“We like to think that we are better here and in certain respects perhaps we are, but when it comes to racism, when it comes to the treatment of people of African descent … what’s different is the expression and the level of violence,” said Rosemary Sadlier.
Sadlier, the past president of the Ontario Black History Society and author of several books including The Kids Book of Black Canadian History, said she started writing when her children were young and discovered a gap in the education of Black history.
“For me, Black history was something that was important for my kids but they were not going to be living in this society on their own and so everyone needed to know,” she said.
“It really is the missing piece of Canadian history.”
Her children now grown, Sadlier has delivered countless lectures on Black history across the country.
“Very recently, the premiers of Ontario and Quebec indicated that there is no systemic racism … and that isn’t true,” she said.
Premier Doug Ford has since backtracked on that sentiment.
When George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, sparking mass protests around the world, Sadlier said she sensed something shift.
“This is a moment when everyone is saying ‘no more, no more aggression against Black people, no more violence against Black people’ and violence isn’t always thankfully resulting in somebody’s death, but people are saying ‘no more,'” she said.
But that is not sufficient enough for change to happen, Sadlier pointed out.
Her life’s work has been aimed at raising awareness of Black Canadian history through education and literature.
“If people don’t have a background in Black history how can they begin to appreciate that, number 1 there are Black people who have been in this country for a long time who have made a contribution, and number two in the process of making that contribution they have been thwarted along the way in doing so,” she said.
Not a single generation of Black men and women throughout history, Sadlier pointed out, has not been negatively treated or denied entry, accommodation or opportunity.
“I have been stopped. My kids have been stopped. I can’t think of a Black person that I know of who has not had a moment when they know … they were being targeted or profiled because they were Black,” she said.
A first step toward change, voiced also by others, including those in the community, is the need for race-based data collection.
“Toronto contains half of all Black people in the country … and we still don’t have race-based data,” she said, adding, “You can’t address something until you have measured it.”
Beyond her writing and advocating, while leading the Ontario Black History Society, Sadlier was instrumental in having February declared as Black History Month in Canada.
“I think we really have to start listening to and believing people of African descent when they are saying something is wrong, that there are things that need to be changed.”