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Knowing Our History to Rectify the Present: Black History Month with Webster

For Black History Month, the Institute hosts a policy series highlighting bold policy solutions in order to tackle anti-Black racism, focusing on the need for intergovernmental action. Each submission proposes a plan for governments to work together to tackle a problem; while serving as a guide for advocates working towards [what should be] our collective effort to eradicate anti-Black racism.

In order to rectify our present we need to know our past.

That is the message that Quebec hip-hop artist and historian Aly Ndiaye, a.k.a. Webster, shares in his piece for Broadbent's Black Policy Series. Drawing on his studies and background as a historian and tour guide, Webster recounts significant moments in Canadian history that often go untold. He talks of the Black migration of slaves escaping the U.S., referred to as the “lion’s paw”, to places we now call Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes. Webster goes on to point to moments in Canadian history where these Black people had seemingly disappeared — conveniently erasing the occurrence of the systemic barriers and anti-Black racism they faced. Webster reminds us of the presence of segregation policies such as Black-only movie theatres and sections in restaurants known as the " the monkey cage" in Montreal and the “Crow’s Nest” in other parts of Canada. 

But Webster makes a point to note that the racism Black people encountered did not go unopposed. He points to the Coloured Women's Club of Montreal and Black train porters in Winnipeg, Montreal and Halifax who resisted racism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Webster then takes us on a journey to our present-day reality, where the Government of Quebec still denies slavery and the existence of systemic racism, and admits that this historical blindness has worked, leading Canadians across the country to be unaware of our complete history. He concludes by providing three immediate solutions we can employ to address anti-Black racism. 

"The remedy is love, the remedy is love. The mind, it is fertile. It needs to be ploughed. One must sow knowledge, educate oneself. Cultivate patience and then grow". - Webster, 5 For Trio - Idioties