Sunday, March 20, 2011


In 1966 the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution to recognize March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. March 21 was chosen to commemorate the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960. On 21 March 1960, in Sharpeville, Azania (South Africa) 69 Africans were killed and more than 300 were wounded (shot in the back) as they fled the murderous gunfire of white police. The Africans had gathered in a peaceful demonstration to protest the steady loss of their human rights, as white interlopers/settlers stole their land. The pass laws of the white supremacist settler group who had seized the African country decades before had become an unbearable burden for the Africans. African men and women were forced to carry the passbook, an identifying document that restricted their movement in urban areas where white people had settled and occupied exclusively.

On the morning of March 21, 1960 approximately 300 extra police and five (Saracen) armoured vehicles arrived at the local police station in Sharpeville as the marchers approached the police station. By 1:15 p.m. the approximately 5,000 strong group of protesters had dwindled to less than 400 when police opened fire without warning. The unarmed men, women and children were gunned down as they fled. The shooting finally stopped when there were no moving protestors in sight. When the smoke cleared there were 69 dead including eight women and ten children and 300 wounded, including 31 women and 19 children. The Sharpeville Massacre prompted worldwide condemnation of the minority white supremacist, illegitimate government of Azania. This led to international protests and calls for disinvesting in the white supremacist apartheid structure of South Africa. In spite of the brutality of the white supremacist government in South Africa, disinvestment did not happen on a large scale until the 1980’s.

On March 21, 1986, Canada’s Prime Minister proclaimed in the House of Commons, the country's participation in the UN call to all states and organizations to participate in the “Program of Action for the Second Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.” In September, 1988, ministers attending a federal/provincial/territorial ministerial conference on human rights agreed to commemorate March 21 in all Canadian jurisdictions. In spite of the “official” Canadian stance on anti-racism, the practice leaves much to be desired.

Racism is misunderstood by many who organize events to recognize March 21 with calls and slogans to Stop Racism. Racism is not prejudice or discrimination. Prejudice is prejudgment of a person or a group of people. Discrimination is action based on prejudice. Confusing the definition of “racism” with prejudice and discrimination is widespread and many people mistakenly use these terms as synonyms. Racism, white privilege and white supremacy are synonyms. This is a definition of white supremacy from the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop group (established 1993): “White supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples of European origin; for the purpose of establishing and maintaining wealth, power and privilege.” Another group: The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond defines racism as: “Race prejudice plus power” and they define power as: “having legitimate access to systems sanctioned by the authority of the state.”

One of the exercises the workshop uses to illustrate manifestations of racism is asking participants to choose a mainstream institution and “do a little power structure research.” They ask these questions: In a race constructed system, who owns or controls the institution? Who are the most privileged workers within it? Whom do the policies and practices of that institution primarily benefit? So my brothers and sisters, as we approach March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination do your research on any mainstream organization (including labour unions, socialist organizations and so-called left leaning, liberal organizations) and ask yourself: Who owns or controls the institution/organization? Who are the most privileged workers within it? Whom do the policies and practices of the institution primarily benefit? Unlike the blatant, overt white supremacist culture of the USA, Canadian racism has been, for the most part, covert and subtle. One of the most famous cases of Canadian white supremacist culture at work is Viola Desmond’s trial in 1946.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Wanda Robson, Viola Desmond’s sister on March 5 at the Ryerson University’s Viola Desmond Day event. I also interviewed Ms Robson on March 12 for International Women’s Day special programming on CKLN 88.1 FM. Ms Robson who has written Sister to Courage: Stories from the World of Viola Desmond, Canada’s Rosa Parks (published August, 2010) shared the story of her heroic sister who challenged Canada’s undercover Jim Crow law of segregation.

On November 8, 1946, Viola Desmond a successful African Canadian entrepreneur from Halifax, Nova Scotia was traveling on business when her car broke down in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. While the car was being repaired she decided to see a movie at the Roseland Theatre. She bought a ticket for the main floor of the theatre, went in and sat down. She was unaware of the theatre’s policy that the main floor was a “whites only” seating area because unlike the blatant white supremacist Jim Crow law of the USA, there were no “whites” and “coloured” signs posted and she did not know that African Canadians were relegated to the balcony. When Desmond was ordered to move she replied that she could not see from the balcony, that she had paid to sit on the main floor and that she would not move. The manager left the theatre and came back with a policeman. Together, the two burly white men dragged the 4’ 11” Desmond into the street, injuring her in the process.

She spent the night in jail in the same block as male prisoners. Next morning she was tried and found guilty of tax evasion. She was found guilty of not having paid the entertainment tax (one cent) that was the difference between the “white” section and the “coloured” section of the cinema. She was found guilty because the white woman who sold her the ticket did not sell her a ticket for the first floor which she had requested but instead had sold her a ticket for the balcony. The sentence was 30 days in jail or a fine of $20, plus $6 to the manager of the theatre, one of the two men who had injured her as he dragged her out of the cinema the night before. She paid the fine and then challenged the guilty verdict in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

The court upheld the guilty verdict. Desmond remained guilty of defrauding the government of 1 cent until April 15, 2010 when she was granted a pardon. A press release from the Nova Scotia Premiere’s office read in part: “The province has granted an official apology and free pardon to the late Viola Desmond. Mrs. Desmond, of Halifax, was an African Canadian wrongfully jailed and fined in 1946 for sitting in the white peoples' section of a New Glasgow movie theatre. Mrs. Desmond passed away in 1965. On the advice of the Executive Council, the lieutenant governor has exercised the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to grant a Free Pardon. A free pardon is based on innocence and recognizes that a conviction was in error. A free pardon is an extraordinary remedy and is considered only in the rarest of circumstances. This is the first time a free pardon has been posthumously granted in Canada.”

After 64 years, the government of Nova Scotia acknowledged what had been hinted at by one of the judges who dismissed Desmond’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in April 1947. Justice William Hall is quoted in April 1947: " One wonders if the manager of the theatre … was so zealous because of a bona fide belief there had been an attempt to defraud the Province of Nova Scotia of the sum of one cent, or was it a surreptitious endeavour to enforce a Jim Crow rule by misuse of a public statute." That is typical Canadian racism at work, instead of signs indicating segregated seats in the theatre, using the tax laws to disguise bona fide segregation.

In this year designated by the UN as the International Year for People of African Descent surely it is time to get past usual rhetoric and do some serious anti-racism work. While many people may think that racism of the overt act of individual white people telling racist jokes or parading through town dressed in white bedsheets, the most virulent forms of racism is the systemic entrenched white supremacist culture which circumscribes every area of our lives. The white supremacist culture that is hidden within Canada’s multicultural policy is an example. Dr. Sunera Thobani, professor at the University of British Columbia has criticized the discourse of multiculturalism in Canada: I think multiculturalism has been a very effective way of silencing anti-racist politics in this country. Multiculturalism has allowed for certain communities—people of colour—to be constructed as cultural communities. Their culture is defined in very Orientalist and colonial ways—as static, they will always be that, they have always been that. And culture has now become the only space from which people of colour can actually have participation in national political life; it’s through this discourse of multiculturalism. And what it has done very successfully is it has displaced an anti-racist discourse.
You know, I teach and I have young students of colour, they come, and they completely bought into this multiculturalism ideology. They have no language to talk about racism. They know that if they talk about racism, they will get attacked.
And multiculturalism is the dominant discourse now through which all of us have to, are forced to, articulate our politics. And I think multiculturalism has, in that way, it’s done a big disservice. Because it has just silenced anti-racist discourse and anti-racist politics in this country, which now has been defined as an extreme kind of politics. And meanwhile, the deeply-embedded racial inequalities in Canadian society continue to be reproduced. And multiculturalism masks them, it glosses them over, and it has become a policy of governing and managing communities of colour, so that those politics only get articulated in the name of culture, and culture is defined in highly patriarchal terms.
My position on multiculturalism is that multiculturalism exists in a very uneasy tension with bilingualism and biculturalism. So Canada defines itself as either officially multicultural, or officially bilingual and bicultural. And by bilingual and bicultural, what is meant is French and English. And so we have a kind of policy of white supremacy—which is what bilingualism and biculturalism really is—and multiculturalism. And multiculturalism, you know, how do we define what these multi-cultures are? They are different, diversity. Who are they different from? The multi-cultures that get defined are different from the English and French.
And so the centre of the nation still continues to be defined as English and French. So multiculturalism actually, from my perspective, upholds white supremacy. You know, I think that I would support a multicultural politics, if at the same time we were dismantling white supremacy, which we’re not, right? In fact, multiculturalism fits very nicely into, as I say, the “managing of ethnics and the coloureds” in a way that still allows the nation to define itself as really bilingual and bicultural.

It is unfortunate that in the 21st century racialized people are still colonized to the extent where some do not realize that fighting for the crumbs from the table of white supremacy is not an effective way to dismantle that system.




A very dear and beloved friend is battling breast cancer and is right now preparing for surgery. Her doctor has told her that the cancer is aggressive. African women contract breast cancer at a higher rate than white women. They have less chance of receiving treatment to deal with the cancer. Not surprisingly they die of this disease at higher rates than white women. My Sistah and her community have faith in the Most High, Jah Rastafari that she will not be one of the African women who succumb.

My dear Sistah friend has worked as African Heritage Instructor in the International Languages Program at the Toronto District School Board. That is how we first met many years ago. She is extremely hardworking and has a truly amazing collection of miniaturized objects that Africans have invented. Her library of African centred books, loving compiled and catalogued, is a thing of beauty. She is also an accomplished and tireless volunteer. Someone mentioned that her middle name should be "volunteer."

We held a gathering on Saturday night to be with our sister as she prepared to go to hospital. It was a truly spiritual experience. It is at such times that we realise how truly strong we are as African women. Things that would make other people’s knees buckle, make them give up, roll over and die. We rise to the challenge and we keep on living, keep on putting that one foot in front of the other but refuse to be defeated. Even when we are betrayed, stabbed in the back, we keep on going, refusing to give in to the sometimes mind numbing effects of spirit injury. It is an amazing strength we share as African women.

On Saturday night, we shared words of encouragement in a Sacred Sistahz Circle as we sent our Sistah off in the name of Jah Rastafari, the most high. We spent time with our children and grandchildren during the almost four hour communion of souls. It was a truly amazing, spiritually uplifting time and even strengthened me to deal with a dreadful situation in which I found myself the very next day, today, Sunday, March 20th, 2011 just a few hours before we observe the March 21, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It was a loving and spiritual gathering where we shared love and spiritual blessings to help her and us be in a good space for her surgery on Monday. We shared food, special prayers, blessings, songs, poems, oils and herbal tea to honour the occasion. We were and are a family who may not be connected by blood but still a family.

We talked about the aggressive cancer that afflicts many African Canadian women and I found some information about a similar situation in the USA. Many African-American women don't fit the profile of the average American woman who gets breast cancer. For them, putting off the first mammogram until 50 — as recommended by a government task force — could put their life in danger. "One size doesn't fit all," says Lovell Jones, director of the Center for Research on Minority health at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Jones says the guidelines recently put out by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force covered a broad segment of American women based on the data available. "Unfortunately," he says, "the data on African-Americans, Hispanics and to some extent Asian-Americans is limited."

So while the recommendations may be appropriate for the general population, he says, it could have a deleterious affect on African-American women who appear to have a higher risk of developing very deadly breast cancers early in life. The deadly breast cancers in African American women reminded Jones of the higher infant mortality rate in the African-American community, which has yet to be fully explained. Researchers have the same difficulty determining what combination of factors causes low birth weights and infant deaths in African-Americans. For example, the age of child birth with the lowest infant mortality rate in white women is about 30. In African American women it is around the ages of 16 to 19. Jones suspects the stress that African-Americans experience in this society is contributing to premature aging. It is not a popular theory, but even after adjustments are made for education, poverty and other factors, infant mortality remains high.

My Sistah friend was born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad but grew up in Canada; however, we are African wherever we live and suffer the same kinds of oppression and stress. As my Sistah friend prepares to undergo surgery on Monday, March 21, I pray for a successful surgery and speedy recovery. I am including on my blog two inspirational songs sung brilliantly and touchingly by a man who like my Sistah friend was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. Pastor Wintley Augustus Phipps born January 7, 1955 in Trinidad is truly amazing as he explains the history and sings Amazing Grace. I have also included It is well with my soul.

For my Sistah, I hope you read this and feel comforted, hopeful, loved and strengthened. In the Name of the Most High; Jah Rastafari!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


It’s official! Canada has a national tartan! On Wednesday, March 9, 2011, the Stephen Harper government announced that the Maple Leaf tartan is Canada's official tartan. If there were any doubts that the government considers Canada officially a white man’s (woman’s) country you need look no further. The Tartan is definitely not a part of Native Canadian culture or the culture of any of the other racialized people who live in this Great White North. Mind you, this wonderful news came within hours of House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken's rulings on misbehaviour of various government people including a Cabinet Minister which I will not go into here. Anyone interested in reading more about the shenanigans of the elected officials can do their own research. Okay, fine, you twisted my arm – Milliken ruled that the Harper government breached parliamentary privilege by refusing to fully disclose cost estimates for its “tough-on-crime agenda,” corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets. He also ruled that International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda breached parliamentary privilege by misleading MPs about an altered document. Also, starting today, March 16, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is holding three days of hearings on whether to uphold Milliken's ruling and to decide what, if any, sanctions to impose. Well, with all that I skeptically thought the whole tartan thing was a red herring! You know, to divert our attention away from the “double rebuke” by Milliken.

Well with all that being so, I now have the unenviable task of choosing Canada’s official kente pattern. I know, I know there will be challenges from other kente authorities, those who were actually born in Ghana and know kente from the roots up. However I claim some rights to choose Canada’s kente being the descendant (my elders assured me this is accurate) of Kofi who led the Berbice Revolution, in Guyana, South America on February 23, 1763. That information is for anyone who wants to argue about my Ghanaian pedigree. Kofi’s name identifies him as an Akan man from Ghana and so I rest my case for claiming authentic Ghanaian descent.

However, here is some history I gleaned about Canada’s now official tartan. The plaid was designed in 1964 by David Weiser in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of Confederation in 1967. It is worn by some military pipe bands and was featured in some costumes at the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics held in Vancouver last year. The four colours of the tartan reflect the colours of the maple leaf as it changes through the seasons--green in the spring, gold in the early autumn, red at the first frost and brown after falling. "The Maple Leaf Tartan has been worn proudly and enjoyed by Canadians for decades, but has never been elevated to the level of an official symbol-until now," Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages James Moore said in a communique. Moore said that making it a formal symbol recognizes the role that Canadians of Scottish descent played in forming the country. On October 21 last year, the Government of Canada announced that April 6 will be formally recognized as Tartan Day. This April 6, Canadians across the country will be able to celebrate this day with a new official symbol of Canada.

Wow! So not only am I under pressure to design a Canadian kente, I have to whip up support to ensure there is a National Kente Day when all Canadians will celebrate the official Canadian kente. But wait! I cannot do any of this except in my imagination or here on paper because I am not an elected official and hardly likely to be anytime soon since the next federal election is almost upon us and I have not been approached by any of the big three political parties (or is it now a big six?) to become their candidate. Alas and alack!! I think some other African Canadian woman already has that spot. After all we can only get there one at a time. No room for more than one at a time.

But wait! Again! As I read further, I realise this is nothing new, Canadians of Scottish descent have been at this for a while. By “this” I mean trying to get an official Canadian tartan. Unfortunately, even though Africans have been living and toiling on this great land at least since the first Great Scot arrived on these shores (if not before) those Africans did not have the luxury of bringing kente or any other cloth with them since they did not come willingly, they were enslaved. Those who came willingly, fleeing slavery in the neighbouring USA had most likely long since forgotten about kente and were running for their lives. Even if they had any kente, fetching it while hiding from vicious dogs and men intent on returning them to a life of brutal bondage would not have been high on their list of priorities.

When I read that two senators had put forward private member's bills (Bill S-222 and Bill S-226) to “further promote Canada’s Scottish heritage” for a minute I thought “maybe I can hope to be appointed senator.” I know, wild daydream, there is already an African Canadian woman senator, only one at a time.

Liberal Senator Elizabeth Hubley’s Bill S-226, which would establish the Maple Leaf tartan as Canada’s national tartan was supported by Conservative Senator John Wallace’s Bill S-222 to establish April 6 as Tartan Day in Canada. Was I as a Canadian supposed to be consulted about this? Maybe not. Apparently the good senators (Elizabeth Hubley and John Wallace) were inspired by the celebration of Robbie Burns Day. This bit of information about Robbie Burns Day was gleaned from someone in the know: Robbie Burns Day celebrates the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns, who wrote in the dialect of the lowland Scots and whose work has been translated into several languages.

While some Canadian Scots may have been able to hold on to Robbie Burn’s language, the only bit of African language I know is not even a West African language from where I claim my ancestry but it is Kiswhali which is mostly an East African language. However, Kiswahili is the most widely spoken African language and also spoken in some parts of the Congo where I also claim ancestry. Whew! Alrighty then! I am safe with the whole language thing now. But know this; I have not given up on an official Canadian kente. Watch out for when I get enough money to go to the land of my ancestors and change my name to Abena Agbetu. I will really get in gear to go all out for an official Canadian kente. There will be no stopping me then!

Monday, March 14, 2011


Students who attend elementary and secondary schools at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) will be away from school for the week of March 14 to 18. March break is usually seen as a welcome time away from formal studies and an opportunity for students and staff to spend time with family and friends while recovering from the cold winter and preparing to welcome the milder spring weather. A message from the Director of Education at the TDSB posted at the TDSB website on Friday March 4 reads: “With the March Break approaching, I just want to take the opportunity to encourage everyone to take some time to relax and unwind. Have a safe and enjoyable break! Just a reminder, as per our Homework Policy, students will not receive any homework to be completed during the break. Take this time to enjoy a well-deserved rest. Enjoy a safe and happy holiday with friends, family and loved ones and I look forward to seeing everyone back after the break, recharged and ready for the remainder of the year!”

Elementary and secondary school students and staff are not the only group that enjoys a break before the spring, post-secondary institutions also allow their students and staff time off during a one week Reading Week. The University of Toronto, Ryerson and York Universities had their Reading Week two weeks ago from February 21 to 25. Some students spend Reading Week doing just that; “reading” and catching up with neglected assignments while others take the opportunity to head to warmer climes for some “fun in the sun.”

Many students in post secondary schools south of the border usually enjoy Spring Break by heading to Florida for a little more than a break from the cold winter weather. An article written by Bill Marsh, published in the New York Times dated March 9, 2006 and titled “The Innocent Birth of the Spring Bacchanal” informs that “Spring break now sprawls across international borders, with students either welcomed as free-spenders or shunned for being little more than drunken mobs. It seems to have started out innocently enough. The Colgate University swim coach worried that his 1934-35 team might get out of shape during Christmas break. A student’s father, who lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., suggested the team train at a big new pool in the city. Decades of cultural upheaval later, with unruly hordes numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the popularity of “Fort Liquordale” had become a huge annual headache.”

This year many Universities in the USA had their Spring Break from February 28 to March 4 and from March 7 to 11. These days (21st century) Fort Lauderdale has much competition for the University and College crowd as the ultimate Spring Break destination. The many advertisements try to outdo each other with special packages for adventurous post-secondary students, with airlines and hotels getting in on the action. There are even articles with dire warnings for those students who may want to leave the U.S and wander south of the border to Mexico. One particular article caught my attention because the places which it warned students about included an American destination, three Mexican destinations and Jamaica. The article published by Fox News on March 2 with the headline Dangers Lurk in Some Spring Break Destinations included South Padre Island, Texas because “Just 30 minutes away are two major Mexican drug trafficking hubs, Matamoros and Nuevo Progresso.” No mention of the many home grown criminals in the USA including biker gangs, organized crime groups, confidence tricksters and the white collar criminals that ruin people’s lives. The American media chooses to warn about criminal behaviour in other countries and criminalize racialized people who live in the USA. In spite of the warnings American post secondary students continue to travel to so-called “exotic” destinations for Spring Break and Mexico continues to be one of the most popular destinations.

Not every country has a March Break or Spring Break especially if that country does not have four seasons. In the Guyana of my youth we enjoyed two weeks of Easter Holidays instead of March or Spring Break. Unlike Easter in Canada, there was no Easter Bunny nor were there any eggs, chocolate or otherwise, in the Guyanese Easter celebration. Although Easter is supposed to be a Christian holiday, the Easter bunny has no connection to Christianity. The word Easter is also pagan, supposedly from the pagan fertility goddess Ishtar (Babylonian) or Eastre (Anglo-Saxon).

Christianity is Guyana's dominant religion because of the country’s colonial history. The colonial European administrators made Christianity a prerequisite for social acceptance and in many cases education and employment. Enslaved Africans, stripped of their languages, names, cultures and religious practices, were forced to embrace the foreign beliefs of their enslavers. After several generations, this was all that many of them knew. The arrival of indentured labourers after the abolition of slavery, East Indians/South Asians from the Indian sub-continent (May 5, 1838) and Chinese (January 12, 1853) with their language, religion and culture intact did not lessen the British/Christian stranglehold on Guyanese culture. The first group of Portuguese indentured labourers arrived in Guyana (May 3rd, 1835) with a Catholic celebration of Easter. For generations, embracing Christianity was the means of achieving an education in schools founded and run by missionaries so it is not surprising that Easter a supposedly Christian celebration has been embraced by Guyanese of every religious belief and race. After the solemnity of Good Friday, the day that the faithful believe Jesus was crucified and Easter Sunday, when those who could afford attended church in their best, new outfits, everyone looked forward to Easter Monday and kite flying.

Kite flying even though not a British activity was part of the Guyanese Easter ritual for people living on Guyana’s coastland. The seawall at Kitty, Georgetown and # 63 Beach on the Courentyne coast were two of the most famous places for kite flying in Guyana. Extended families with several generations (children, parents, grandparents, even great grand parents) would pack baskets of food and spend the day socializing with family, friends, neighbours and sometimes strangers as they flew their kites.

During the week of March Break elementary and secondary school students in Toronto have an excellent opportunity to read for enjoyment. The United Nations has declared 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent and since our students are not receiving knowledge of African Canadian history as part of their education parents need to buy books about that history and encourage their children to read. The most recent book published in that genre is The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway African Canadians in Hamilton. Meticulously researched and written by Adrienne Shadd (published December 2010) this book adds to the growing list of excellent books about African Canadian history. The Toronto Public Library (with 99 branches) has ordered 12 copies and 10 will be available for borrowing while 2 will be reference only copies. Have a safe and productive March Break!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


You maintain your sense of humor

You remember a joke you heard

Well no matter what

A Black Woman never has to starve

Just as long as there are

Dirty toilets and…

Somehow it isn’t funny

Excerpt from The Tired Poem: Last Letter From a Typical Unemployed Black Professional Woman by Kate Rushin

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a world wide celebration and commemoration of a movement that began in the 1900s. In a pamphlet I received when I attended a 2008 Canadian labour movement event for IWD the information included this history of IWD: “On March 8, 1908, 15,000 women marched through the streets of Manhattan, demanding the right to vote, but also their rights as working women: shorter hours, better pay and right to join a union.” The reality for African women in America at that time was very different. There is no mention of the countless enslaved African women who laboured without pay in New York and across the United States of America. No mention of the enslaved African women whose unpaid labour enriched white people in Central, North, South America and Europe. After the abolition of chattel slavery in the United States (1865) the work that was available to African American women was reminiscent of the work they did during their enslavement. They worked as cooks, housekeepers, laundresses, maids and washerwomen. There were some 1,017,000 African American domestic workers before the start of the second European tribal warfare (World War II.) In the Southern states most of the women were sharecroppers or agricultural wage labourers. Elizabeth R. Rose in “A Mother's Job: The History of Day Care, 1890-1960,” published in 1998 writes; “When African American women were employed in other industries, they were segregated into the dirtiest and most unpleasant part of the work.” Those few who were “fortunate” to become employed as factory workers worked longer hours and made less than white women. It is hardly likely that there were any African American women in the group of 15,000 factory workers who marched through the streets of Manhattan on March 8, 1908 because they would most likely not have been working in a factory in New York. Even though African women are not written into the history of the beginning of International Women’s Day, we have contributed to the women’s movement. Today in the 21st century while we are celebrating, many people choose to forget this reality. The history of IWD does not include racialized women.

Some organizations claim that IWD began in 1909, some 1910 and still others 1911. Some of the information mentions that in: 1909: The first National Woman's Day was observed in the United States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.

1910: The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women's Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women's rights and to build support for achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.

1911: As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women's Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women’s rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.

From this information, to all intents and purposes, the history of IWD is the history of white women because there is no mention of racialized women in any of this history. From the Status of Women Canada website: “Canadian women have made enormous strides. The current Government has the highest percentage of women in Cabinet in Canadian history. The House of Commons currently has 67 women. The labour force participation rate for working-age women (15-64 years) has risen from 68.2 per cent to 74.3 per cent over the past decade (1997-2008). In 2007, women made up 35 per cent of all self-employed individuals.” What this information fails to mention is that of the 67 women in Canada’s House of Commons there is one African Canadian. While the labour force participation rate for working-age Canadian women may have risen 68.2, many African Canadian and other racialized women work in precarious job situations including contract jobs which may last up to a year and then those women are unemployed, desperately seeking employment where in many cases they are forced to take on more precarious work just to survive.

Even though African women have not been included in the history of IWD we have some of our history documented and the names of our sheroes recognized. In 1974 a group of African American women began meeting and in 1978 they published the Combahee River Collective Statement.

Part of that statement could offer an explanation for the absence of African women from the history of IWD and reads: “One issue that is of major concern to us and that we have begun to publicly address is racism in the white women's movement. As Black feminists we are made constantly and painfully aware of how little effort white women have made to understand and combat their racism, which requires among other things that they have a more than superficial comprehension of race, color, and Black history and culture. Eliminating racism in the white women's movement is by definition work for white women to do, but we will continue to speak to and demand accountability on this issue.”

The Combahee River Collective was named to honour one of our beloved sheroes, Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman led the Combahee River expedition because as a spy for the US Army she knew that the area was ripe for a successful invasion. On that fateful trip she led several gunboats up the Combahee River to dismantle the torpedoes placed by the rebels in the river, to destroy railroads and bridges and to cut off supplies from the rebel troops. The expedition was wildly successful.

The exploits of Harriet Tubman who transitioned on March 10, 1913 have reached mythic proportions. She was a conductor on the Underground Railroad who made 19 trips into enemy territory and rescued more than 300 slaves in spite of a $40,000 bounty on her head. She also worked as cook, nurse and spy for the Union army during the American Civil War. Her role in the rescue of a further 800 enslaved Africans on June 2, 1863 is documented in the Wisconsin State Journal, of Saturday, June 20, 1863 Vol. XI No. 237 page 2. Under the headline A`Black she Moses’ - Her Wonderful Daring and Sagacity, part of the article reads: “Col. Montgomery and his gallant band of 300 hundred black soldiers, under the guidance of a black woman, dashed into the enemies country, struck a bold and effective blow, destroying millions of dollars worth of commissary stores, cotton, and lordly dwellings, and striking terror to the heart of rebellion, brought off near 800 slaves and thousands of dollars worth of property, without losing a man or receiving a scratch! It was a glorious consummation. The Colonel was followed by a speech from the black woman who led the raid, and under whose inspiration it was originated and conducted. For sound sense and real native eloquence, her address would do honor to any man, and it created quite a sensation.”

Although the United Nations has designated 2011 the International Year for People of African Descent and the African Union has designated (2010- 2020) the African Women’s Decade, that is not recognized by any of the worldwide IWD celebrations. The words of the Combahee River Collective Statement published 32 years ago are relevant in 2011; “We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work. We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess anyone of these types of privilege have. We are dispossessed psychologically and on every other level, and yet we feel the necessity to struggle to change the condition of all.”