Since 1995, February has been nationally recognized as a month to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Canadians who have been historically marginalized within this country. Yet despite the laudable aims of a month that seeks to recover missing narratives, Black History Month easily slips into the regurgitation of the few already known instances of Black success and resistance.
A commitment to unforgetting Blackness pushes beyond this regurgitation and requires us to seek out the forgotten. Unforgetting involves critical examination of existing narratives that were developed by the dominant power elite, and reestablishing the story through the voices of those who were disenfranchised in the original narrative. The process of ‘unforgetting’ requires both an unearthing of neglected histories of Blackness within Canada and a call to become attentive to the racialization of poverty within Canada’s present.
Blackness as a self-selected racial category has not existed universally nor throughout time. Blackness emerged as a political category, and not a physical descriptor, as part of the Black Power movement taking place in the 1960s. Accordingly, identifying as Black is attached to a history of political activism and resistance to relations of power.
Within my own family, unforgetting Blackness compels me to draw attention to the legacy of my grandfather Wilson O. Brooks who was one of the first Black commissioned officers in the Royal Canadian Air Force to serve in a bomber squadron during WWII and the first Black school principal in Toronto. My grandfather was also one of the founders of the Ontario Black History Society and petitioned for the proclamation of Black History Month in Toronto. Unforgetting Blackness requires me to work towards sharing the contributions of grandmother, Phyllis T. Brooks who helped found the Canadian Negro Women’s Association and spent her life connecting with and nurturing the Black community within Toronto.
‘Unforgetting’ communicates that the work required to honour Black presence within Canada is beyond ‘remembrance.’ As Black History Month draws to a close let us commit to ‘unforgetting’ beyond this month and continue to push for a revaluation of worth that recognizes Black thought, Black struggle and Black achievement historically and in the present, and insists that Black Lives Matter.