Recognizing Emancipation Day

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Following years of campaigning by Black lawmakers and community advocates, in 2021, the government of Canada federally recognized August 1, as Emancipation Day, and the month of August, as Emancipation Month.

While it was less than 200 years ago, in 1834, that the British Empire ended the practice of slavery in the former British colonies, which included Canada, many Canadians are unaware that Black and Indigenous peoples were once enslaved here.

Canada’s recognition of Emancipation Day and Month falls within the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, which recognizes that people of African descent (approximately 200 million people in the Americas) represent a distinct group, whose human rights must be promoted and protected.

Therefore, as we recognize Emancipation Day and Month, and appreciate the strength and perseverance of Black communities, it is equally important that we address the underacknowledged history of slavery and anti-Black racism in Canada.

I believe that Emancipation Day should not be a celebration, but a call for action, a call for change, a call for a true understanding of the violence that is embedded in the policies, procedures, and actions of the systems that we live and work under. Emancipation Day and Month must be a clear call to action to reflect, educate and engage in the ongoing fight against anti-Black racism and discrimination.

Our history of enslavement, our history of colonialism, this country’s ongoing history of settler colonialism, anti-Black racism, and white supremacy are defined through violence. This is something our society does not want to teach us, nor does it want us to know that our existence and the attempted erasure of our existence was a physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually violent act. 

We also do not talk about the fact that during the period of enslavement, we were dehumanized to justify our given place as “beasts of burden.” That is violence. That our ancestors were marched from the interior to the coast, shackled and raped in the dungeons, abused and tortured on the ships, and worked to death in the Americas, is also violence. We were beaten, maimed, and killed, for profit. That is violence. We were legally stripped of our drums, our language, our beliefs, and displaced from our homes. That is violence. We are told we are not as smart as the other children in class. That is violence. We are told to believe that our skin colour or hair isn’t as pretty as a cartoon character named Ariel. That is violence. 

Before we move forward, we have to understand and acknowledge that 188 years later, we are not truly free of all the forms of violence that we were ‘legally’ emancipated from on August 1, 1834.

We still have a lot of work to do. We must act collectively to end anti-Black racism and strive for justice. This is everyone’s work to do, every day.

If you are experiencing or have experienced anti-Black racism, you can find resources and support here.