Black History Set Me Free
Updated: Feb 13
Greetings at this early juncture of 2023! I hope that everyone is enjoying the many Black History month offerings.
2022 was an important year for me. I had the privilege of travelling the entire breadth of western Canada for the first time. Donna and I decided to take advantage of the declining effects of the pandemic and jam my car with clothes, food, recording devices, and our enthusiasm to drive west with the promise to interview and photograph regular folks about their experiences of growing up Black in Canada.
We knew that we were in for a bit of an endurance test. It would require at least 10,000 km of driving and visiting approximately 15 to 20 communities in two months. Really, it was a trip more physically suited to people half our ages. Yet it must have been our anticipation of discovering how deep the roots of the Black presence coursed into the history of western Canada. In so doing, it would provide the western experiences compared to the experiences of central and eastern Canada that we gathered in 2019/21.
Our findings surpassed our expectations. We learned that the western Black experience goes back to the early 1900s. Primarily, from the immigration of thousands of African Americans escaping the oppression of Jim Crow laws in the southern U.S. But we also heard from those that came to the west from the West Indies, and parts of Africa in the second half of the last century. One of the things that they all shared was the reality of being seen as an anomaly by the predominantly White communities in which they moved. Often being asked the question, "Where are you from?" After answering, "From here, Canada", they would get the inevitable follow-up question, "Oh. But where are your parents from?" The unsaid suggestion is that they are in a space where they don't quite fit in or carry the label of outsider. In other words, "We got here first. So we are more entitled than you." As we should all know by now, entitlement is relative. Indigenous people were here for millennia before any settlers arrived.
Finding these stories are a revelation at the very least and even perhaps a hidden treasure. As far as I'm concerned, I'll never again feel like I'm being put on the defensive with the question, "Where are you from?" I'm usually a man of few words. "Here," will be my answer--because we've been here a long, long time.
A big "Thank you" to all the people that gave selflessly of their time to our history and image gathering venture on both sides of the country. You ARE Black History.