International Day of Remembrance for Victims of Slavery & Transatlantic Slave Trade

March 25th, the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade:
What are we doing now as a nation to contribute to the success and prosperity of its descendants?

Annually on March 25th, the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade challenges us to remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system and raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today.

When Canadians talk about slavery, we often point with pride to this country's role in the mid‐1800s as a haven for Americans escaping captivity via the Underground Railroad. This, however, is only half the story. Like the United States, this land has its own history of slavery – a history we should never forget. This collective and permanent protest movement, in which tens of thousands of enslaved people resisted bondage by running away from slavery, started in Canada- not for African Americans looking for a safe haven but for slaves escaping Canada. So, why do we often hear about this radical movement solely as an escape from oppression in the US towards freedom in Canada? For many of us, including myself, there's still much to uncover, learn and even unlearn.

As Rinaldo Walcott, a black studies professor at the University of Toronto, once said, “Canada has been skilled at suppressing its own relationship with the enslavement of Black people.” But if we are really to promote equality, equity, and justice, we must first make space for the truth.

As Canadians looking to right our collective wrongs, we must stop minimizing the (Black) Canadian experience, stop allowing it to be drowned out by a flood of American narratives in media and literature, and start putting an end to the denial of slavery and systemic racism that has existed and continues to exist. This Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade ultimately serves as a stepping stone to anti-racism practices and an opportunity to advocate and work in alliance with our communities directly impacted by this.

We cannot work to bring solutions to racism without knowing and sharing the real history.

The buying, selling, and enslavement of over 4000 African people was practiced as a legal instrument that helped fuel colonial economic enterprise in Canada for over 200 years. That is longer than the history of Canada as an official country. What does it mean to reconcile with the fact that the history of slavery is greater than the history of this nation?

Their forced labor of African people was instrumental in the success and wealth of the British colonies that gave birth to modern Canada. The current-day legacy of racism as it plays out against Black populations is a direct manifestation of transatlantic slavery. We cannot separate the two.

The policing in a situation that allowed Sammy Yatim to end up murdered by 8 gunshot wounds by a Toronto officer is not a type of anti-Blackness that gets born separate from slavery in the Americas. That is an example of slavery in the (North) Americas. The idea that Black people are expendable, that they don’t feel the same way, and that they should be blindly obedient to white authority is slavery.

When the mechanisms of slavery go away, unaddressed, racism is still there, and it shape-shifts.

All of these stereotypes of Black people go back to slavery and the creation of the notion that there is something called a race, which is a biological difference, to justify racism. Scientists have debunked that race even exists, but we live and continue to practice racism as if it’s real, with dire consequences for black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour.

I am fortunate enough not to come from ancestors who were stolen. I am fortunate to know my Cape Verdean and Angolan roots and history. As such, and as an immigrant to Turtle Island, I am committed to learning and sharing the truth about Canada's involvement in slavery, as should allies to black people. As I delve further into institutional histories, slavery, and colonialism, these emotional and social truths shall continue to shape how I reflect, observe, analyze, advocate, educate, and write about perceived race and racialization in Canada. I will continue to engage with others to understand anti-Black racial violence further.

I welcome others to work toward solutions that bring true healing that re-centers those harmed by racial injustices. I hope that with important days like this, we can do justice to the memories of enslaved people like Chloe Cooley. Her story matters.

If her and many other’s forced labour contributed to the success and prosperity of what has now become modern Canada, my question to you, to us all, is, “What are we doing now as a nation to contribute to the success and prosperity of the descendants of the Transatlantic Slave Trade?”