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Toronto – January 30, 2019 – Black History Month is observed annually in February across North America. Rooted in the activism of historian Carter G. Woodson, who successfully pushed for the creation of Negro History Week in the United States, the month was first recognized by the Canadian government following a 1995 motion led by Jean Augustine. However, it wasn’t until 2008 that Black History Month gained official recognition from the Senate of Canada.
Today, Black History Month is widely celebrated across the continent as a way of honouring Black culture and recognizing that Black history is an essential part of our collective identity.
For Black History Month 2019, UFCW Canada activists participated in a Kick-Off Brunch hosted by the Ontario Black History Society. The theme was “Preserving Our Past, Igniting Our Future.” It coincided with the UN International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). At the event, notable scholars, activists, government officials, and community organizations came together to celebrate the numerous achievements Black Canadians have accomplished together throughout history. UFCW activists were especially proud to stand in solidarity with Yolanda McClean, an active labour leader who serves as President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
Recently the Government of Canada introduced a new $10.00 bill featuring a portrait of Viola Desmond, a courageous woman of colour whose activism inspired numerous equity movements at a time when Canada was highly segregated. While the decision to feature a prominent African Canadian activist on one our country’s most popular currencies is very encouraging, it does not signal the end of inequity experienced by racialized workers and other equity-seeking groups who are regularly confronted with systemic racism.
For example, a 2015 Statistics Canada study researched the determinants of labour market outcomes among the children of immigrants (second-generation new Canadians). The results showed that while immigrant families generally have higher educational levels compared to the overall population in Canada, second-generation members of visible minority groups continue to face adversity in accessing employment. Additionally, the study found that Black Canadians make between 10 to 15 percent less than their white counterparts. Another study, meanwhile, found that racialized women in Canada earn 67 cents for every dollar earned by non-racialized men.
As we observe Black History Month, then, it is important to talk about the challenges that continue to exist for Black Canadians and racialized workers across Canada. I encourage you to show your solidarity this February by honouring Black History Month and taking in the numerous community events that seek to raise awareness of Black history and culture in Canada, and the barriers that need to be torn down to allow all Canadians to thrive equally.
Paul R. Meinema