Excerpted from: Charmaine Nelson, “Toppling the ‘Great White North’: Tales of a Black Female Professor in Canadian Academia” The Black Professorate: Negotiating a Habitable Space eds. Sandra Jackson and Richard Gregory Johnson III (New York: Peter Lang, 2011), pp. 108-34.
In contrast to the USA where African-American and Black Studies programs, departments and institutes have proliferated since the later half of the twentieth century (i), there is a decided absence of Black or African-Canadian Studies in Canadian academia. This academic absence has a direct impact on when, where, how, and how much, black-focussed Canadian scholarship can be delivered in Canadian universities. Rather than departments with designated staff, or programs that can provide degree requirements, Canada’s paltry infrastructure of Black Canadian Studies usually takes the form of research centres or more insignificant or underfunded structures, many of which do not have stand alone faculty or even access to knowledgeable professors that they can borrow from elsewhere on campus on a regular basis. As such, while they have been exciting and impressive sites of academic conferences, public forums and even courses, they are not able to consistently offer enough credits in a timely fashion to allow students the option of a degree specialization, a minor, major or honours degree in Black Canadian Studies.
Therefore, questions remain within our existing programs and resources. What is their real material capacity for education in terms of professors, resources and curricular frameworks? In 2004 one hundred and forty (140) of the four hundred (400) Black Studies programs or department in the USA offered undergraduate degrees, twenty-four (24) MA’s and five (5) PhD’s. (ii) Comparably, within Canada’s few Black or African-Canadian academic resources (none of which are constituted as departments with a significant level of designated, full-time faculty) zero degrees were offered.
i. Jacqueline Bobo, Cynthia Hudley and Claudine Michel “Introduction” The Black Studies Reader Jacqueline Bobo, Cynthia Hudley and Claudine Michel eds. (New York: Routledge, 2004), pp. 1-2. Bobo, Hudley and Michel trace the beginnings of Black Studies in US higher education to initiatives at Merritt Junior College in Oakland, California where a course entitle “Negro History” was proposed. Although it failed to meet the standards of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, their organizing efforts led to the establishment of the Soul Students’ Advisory Council, an organization which provided a template for later Black Student unions.
ii. Jacqueline Bobo, Cynthia Hudley and Claudine Michel “Introduction” The Black Studies Reader Jacqueline Bobo, Cynthia Hudley and Claudine Michel eds. (New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 2.
BCS strives to support black academics working in Canada, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or research focus. It supports all faculty, academics, cultural workers, community historians and others working on topics of relevance to Black Canadian Studies.
BCS acknowledges the heterogeneity and complexity of black Canadians, not as a recent fact, but as an ongoing historical reality, which began at least in the seventeenth century. The expulsion of blacks from the Canadian national imaginary is produced in part through the unhinging of Black Canada from broader Trans Atlantic histories of slavery and the Black Diaspora. As such, BCS seeks to recall, to remember and to celebrate the centrality of peoples of African descent within the Canadian experience.
BCS supports all academics, scholars, community historians and cultural workers producing critical research on Black Canada. Recognizing the normalcy of institutional racism in academia, this support also extends to individual black Canadians regardless of discipline and specialization, and to black academics of all backgrounds working in Canada.
BCS advocates for the proper maintenance of existing Black Canadian, Black Diaspora, African, Caribbean, Latin (and related) studies academic units in Canada. Furthermore, BCS encourages the creation of a national university infrastructure of Black Canadian Studies, capable of consistently providing courses, undergraduate degree concentrations (ie. minor, major, honours) and graduate degrees.
BCS acknowledges the strategic institutional barriers, which impede black scholars from full and fair access to academic employment in Canada and elsewhere. The building of a national university infrastructure of Black Canadian Studies cannot be accomplished without the employment of black Canadian and other scholars. Therefore, BCS seeks to positively intervene in the unjust employment practices of Canadian academia to influence the diversification of Canadian faculty.
BCS acknowledges a universal deficit of knowledge on Black Canada that permeates the Canadian educational landscape. Advocacy for a national university infrastructure of Black Canadian Studies is not sufficient to counteract this deficit. As such, BCS also supports the development of curriculum, accessible across Canada, which engages with histories of black Canadians at the elementary and secondary school levels.
BCS acknowledges that certain disciplines (mainly History and English) have dominated the Black Canadian Studies landscape. While still supporting these areas, BCS encourages research in under-represented disciplines and fields (especially the arts - art history, fine, expressive, material etc.) and the use of under-explored and overlooked archives, collections and sources.
Noting the bias of archives, museums and other sites of cultural collecting, the BCS seeks to encourage the collection, documentation and preservation of all art, and visual and material culture of relevance to the study of blacks in Canada. The BCS also encourages a reassessment and activation of existing cultural collections (or parts thereof) as relevant to Black Canadian Studies.