Acknowledging the Past and Building Towards the Future
Toronto – January 29, 2014 – For over four centuries, people of African heritage have been a fundamental thread woven into the fabric of Canadian society and the labor movement. It is a testament to the human spirit that such contributions were often made in environments that were unequal, at best, and brutally oppressive, at worst.
It was not so long ago, however, that such a rich history was relatively ignored in the curriculum of Canadian students, in the words of Canadian publications, and in the faces of our decision-makers. Simply put, African-Canadians' histories were not recognized as being valid chapters in the Canadian narrative. Under the scourge of racism that manifests itself in a very overt ways, such as bullying and intimidation, or in more subtle ways, such as failing to hire or promote people of African descent, the vast contributions of African-Canadians were often disavowed.
Nonetheless, sisters and brothers of African heritage continue to rise. Many years later, we are on a more positive road moving away from ignorance and contempt of African-based culture, language and history and the numerous cultures derived from it, to a Canada which celebrates these in our schools, in our publications, and in our workplaces. Bit by bit, we have come a long way as a country, and as a labour movement, to get to the point of a modern celebration of Black History Month.
This gradual opening of minds and hearts has allowed Canada to begin to acknowledge that the privilege enjoyed by some has been at the steep cost of inequality for others. We are certainly moving towards our true potential as a more inclusive country and labor movement. By the sheer will to achieve, and in spite of an often discounted history of oppression, African-Canadians have shown the rest of us, time and time again, that it is possible to overcome seemingly insurmountable social barriers.
A genuine acknowledgment of Black History Month understands that while the notion of equity is still elusive, it is in no way unattainable. As one of Canada's largest private sector unions, all of us at UFCW Canada look forward to a time when the contributions of African-Canadians are commonly acknowledged, that the shadow of racism is no longer so sinister, and when African-Canadians enjoy Canada without barriers. To see such a day, we must not just struggle for authentic equality for African-Canadians during the 28 days of February. We must do so every day.