Clarifying Misconceptions About the Black Experience in Canada

Reflecting on her heritage and personal experience, Joy Gyamfi expresses her thoughts on what it means to be an African-Canadian

UNDATED — Undated archival handout photo of Viola Desmond. On April 15, 2010, the Nova Scotia legislature will grant a controversial, posthumous pardon to Desmond, whom many consider Canada’s Rosa Parks. In 1946 Viola Desmond was arrested and jailed for sitting in the whites-only section of a local cinema. The case ignited the civil rights movement in Canada. MANDATORY CREDIT: HANDOUT PHOTO: Effective Publishing Ltd. For Richard Foot (Canwest) CNS-PARDON

The story of Rosa Parks is commonly known in the context of the American Civil rights movement. Less commonly known, even among Canadians, is the story of Viola Desmond, an African Canadian arrested nine years before Rosa Parks for refusing to surrender her seat in a segregated movie theatre in Nova Scotia.

Desmond’s image would eventually appear on the Canadian $10 bill in 2018, after Nova Scotia granted her a public apology and posthumous pardon. However, her long-standing absence from the general public’s awareness acts as a testament to the ignorance and erasure of African-Canadian history, even when compared to knowledge of Black history in the United States.

“When talking about Black history in Canada, I feel like there are so many misconceptions,” says Joy Gyamfi, a Black Canadian studying for her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia.

“A lot of our history isn’t included in school curriculums or anything. It’s shocking to me as a Black person myself, only recently learning that the Atlantic Slave Trade existed in Canada as well, because I bothered to take a class that specialized in Black history,” she says. “I feel like so many people must not realize that.”

Gyamfi, who was born in Ghana but grew up in Canada, explains that she didn’t get the chance to talk to a lot of Black people during her youth. It wasn’t until she moved from Surrey to Vancouver and started going to university that she was able join a Black community.

“Now I feel like I know a lot of Black people, and I know a lot of Black people who share the same intersections as me, as in I know a lot of queer Black people now, which is different from when I was growing up.”

Gyamfi disagrees with the notion that Canada doesn’t have a problem with racism the way that the United States does, saying that Canadians need to set higher standards for themselves.

“Maybe the racism here isn’t as overt and in-your-face, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” she says. “It’s subtle, its sinister, it’s below the surface. And that kind of racism, those microaggressions, they’re still painful.”

One racist issue that Gyamfi mentions by name is the practice of carding, whereby police officers profile minorities as criminals by asking for their information and checking to see if they have any arrest warrants to their name. Last November, a journalist and anti-carding activist from Toronto named Desmond Cole was stopped by police in Vancouver, allegedly because of the colour of his skin.

“I feel like we often think of Canada as a multicultural and multiracial place, as some kind of utopia where everyone is equal,” she says. “But I didn’t really think of Black Canadians in that sense.”

Gyamfi says she is pessimistic about what the future could look like for Black Canadians. Where she finds hope, however, is in the supportive communities she surrounds herself with.

“Now I feel like I know a lot of Black people, and I know a lot of Black people who share the same intersections as me, as in I know a lot of queer Black people now, which is different from when I was growing up.”

COMMENTS

facebook comments:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.