Video: Putting Black British Columbia History to Work, Prof. Handel Wright

February 7, 2021

Black History Month event, hosted by BC Black History Awareness Society.


Putting Black British Columbia History to Work: Contemporary Implications of Historical Blackness

Paradoxically, it is no secret that the presence of Black BC is something of a secret. In other words Blackness appears to be so underrepresented in contemporary BC (with black people making up only 1.3% of the population and no discernible black ethnoburbs) that many outside and even within the province may be forgiven for thinking there is no Black BC per se and by extension, perhaps there never was a Black BC.  Community historians like BC Black History Awareness Society are doing a wonderful job of unearthing and presenting historical Black BC so we know of say the African Rifles / Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps in the 1800s and Black Strachcona / Hogan’s Alley in the 1900s.  What are the implications of these elements of Black BC history; how is Blackness being (not) taken up in BC and for what reasons and what good use ought we be making of Black history?  In this talk I try to address the persistent “absent presence” of Blackness largely in terms of history but also in terms of geography. More specifically, I take up named (and for the most part, somewhat known) historical figures (Mifflin Gibbs, Sylvia Stark and, if we dare colour him Black, Sir James Douglas) and use them to try to explain the strategy (racist erasure) by which Blackness has come to be rendered almost fully absent from the conception of BC and to assert the contemporary presence of a rich diversity (e.g. in terms of gender, sexuality, diaspora) of Blackness that belies and resists that erasure.

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