What's in your backpack?

CCRSB News: 
Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Focus on Race

Every day, each one of us carries an invisible backpack. That backpack is filled with all of the things that make us who we are. 

CCRSB’s Race Relations, Cross-Cultural Understanding and Human Rights Social Justice Framework helps us to understand what’s in another person’s backpack, and compels us all to approach one another with compassion, empathy and respect. 

Our Social Justice Framework identifies five pillars that might be in our backpacks: Race, Class, Gender, Sexual Orientation and Abilities. These pillars fill our backpacks all the time, but sometimes one pillar can feel heavier than others. 

To understand the Pillar of Race, and the way it factors into the lives of all members of the CCRSB community, you first need to understand how the idea of race came to be. 

Race, or the belief that groups of people who look the same (i.e. skin tone, hair texture, etc.), are different from one another began about six hundred years ago. The idea that one group was superior to another because of their “race” began in earnest in the United States when free men and women from Africa, the Indies, and many other places were taken from their homes and enslaved by the government, made up predominantly of white men. Those in power tried to justify this enslavement by claiming that black men, women and children were inferior to their white “masters”. 

Here’s what we all need to know: race is not real. Race was made up to justify one group of people dominating, terrorizing, torturing and killing another group. At our very basic level, the cells that make up our bodies, our genetics, all of us are the same. We are all members of the human race. That is the only “race” that truly exists.

This truth has existed for centuries, but it was denied to continue to allow groups of people to dominate others. We have seen the destructive power of racism across the world: men, women and children denied access to education, jobs, safe housing and their lives because their “race” was different than those who held power. 

As a community, all staff, students and volunteers have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the Pillar of Race and to overcome the systemic racism that has existed in our country, communities and schools for many years. 

Systemic racism happens when the things we think are true about one person, are applied to all people who look like that one individual, or share that person’s beliefs and cultural values. In North America, the belief that members of the white community were superior to all other peoples, led to slavery, discrimination and racism that we must all fight to correct even today.

February is African Heritage Month. This is the time that all members of the CCRSB community pay special attention to the history and heritage of African-Canadian people. We learn about and honour their contributions to Canadian society at all levels, as scientists, educators, artists, social and community organizers and leaders. 

This year, African Heritage Month is focusing on the No.2 Construction Battalion from World War 1, a battalion made up entirely of black men from Nova Scotia, other places in Canada, the United States and the British West Indies. These brave men, in the face of the wanton destruction and death of the Great War, volunteered to go overseas and fight for freedom; because of rampant racism these men were told that there were not allowed to fight alongside white men. They did not give up. They fought to fight. They formed their own battalion and went to war.

The fight to end racism and to recognize the role that the Pillar of Race plays in all of our lives is not something that needs to happen just in February. We have a responsibility as a school system, as communities, a province and a country to take the steps necessary to ensure that empathy, understanding, education and love overcome.