigenous dispossession; the queer experience; and challenging Islamophobia, among other things.

Henry said social studies curriculum and instruction generally avoids controversy and complexity while providing one-dimensional renderings of historical people, groups, and events.

"It is important for students to learn, to help develop a critical understanding of Canadian history and to better understanding the legacies of racial discrimination that persist today," she said.

This correctly locates people of African descent on the Canadian landscape as part of the national narrative and offers an explanation as to why blacks are not represented or seen in some spaces (e.g. cottage country).




It also provides the necessary context to what's happening today to what people observe but might not be able to name/ articulate, she said.

Henry called for the development of a critical historical consciousness, learning new ways of thinking about the past; linking the past, present and future; and to motivate students to become active in change.

This would educate and increase awareness in learners, and by extension, society and is important for both black and non-black students, said Henry.

"We must deconstruct its colonial, imperial, slave past as part of our efforts to address the human rights injustices that continue to plague African Canadians and agitate their full and equal participation in Canadian society."

In her presentation, Henry shared a brief history of anti-black racism in Canada in slavery, immigration, civil service, military service, nursing, real estate and housing, surveillance, policing, and black resistance, activism, and organising in Ontario and Canada.

Turning her attention to education, she noted that African Canadians were denied education when enslaved, excluded from some public schools, and the Separate Schools provision was manipulated to support the practise of segregated schooling.

School taxes were collected from black property-holding residents to help pay for public schools, even though their children could not attend them.

Black students excluded from certain programs and black students were viewed as 'less than,' she said.

"In education, how have these traumas and divisions, the beliefs and attitudes that created these historical circumstances been forwarded throughout the years to today?"

Henry emphasised that there were concerns from the first race report for Toronto District School Board in 1979, "Towards Race Equity in Education," a report by Professor Carl James and others, and what was heard from students and parents.

"What is evident from these few examples is that citizenship did/does not translate into equality. Some voices, in this case Black Canadians, remain systemically silenced and gaping inequalities persist."

She is calling for the inclusion of black-focused content/ representation in the curriculum and for the removal of systemic barriers, among other things.

"There's a lot of work to do to create the Canada we want, to ensure that all Black Canadians have full and complete rights and freedoms; we need to follow in the footsteps of black men and women who agitated for justice and equality and continue their work," she said.