In June and July 2020, Heritage BC published several guest posts, providing the space for the writers to recount their personal experiences about racism, inclusivity and equity. Their words help us, the broader heritage community, to reflect on and learn from their first-person accounts as we ‘listen’ to different perspectives and worldviews.
This series of pages contains the guest posts plus a selection of resources about BC’s Black community (found at the bottom of each page). Below is the post we published on June 17, 2020. Please also read the guest posts:
In March 2020, we asked the sector to reflect on the meaning of heritage. With the ongoing threat of prejudice and racism, we wrote in the weekly newsletter, heritage “is about what matters, and it is about the stories that connect us. Ultimately, it is about all people, their communities, and our humanity.”
We continued, “It is for those reasons that we must choose to self-educate and share credible sources, as we help our communities in choosing empathy and compassion. As custodians of history and heritage, we know what history has to teach us and we have a responsibility to educate against harmful misconceptions and prejudiced ideas and acts.”
In June 2020, we found it necessary to recall this statement as we watched and reflected on what is occurring in the USA and Canada and reverberating around the world following the brutal killing of George Floyd.
In describing the systemic anti-Black racism within Canadian cultural organizations, CBC’s Amanda Parris wrote, “It’s time to write a new chapter… Rather than leaving sympathetic notes in the comments and shaking your head over the woes of the world, now is the time to strategically leverage the moment.” In fulfilling this call to action, which includes demanding more from cultural institutions, she says “this chapter will definitely make it into the history books.” (link)
We all need to have a hand in writing that chapter, as “the weight of change shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of Black people.” Writing in Maclean’s, Esi Edugyan, the recipient of the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, goes on to urge constant recommitment and vigilance, so that we “don’t let the forgetting prevail.”
Decades earlier, another author provided a metaphor, warning against the hidden and destabilizing effects of forgetting.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” — Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr., Jamaican political activist, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator
“We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States,” said Prime Minister Trudeau after a 21-second silent pause that caught the world’s attention. Beyond the horror, consternation, and silence, we are confronted with the catastrophic effects of forgetting and we are challenged to choose appropriate, consequential action.
Writing on Facebook, the BC Black History Awareness Society notes systematic racism exists in the US, but “unfortunately it does not stop there, we can also experience this type of systemic racism here in our country with the Indigenous & Black people. We cannot allow our society to turn away from these facts. Racism is WRONG and it needs to STOP. No-one has the right to infringe on others’ human rights.” (link)
The Society’s post goes on to offer needed and consequential actions:
At Heritage BC, we have aimed to contribute to a broader discussion of heritage so that it is more inclusive and much richer, infused with an increasing diversity of voices, histories, and perspectives. Yet, as horrifying events have shaken not just international centres but also our BC communities, we are confronted with how much more there is to learn and how much work is still needed to break down barriers and to build up new relationships.
As an organization that anchors its work in history and heritage, Heritage BC has a role to play. In addressing and facilitating the conversation on systemic racism, Heritage BC has much to learn and we require input from the community to help shape the conversation.
We all need to have a hand in writing a new chapter.
Do Not Let the Forgetting Prevail
“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” — Martin Luther King, 1963
Visit these websites to support and learn more about the history and heritage of BC and Canada’s Black community:
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” – Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr.
This is not an exhaustive list of resources. If you know of other resources, please share them with us, so that we may share them with the heritage community.