The Great Black North

One fact that’s widely overlooked during Black History Month is that it’s not only Black History Month in the US. Besides having the stated aim of highlighting the contributions to human history made by the entire black diaspora, BHM is simultaneously observed in Canada. People who’ve never been to Canada may not believe that black people live there. While it’s true that the black Canadian population is minute compared to the black American populartion both in terms of numbers and percentage, black Canadians have contributed significantly to Canada’s mostly overlooked music scene and their contributions are surely worth honoring (oops! …honouring). [Special thanks goes to MuchMusic].

 

Dream Warriors – Wash Your Face in My Sink


Maestro Fresh Wes – Let Your Backbone Slide

Interspersed with exemplars of black Canadian musical contributions, allow me to ponder the controversies surrounding terminology used to discuss black Canadians and hopefully in the process shed a little light on history. No doubt we’ll never come to a consensus on what’s the most accurate/least offensive/least ridiculous terminology, but just thinking and talking about it is worthwhile far as I’m concerned… or at least fun.


Oscar Peterson – C Jam Blues

MCJ & Cool G – So Listen

 

First of all, the black population of Canada as a whole is fairly different from the black population of the US. Whereas nearly all Black Americans are descended directly from Africans brought over in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, 62% of Black Canadians are descended from voluntary immigrants to Canada from the West Indies. Of course, most of them came from Africa, but in the West Indies they created a unique culture fairly distinct from the black American South’s. This is undoubtedly part of the reason that most black Canadians reject the term “African Canadian” just as slaves did early on, hoping to separate their identities from Africa and gain recognition as Americans. Of course, the politcally correct designation “African American” is also used to describe black Canadians since most Americans can’t recognize Canadians from themselves, especially accent-deaf political correctionalists.

 


K-OS – Musical Essence


Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers – Little Miss Sweetness

 

The term “African Canadian” not only erases the broad cultural distinctions between West Indian-descended black Canadians and Canadians from Africa, eh, it also implies an African homogeneity quite at odds with reality. After all, Africa has the widest variety of indigenous populations on the planet and reserving the prefix “African” for the continent’s black residents effectively excludes the non-black, yet just-as-African Arabs, Berbers, Bushmen and Malay from the equation… not to mention the more recent but still substantial (and, I would argue, equally African) European, Chinese and Indian immigrant populations. This fact is made more obvious in Canada, perhaps, than the US. In the US, most African-descended people are black west Africans so the term African-American isn’t as obviously flawed. In Canada however, most African immigrants are Moroccan Berbers, Algerian Arabs, and European-descended South Africans… yes, most African-Canadians are whities. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

 


The Dears – Lost in the Plot
In order to further recognize their distinct culture within Canada, many West Indian-descended black Canadians use the term “Caribbean Canadian,” although it’s also not without controversy because, just like African-Canadian, it implicitly homogenizes the Caribbean, excluding the substantial, just-as-Caribbean, non-Black Chinese, European, Indian, Lebanese, Native and Syrian populations that are integral parts of Caribbean culture and the heritage of many black Canadians.


Kardinal Offishal – Bakardi Slang


As well, in order to avoid saying “black” at all costs, some Canadians have even taken to saying “Afro-Caribbean-Canadian” although that’s just too much a pain in the mitiss for most. Anyway, a smaller but relevant percentage of Canada’s black population is descended from those who used the Underground Railroad, which took substantial numbers of former slaves to freedom, mainly in Nova Scotia and Southwest Ontario. So, while there may be no resolution to this question, hopefully you enjoyed thinking about it or at least the Canadian music.

 

 

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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