02/13/2018 14:58 EST | Updated 02/14/2018 14:20 EST

Black History, White Teachers And The Gap In Between

Is it really too much to expect a white teacher not to wear a do-rag as a supposed way of celebrating Black History Month?

A black high school student in Ajax, Ontario walks into class earlier this month, and her white teacher is wearing a camouflage do-rag on his head as a way to celebrate Black History Month.

She's startled, and respectfully informs him that "it's a bit racist." He replies that he is just "supporting his coloured friends." When she presses the issue and asks him to take it off, he sends her to the office.

She speaks to the vice principal, who has no idea what the problem is or why she's so upset. Just the day before, it was announced over the PA system that everyone could wear the do-rags to school as part of dress down day, and to promote Black History Month.

Whose idea was this, and who approved it, you ask? Well, it turns out, the do-rag idea came from a group of black students on a Black History Month committee that is led by a white teacher. Apparently, the kids "did their research," and this is what they came up with.

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I'm guessing the white teacher in charge of this group was either too scared or ignorant to tell the kids do-rags are just those head tie thingies some people use to preserve their hair at night, not really a representation of black history. Plus, in mainstream media, they've kind of been (wrongly) associated with gang culture, so maybe we should go with something a little more historically accurate.

This was a moment where an informed adult was desperately needed; a moment where the grown up in the room explains the difference between "black culture" and "things some black people do." Some black people have curly hair and wear do-rags to reduce frizz, but that doesn't make it black culture.

Is it really too much to expect a white teacher to have even a sliver of common sense when it comes to black representation? Is it too much to ask a white teacher to type the words "black + history + Canada" into Google and come up with the most basic of ideas for Black History Month? Is it too much to ask schools that have huge black student populations to make an effort to hire black teachers?

If it's too difficult to find qualified black teachers (heads up, it's not,) then is it too much to ask that during Black History Month, white teachers seek out some professional help instead of relying on teens to come up with an entire Black History Month programme?

It's simply unacceptable for us to have our kids thinking that do-rags are a symbol of black history.

Set aside some of your yearly budget to pay people from the black community who have taken the time to come up with age appropriate Black History content. These people can include Natasha Henry, president of the Ontario Black History Society, Andrew Campbell, a Toronto teacher and diversity educator, Sean Mauricette, a motivational speaker and hip hop artist, and Robert Small, creator of the Black History Month Legacy Poster.

But you know, this kind of thing comes with the territory, doesn't it? It's part of the "black burden." I'm talking about the burden every black person has experienced at work when it's Black History Month, or when a "black issue" comes up in conversation, and everyone expects you to be the official spokesperson. In this case, a group of kids were expected to lead the way on an entire school's Black History Month recognition.

However, this incident just also highlights how poor of a job we are doing as black parents teaching our kids about their own history and culture. It's simply unacceptable for us to have our kids thinking that do-rags are a symbol of black history.

So, whose responsibility is it? I've been engaged in heated debates with my online friends about this. "We don't expect kids to teach themselves math do we, so why black history?" vs, "Reading is free, and black parents have zero excuse for not informing their children about black history and culture." Both viewpoints are true.

But here's the thing. This year, our Prime Minister kicked off Black History Month by recognizing the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent. In his speech, he said, "Black history is Canadian history."

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a baby during an event to mark the 20th Anniversary of Black History Month on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Feb. 24, 2016.

But how will that phrase ever be true when names like Viola Desmond or Lincoln Alexander are not common knowledge among all races of people in Canada? How can black history really be Canadian history when in 2018, a white teacher has such little knowledge of the black Canadian contribution that he thinks wearing do-rags for black history month is okay? How can black history really be Canadian history when there aren't any specific learning expectations on African-Canadian history in much of the curriculum in Canada?

The funny thing is, you don't even have to go that far back in history to find black accomplishments to talk about. Black Canadians are making history as we speak. Devon Clunis was the first black Canadian ever appointed as a police chief in Canada, and that only happened in 2012!

More from HuffPost Canada:

There are hundreds of books written by black historians and academics detailing black Canadian history. There are at least a dozen museums and online portals dedicated to black Canadian history. But somehow, these books and materials don't make it into the hands of high school students. There aren't that many field trips to Amherstburg Freedom Museum or Buxton National Historic site. For some reason, they are not deemed worthy of study or inclusion in the curriculum.

This was the impetus for us at ByBlacks to create the #BlackHistory365 campaign, where we spent an entire year dedicating our social feeds to black Canadian History.

We are systematically ignored and erased from the Canadian historical record. Until that changes, black history and black people in Canada will continue to be "othered" and remain on the fringes of the national conversation, with 14-year-olds running around in their mom's head scarves, celebrating Black History Month.

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