Black History: Honouring the Past, Living in the Present
By Hamlin Grange C.M.
February is Black History Month (BHM). Over the next several weeks there will be posts on social media, newspaper and magazine articles, television programs, and of course many invitations asking prominent Black people to give speeches at schools and corporations.
Efforts by the founders of the Ontario Black History Society in 1978 were built on in 1995, when a motion by Member of Parliament Jean Augustine was unanimously supported to designate February Black History Month in Canada (BHM).
Since then, the annual BHM has been an occasion to recognize the historic contributions of Black people and communities in all facets of Canadian society and history. But it’s also a time to acknowledge the ongoing struggle of Black people for social justice and equity.
Black Canadians’ struggle for social justice and equity continues on several fronts. Among them, a landmark $2.5-billion class action lawsuit filed by current and former Black public servants alleging decades of systemic employment discrimination in the federal public service.
The allegations include failure to promote, intentional infliction of mental suffering, constructive dismissal, wrongful termination, negligence, and in particular, violations of employment law, human rights law, and breaches of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Black maternal health in Canada is also of grave concern. Canada does not collect race-based data that could help find a solution and allay the fear and suffering of uncounted numbers of Black women during their pregnancy or childbirth, but American research shows that Black women are three times more likely to die during pregnancy and 4 times more likely to die from childbirth than white women.
Two years ago, the Biden administration responded to these findings by allocating $200 million to implicit bias training for health care providers. As laudable as that is, implicit bias training only raises awareness and does little to change behaviour. But at least the Americans are trying to do something about this problem.
Food insecurity and hunger are also major issues facing Canada’s Black community. A Statistics Canada report stated that 38 per cent of Black families were “food-insecure”, more than twice the rate for white families and even higher than other racialized families. It was estimated in 2017 that 36 per cent of Black children lived in food-insecure households compared to 12 per cent of white children.
This Black History Month, it’s important to recognize the tremendous contributions that Black Canadians have made to build this great country. But it is equally important to acknowledge that what we do today will become “history” tomorrow. We have a responsibility and an opportunity to change history.
Hamlin Grange is the CEO and founder of DiversiPro. He was appointed to the Order of Canada for his pioneering work in diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice.