featured Racism

Wade in the water – Emancipation Day is about confronting anti-Black racism

Organizers planning the first Emancipation Day event in Fredericton. We titled it “Emancipation Celebration”

As I sat around the table listening to my Black friends talk about the importance of Emancipation Day, I couldn’t help but feel ignorant. Embarrassment flooded over me when I realized that as a Black woman I had no idea what this day meant and why it was so important to our community.

Having grown up in the New Brunswick education system, Black history was never discussed.  More often than not, I found myself educating my teachers on topics they should have already known about. As a young Black girl growing up surrounded by whiteness, it became apparent that my history and culture didn’t matter and weren’t worth acknowledging. Canadian history is commonly taught from the colonizer’s perspective, which typically silences the minority opinion. Knowing this, it unfortunately isn’t surprising that I lack knowledge with regards to major elements of Black history.

I was chatting with a girlfriend a few days ago about Emancipation Day and she asked, “What is this day about?” Sadly, I had to respond, “I really don’t know what it is actually.” That moment was a huge hit to the gut. Because for as long as I can remember I have seemed to have always been the keeper of all things Black history. Any friend, colleague or teacher that was wondering something I could probably tell them and also correct them when their facts were wrong. Now to be in a position where I don’t have all the answers I feel vulnerable and as though the New Brunswick and specifically the Fredericton education system has truly failed me. 

On August 1st, 1834 the British Parliament signed the Slavery Abolition Act. After almost 200 years of going unnoticed and uncelebrated the Canadian Government unanimously voted to have August 1st be federally recognized as Emancipation Day. Having the stories of slaves be primarily shared just within the Black community, this important day gives us an opportunity to showcase our history, everything that happened and educate the country about the anti-Black racism that continues to challenge us. I have often heard people comment, “This happened so long ago, so why celebrate?

Emancipation Day is not only about commemorating how far we’ve come and all of our successes, but also a day to come together in order to work towards a better future; a future where anti-Black racism is confronted. By acknowledging the past, this day gives the Black community the opportunity to also examine the current world we live in and to remind our oppressors that all lives can’t matter until Black lives matter.

As August 1st quickly approaches it’s time to open our eyes and see that anti-Black racism is still very real and very present. Just because slavery and segregation have been abolished, doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to be done to further advance our freedom and equality.

See also: Anthony N. Morgan: Template letter to employer requesting a day off for Emancipation Day

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