This project is needed within our community for two main reasons.
Firstly, several researches led by York University have demonstrated that across Canada, particularly in schools located in major cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, there is a perpetuated culture of Anti-Black racism. Where school is intended to be a positive environment for students where they develop learning and communication skills, benefit from a wide variety of social interactions and have the opportunity to envision a prospective future for themselves, for black students this academic experience is too often tainted by prejudice, racial stereotypes, degradation, psychological harm, neglect, heightened surveillance and discriminatory treatment from both their instructors and their peers. As early as elementary school, black students are labeled by their teachers as lost causes or at-risk students. Just from their appearance, they are classified as students from low- income backgrounds who lack intelligence and knowledge, who are associated with violence and delinquent behavior and as so who are feared and need to be handled with wariness.
According to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, in Quebec, students from a Caribbean background are three times more likely to be identified as students with handicaps, social maladjustments or learning disabilities and placed in separate classes for at-risk students than other students. Being tagged and placed in lower level classes than their peers not only puts black students at a disadvantage academically and hinders their opportunity to learn in an appropriate setting, but it makes these students feel segregated from the rest and gives them the impression that they do not have their teachers’ support and that no matter how much they try to prove themselves academically, they will always be seen as less smart and qualified than the student sitting next to them. The prejudice from teachers is also reflected in how they punish misbehavior from black students. In an article for The Walrus in 2017, writer and activist Robyn Maynard notes how “Montreal based black youth frequently report being treated by teachers as if they are in a gang solely based on their skin color.” Furthermore, across Canada, it was found that black students are suspended and expelled at highly disproportionate rates compared to white students. For example, during 2015-2016, in Halifax, Black students composed 8 percent of the student body but represented 22.5 percent of total suspensions and in Quebec, the CDPJD found that black students, specifically Haitians, contrary to other students, were applied a zero-tolerance principle when it came to infractions and were frequently sent home and expelled for minor infractions such as being late to school.
The villainization of black students perpetuates the misconception that these individuals are not children but are violent animals who represent a threat to others. This blatant discrimination towards black students makes it known that they are not welcome in schools and deteriorates the confidence, self-love and identity they are working so hard to build for themselves in their teen years. The gravity of the situation would be lessened if the students had some type of support within the school to help them counter anti-racism, but testimonies from students in York University’s report “We Rise Together” show that when racial issues between students are brought forward to school administrators by either parents or students, near to no action is taken to remedy to the situation.
Use of derogatory terms towards black students is constantly brushed over and not considered an offense. In Montreal, in 2017, a mother of two Black children in elementary school had to turn to the media and file numerous complaints against her children’s school to expose the fact that the establishment’s officials refused to take action to address the pernicious racism from white students that her sons experienced. The overall culture of anti-racism in school suffocates black students and makes it even more difficult for them to earn an education in a society already deformed by systematic racism. Growing up in this harmful and hostile environment, black students are implicitly told that being black in today’s Canadian society is a bad thing and that the black experience carries only negative connotations. As individuals in a vulnerable time in their lives, black students need to be encouraged, valued, heard and shown that their success in school and in the Canadian society matters. They need to be able to celebrate their culture and talk about their black experience as more than just a story of racism and discrimination whether that be in the classroom or at home. As commented by Dr. Beverly- Jean Daniel, “we need to help them to understand the ways in which education can lead to empowerment and to provide them with messages of strength and success. It is important that we change the focus from Black student failure to Black student success and resilience.”
The second reason why our project is needed within our community is because elementary, middle school and high school level schools across Canada fail to include black history or literature written by black authors in their curriculum. In his article for York University on Anti-Black racism in schools across generations, Carl James recounts how various reports showcase that the reading material provided in schools does not reflect the student body and their need for diversity. On rare occasions where students get to study books that address themes relevant to black culture and history, they are usually written by white authors and focus on negative aspects of the black experience such as racism. In Ontario, the Peel Book District has only recently begun to discourage schools from teaching Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as “[most] of the problems are coming from people not having enough exposure to Black culture”. Currently, black students in Canada cannot turn to their educators, their peers or the curriculum for support. To speak about issues of race or aspects of their black experience is to speak to a brick wall. Black students need to be given a space where they can openly speak of their problems, learn from historical figures or fictional characters who have experienced similar situations as them and envision a future where they are not looked down upon for being black. Not only that, but they need to be able to sit in class and hear about black history and culture without feeling judged, misunderstood and targeted. “The curriculum reflects back to students their place in, and value to, Canadian society. As such, all students should see themselves reflected in the curriculum (Towards Race Equity in education, York University).