What Do You Really Know About Being Black in Canada?

How have you celebrated Black History Month this year? I would love to know!

Some of my friends and colleagues have made an intentional effort to support Black-owned businesses. Others have made donations to charities that support Anti-Racism Equity and Equality. Still others have purchased, read, and shared books by Black authors. Then there are the wonderful online resources that I personally have found helpful because they have introduced me to noteworthy Canadian Black Figures and their contributions. Some of these we shared in our worship service at Siloam on Sunday, February 13th.

Here is a wonderful video about the founder of Black History Month in Canada, the Honourable Jean Augustine, about whom I have written before. Her story is especially inspiring. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wGRWtSMq3s

Here is a powerful video about a young Canadian Black woman named Anne who talks about how the failure to lift up positive images of black girls in her elementary school led her to want to straighten her hair and bleach her skin – so that she could fit in with all the white kids in her class!

Here’s a link to one video in a series on Black History in Canada, that I encourage you to watch:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZvGmSuqiKw

Perhaps the best way to celebrate Black History Month is to commit to learning more about what it means to be black in Canada and how you can support efforts that lead to greater equality for all people of colour, not just during the month of February, but all year long!

Remembering Archie Bunker on Family Day, February 21st, 2022

Today is Family Day and my mind takes me back to how families were portrayed when I was growing up in southwestern Ontario. As a second-wave Boomer, I remember watching re-runs of Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, the Donna Reid Show, and Ozzie and Harriet. They were all a very idealized version of my own family – Dad heading out to work in the morning; Mom looking after the kids and caring for the home, with supper on the table when Dad got home; and having my grandmother back for Sunday lunch after church each week. Nothing terrible ever happened in these shows, the woundedness that many real life families experienced was never touched upon, and the episodes were full of feel-good, homespun wisdom.

But then in my second year of high school a new kind of family show aired, one that was not afraid of dealing with the realities and prejudices of most North American families: All in the Family. Most of us had never seen anything like it before. Apparently CBS was so worried about viewers’ responses to the patriarch of the family, the foulmouthed bigot Archie Bunker, that they actually hired extra phone operators to field any complaints that might come in to the station.

Few individuals or groups of people were spared Archie’s insolence. There’s even a scene from one of the early episodes where Archie and his wife Edith are returning home from church, and Edith tells Archie how horrified she is that he has just cursed the minister for his sermon. Daughter Gloria , whom Archie condescendingly calls “Little Girl”, and son-in-law Mike, try to lighten the mood with an anniversary lunch they have prepared for the couple. But, as Daniel S. Levy has written in Time Magazine,  “as the four sit down to celebrate, it takes no time for Archie to complain about the “Hebes,” “spics,” “spades,” “pinkos,” and atheists who have co-opted society, all the while tarring Edith as a “silly dingbat” and spewing his bile at Mike by calling him a “meathead.”

Little wonder, then, that a few weeks ago my middle son John, who had happened upon some old re-runs of the show, came to me to express his shock and outrage that such things were allowed to air on TV.  Yes, I said, it was terrible to hear those things on public television, but it was not the first time that satire had been used to highlight evils of society like racism, homophobia, antisemitism, religious bigoty, and misogyny. As Rob Reiner, who played Mike, noted, its purpose was to make North Americans see how racist and bigoted they were. The creator of the show, Norman Lear, who had himself suffered from discrimination in his childhood because he was Jewish, had a vision, and according to Reiner, that “vision was to get people thinking and talking about the issues of the day.” It worked. People talked about the show at work, over the back fence, and in the grocery store. Many of those who found the show so humourous, also recognised  themselves in the bigoted Archie and began to question their attitudes and prejudices. Teachers began to incorporate lessons in their curriculum that taught their students about bigotry in all its ugliness. In many ways, as Levy has written, this “foulmouthed bigot named Archie charmed and changed [North] America” for the better.

Today, as the extreme far right threatens to gain ground and our world grows more and more racist and intolerant, maybe it’s time for another Archie Bunker, someone who can shake us out of our ingrained intolerance and the dogmatism of small-mindedness and hatred.


What’s your favourite love story? There are so many of course, both in history and literature. Anthony and Cleopatra. Heloise and Abelard. Napoleon and Josephine. And of course the fictional Romeo and Juliet. My favourite is the story of Catherine and Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights. Richard and I visited the Bronte home in Haworth, Yorkshire, when we were in England a few years ago and got to see where the story was penned.

If you are a Boomer, you will of course recall another memorable couple: Jennifer and Oliver, played by Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal in the 1970 film version of Erich Segal’s novel, Love Story. If nothing else, you will remember its haunting tune and the famous line spoken first by Jennifer to Oliver and, later by Oliver to his father following Jennifer’s funeral: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

I was too young at the time to know what this line might mean, but when I did fall in love, I came to the conclusion that it is both true and false. It’s false because we know that, due to the frailty of  human nature, we often make mistakes that sometimes wound those we love most. In these instances it is important that we apologize. On the other hand, as many of us have joyfully discovered, there are times when we have been lovingly embraced fully and completely and unconditionally, without saying a word, even when we did not deserve that love. The love of a parent or dear friend come readily to mind. Think of the story of the Prodigal Son. I have also known spouses to share this special kind of love.

What do you think?

Does love mean “never having to say you’re sorry?”

I would be interested to hear what you think about this famous catchline from Love Story. I would also enjoy hearing what your favourite love story is.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Today is the first Sunday in Black History Month in Canada. Those of us who are Boomers well remember the Civil Rights Movement and the powerful witness and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His powerful “I Have a Dream Speech” made a deep impression on our generation, but sadly today we must acknowledge that there are still too many places where systemic racism persists and too many instances of racial discrimination.

This is the lament of black Canadian Andrew Johnson, whose powerful prayer poem I share below, with permission from the United Church of Canada. Can we learn from our horrific past? How can you and I begin to build reconciliation in our own communities?

Prayer in Poetry for Black People in Canada

By Andrew Johnson

Here I am in a mosaic of cultures, not a melting pot,
Yet, my Blackness is not seen or given too much thought,

While it is true I have other identifiers that can have me talking for days,
Now is not the time or place as peoples continue their racist ways,

The course of time continues to play back echoes from long ago,
Gaps, secrets, lies, coverups, and parts of our history we’ll never know,

An ongoing narrative of trauma, ongoing stress, prejudice, and discrimination,
But, folks who never have to think about it won’t fully understand my fatigue and agitation,

In the Northern Hemisphere of the Americas, we call Canada our home and native land,
Black history and experience is shoved under the rug with some of it left untold, unspoken, and banned,

People say you can look it up on the Internet in an age of information,
We should be advanced now and know so much more,
But, that is only the tip of the iceberg and leaves us standing at the door,

When you open the door to lived realities you will see there are higher truths, and find the capacity to feel for other living, breathing people,
It shakes the status quo including those who pray underneath the churches’ steeple,

Empower us! Allow us to feel Joy! Let us share our lives and wholehearted “isness”!
Hold that thought for the swarms of devil’s advocates, and personal identifiers being part of everyone else’s business,

We’re caught in learning cycles, and aware of the world’s problems without good policy or sensible action,
There is no vocal power here for persons with Blackness, since the good cause doesn’t have enough bells, whistles, or dignified media traction,

Say my name, say my name! But, you don’t know me well,
We’ve only just begun to name real lived experiences after recognizing how humanity has been so mentally unwell,

Why did the man uproot, enslave, dominate, violate my ancestors, and turn around to make a mockery and think it’s funny?
It seems to boil down to a massive transfer of wealth, power, resources, and money,

The trauma of this atrocity is left stored in my DNA memory,
I await for issues of apologies and statements written carefully and cleverly,

It would be wise if we could learn from our past in all its horror, twists, grit, and grime,

To your average citizen, the events of these racialized heightened days are like an impossible puzzle or mountain we cannot climb,

As though there isn’t any thread to follow for each sickening act of violence, hatred, and crime,

If you know your history well, there are no surprises under the sun here in our place in space and time,

I regret to think that maybe, if I play “the game” well, I can possibly see the day of reconciliation and reparations,

But then, I am but a person with Blackness in Canada with a hope for seemingly healthy, feel-good race relations.