Within the mythology of our public consciousness "the 'hood" exists as being little more than fear-inspiring epicenters of urban crime, violence and poverty. In fact, when we think of what it's like in the 'hood, often our collective imagination conjures up images of that scary side of our cities where streets are overrun by guns, gangs, drugs, thugs, welfare queens and absentee baby-daddies.
The 'hood, however, is much more than these mediated projections of urban folklore and pathetic pathology.
For many Canadians, the 'hood is the beloved birthplace and nurturer of individual and collective identity; it represents that place where the feelings of belonging, shared understanding and validation resonate with such an unparalleled familiarity that bullet-riddled walls can become, for some, hood monuments pointed at with pride.
Though it's likely a difficult fact for the majority of Canadians to accept or understand, the truth is the 'hood exists for many of their fellow citizens as the cradle of identity formation, and fundamentally informs how some of us live out our membership within Canada's national and civic community.
Now , it should to be said that in Canada, identifying with "the 'hood" is arguably most prevalent among black people. This is partly because of the drowning influence of negative aspects of rap/hip-hop culture, mixed with the overrepresentation of blacks in Canadian poverty statistics.
Either way, the propensity of black Canadians, especially younger blacks, to affectionately identify with the 'hood leads me to ask the following question: In a country as free, prosperous and with as robust a social security system as Canada has, why do some black Canadians actively choose to draw on the frightful, depressing and dangerous place that is the hood in order ground to themselves within the landscape of Canadian life?
While the answers to this question vary in number and complexity, I think an important and under-appreciated reason for this is the erasure of African and black Canadian history, culture and contemporary contributions from our primary, middle and high school curricula throughout Canada. In fact, one might say that our Canadian education systems are so dismissive of the presence and impact of African descendants in Canada and around the world, that our schools are unmatched as Canada's most effective and efficient public institution when it comes to confining blacks in Canada to the 'hood.
In other words, the absence of blacks from our provincial curricula (most especially when considered with the backdrop of the standard deeply negative representation of blacks in the media), is critical in creating the widespread and deeply held belief that black people belong in the 'hood, and by default, stand outside of our commonly held notions of Canadian citizenship, identity and nationhood.
For this reason, I am a strong supporter of the Toronto District School Board's (TDSB) decision to open an Africentric high school for this coming September. Although the ideal would be a universally implemented curriculum that was meaningfully inclusive of all under-represented ethnic, cultural and national groups, the Africentric education initiatives being bravely undertaken by the TDSB provide important and enriching soil in which a growing number Canadians can re-root their understanding of black people, their communities and histories as they are and have been lived in Canada and beyond.
The developments of Africentric education in Canada are an important advancement because at present, the images and impressions that dominate the vast majority of Canadians' understanding of their national kin of African descent are overwhelmingly wrapped up in the images of African-American history, personages, politics and pathologies. As such, more often than not, when relating or reacting to blacks in Canada, most people (blacks included), use what they know about African-Americans to guide their behaviour.
Though many myopically call the TDSB's Africentric schools segregationist, any intellectually honest approach to this issue of Africentric education has to acknowledge that current circumstances are such that black Canadians are, by and large, being badly misrepresented within the media and public imagination. This being the case, what better institution than our public schools to dispel the widely held misconceptions that black people are inherently violent, criminal, loud, aggressive, hyper-sexed, unintelligent and lazy?
In fact, we should consider this public re-education an obligation of our public schools, one which is engaged with the same sense of duty and devotion as when our teachers work to dispel myths like: girls have cooties; there's something wrong LGBTQ individuals; Aboriginal peoples are savages and; Arab and Muslim people are terrorists.
Diversifying how we inform Canadians about members of their civic community who share different histories and perspectives surely won't, in itself, rectify the longstanding, deep-seated and complex issues that find black Canadians more instinctually associated with the hood than with Canadian national identity. However, such changes in the way we educate the public about Canada's black populations can go a long way towards correcting some of those negative presumptions that diminish the value and promise of Canadian citizenship for us all.