Uncovering and Celebrating Black Canadian History: The BlacktoCanada podcast

Channon Oyeniran

Former postgraduate student

University of Hull

channonc425@gmail.com

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”

                                                                                                        Marcus Garvey

In 2018, after some thought and discussion with my husband, I decided that I wanted to document the stories of Black Canadians and the over 400 years of history that we as Black people have in Canada. I concluded that a written blog or a video blog would be ideal! I liked the idea of a video blog because I could visit different historical sites across my home province of Ontario, and then eventually venture to the other provinces and territories in Canada, to show everyone the importance of that site to Black Canadians. However, after some more thought about the logistics of this and how it would work, especially with a then two-year old, maybe a video blog wouldn’t be the best way for now to share these stories. I did need a name for this project, even though I didn’t know what the project would look like and with help from family, friends and members of my community, the name “BlacktoCanada ” was chosen as one of four options for my new project!

Though I had a name intact and a logo ready to go, other projects, having my second son and the busyness of life took over, and it wasn’t until three years later that I finally launched the idea I had envisioned in 2018: to document and showcase the rich and amazing stories of Black Canadians. However, despite originally wanting to write a blog and more specifically create a video blog, I decided on a podcast – a growing and popular trend and a way for people to listen while on the go!

Being a historian of Caribbean History, Black History in Canada and the history of Black enslavement (thanks to the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull!), it has always been important to me to share all the amazing stories I learned about with others, specifically the next generation. Growing up in the Canadian school system, I didn’t always learn about the rich history of Black people in Canada. I want this podcast to be a resource and a tool that students, teachers and anyone can use to learn about the history, communities and the individuals who helped build Canada into what it is today. Particularly, after all that occurred in 2020 concerning the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the murders of countless Black people, it is evident that now more than ever, the attention is on Black people, their history and how that history connects to anti-Black ideas, and the injustices Black people face across the world. We are in an era of racial and social awakening globally, and I believe we must act and not be stagnant. This is another reason why I started and launched BlacktoCanada. I want to be able to contribute what I know about Black History in Canada and share it with as many people who will listen!

Also, what I really appreciate about my podcast is that it is not specifically a tool to be used or listened to only during a specific time, such as Black History Month. Often during Black History Month, the focus is on the achievements, accomplishments and the legacy that people of African descent have left behind and continue to make. Black History Month is of course a time of memorialization with a goal to educate, recall and celebrate the Black experience, achievements and endurance of people of African descent, from their forceful journey from the shores of Africa to their lives in the Americas and Europe. Sadly, when the month is over, many people put the activities, memories and knowledge of Black History Month “away” until the following year. However, the beauty of a podcast like BlacktoCanada, means that the accomplishments, achievements, legacies and stories of Black people in Canada remains relevant and real in the memory of those who choose to listen to the podcast.

On January 11th, 2021, the first episode, “Africville”, of the BlacktoCanada podcast was launched and the last episode, “Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present”, of season one wrapped up on April 19th, 2021. I’m so happy and proud of how far the podcast has come in a few short months!! It has been humbling and inspiring to talk with different guests about their connections to Black history in Canada. Season Two of the podcast will launch in September and there will be more awesome guests who will share their knowledge and stories concerning Black Canadian History. As mentioned, the BlacktoCanada podcast provides listeners with the rich, interesting and often untold 400-year history and stories of Black Canadians. Listeners can learn about the challenges, barriers, hardships, joys and resilience of Black Canadians and how they helped to build Canada. The BlacktoCanada podcast also has a mandate to celebrate the achievements of Canada’s Black communities!

BlacktoCanada is available on a number of podcast platforms including:

Anchor: https://anchor.fm/channonoyeniran

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/4dAXZH6dp3h8xLD6LURcRh

Accepting shared blame – offering allyship to the BLM movement

Charlotte Russell

Wiseman Khuzwayo Scholarship PhD student

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

c.russell-2018@hull.ac.uk

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a white US police officer in May this year sparked wider and more vocal support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Those supporting the movement have expressed the lack of ‘innocence’ in nations beyond the US. International narrative has indicated the structural racism woven into the fabric of societies worldwide. This has prompted us to examine our role individually and institutionally in building a racism-free UK. That racism pervades throughout our society today, and continues to place Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people at disadvantage cannot be disputed. From education to socioeconomic opportunity, representation in the workplace to beauty norms, racial profiling to healthcare standards, cultural appropriation to covert racism, it is clear that we have a long way to go. What remains less clear is the most effective and appropriate ways to offer allyship to the BLM movement.

While demonstrations of support  are certainly beneficial, many individuals and institutions have been quick to celebrate their role or self-view as anti-racist, or perhaps ‘colour-blind’ (See: Emmanuel Acho: Seeing Colour). But both the human mind and social structures are so innately complex that we cannot reliably declare either to be wholly any one thing. Thus the vocal admission and discussion of our culpability, from a personal to a structural level, is vital in preventing implicit denial of fault in our self-assertion as allies.

Allies wishing to demonstrate anti-racism must be careful not to do so in such a way that we distance ourselves from the reality of ongoing racial inequality and our role within it. Until 2015, the UK were paying off £20M of compensation to 46,000 slave owners for ‘loss of human property’. Tweeting about this, the Treasury framed the present day taxpayers’ contribution to the compensation of slave owners in a positive light, presenting the information in such a way as to encourage the self-congratulation of both the institution and the reader.

This was removed a matter of hours later after an outcry about the details of the payment agreement, which were omitted from the Tweet. Even discounting debates over malintent versus ignorance, this occurrence indicates just how easily our national history can be misrepresented and ‘whitewashed’.  Focusing on abolition whilst staying silent on the centuries of slave-trading and slave-owning which preceded it demonstrates the risk we face when reducing an action which concerns human rights to its bare elements.

The question I feel we as individuals and as institutions should consider is the extent to which our denouncement of racism can achieve tangible change without open discussion of our own culpability in ongoing mistakes. Be it conscious or unconscious, it can only be through ongoing actions that structural racism continues. However, when we examine what admitting this requires, we can see all too clearly the challenges which we face. In admitting to ongoing ‘blame’, non-BAME people risk both their personal comfort and a degree of control over their reputation. In the first instance, individuals feel threatened when the image of themselves as ‘not racist’ is contradicted; secondly admission opens individuals up to scrutiny of their imperfections, not only in the past but the present. We are far more vulnerable in admitting these uncomfortable truths than we are in vehemently denouncing racism or declaring that we will now be anti-racist moving forward. Thus we see non-BAME people appearing far more comfortable with denunciation of racism which is in some way distanced, in their view, from their own lives. But to raise and discuss these same issues as having been committed, allowed, or unquestioned by themselves leads to far more personal and social vulnerability. It is human nature to avoid this risk and discomfort, but to do so maintains a firm barrier to social progress.

At the Wilberforce Institute, we seek to learn from historical slavery and related humanitarian crimes in order to reduce their existence today and in the future. What we can be sure of is that in seeking to address these issues we have to continue to question the stereotypes and assumptions that are embedded in our culture, and provide a platform in which admission of ongoing mistakes is exemplified and normalised. We must be open not only regarding the reality of the past but of the resultant situation of racial inequality in our society today. Fundamentally, it will be a willingness both to admit this and to learn accordingly which enables social progression.

Pushing against racism is a task that applies to everybody. By focusing upon a self-image we believe is not racist, we as allies risk prioritising self-soothing over the change we are outwardly pursuing. This practice sees individuals and institutions indulging in self-congratulation regarding behaviour we believe to be anti-racist, celebrating actions taken towards racial equality without acknowledging ongoing fault and trauma, denouncing racism without addressing our past culpability and ongoing mistakes, or distancing ourselves from the label of ‘racist’ when our behaviour has knowingly or unknowingly been so. Instead, we ought to seek vocal acceptance of not just past, but ongoing mistakes. Trying to distance ourselves from the label of ‘racist’ isn’t going to create an environment where we can call one another out, accept misgivings and accept correction without taking personal offence. Only through the cultivation of a culture in which this acceptance of culpability is normalised can we move towards genuine societal growth, learning and ultimately, change.