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Emancipation Day an opportunity to commit to eliminating anti-Black racism

Emancipation Day, recognized on August 1, provides an opportunity for Canada, its institutions, and its people to commit to working towards eliminating ongoing systemic and individual forms of anti-Black racism. Ontario recognized Emancipation Day in 2008 and the day was federally recognized in March 2021.

Emancipation Day commemorates the Abolition of Slavery Act that came into force in Canada in 1834. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade created damaging systemic legacies that, 187 years later, are still embedded and normalized in Canada. While individual acts of anti-Black racism occur daily, systemic anti-Black racism within institutions oppresses entire Black populations on an ongoing basis. These old, colonial systems are the same systems that also oppress Indigenous Peoples.

As with other institutions, such as law enforcement, the oppression of Black communities is embedded in systems, policies and practices. Only real structural change and an authentic commitment to dismantle racism and white supremacy will free society from the burden of colonialism and its effects.

The education sector is not exempt. Advocacy and raised consciousness are leading to change within school boards and within the Ministry of Education. Anti-Black racism is not only explicitly named, but challenged in more formal ways than ever before. While there is more representation in school board leadership, this is not an end to the struggle. There is much more work to do to address and dismantle anti-Black racism in the education system, labour movement and beyond. 

Given the legacy and current prevalence of anti-Black racism in colonial systems, institutions and society, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario remains committed to eradicating anti-Black racism through its multi-year strategy. The strategy is focused on creating systemic changes to confront anti-Black racism, and to provide a more welcoming and inclusive union environment for Black members at provincial and local levels. 

Emancipation provided freedom from slavery for people of African descent. The necessary work must be done by governments, institutions and individuals to provide freedom in the form of equity and social justice that is the legal and moral right of every Black youth and adult.