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network 12/09/2016 - 05:00PM


As the new public school year begins this September, Cinema Politica’s newest VOD release is an important reminder of a not-so-distant past where a student’s racial identity pre-determined her education’s accessibility, calibre, and quantity.

Sylvia Hamilton’s (who also sits on the CP Advisory Committee) THE LITTLE BLACK SCHOOL HOUSE examines the history of racial segregation in Canadian public schools from the arrival of American Civil War refugees to the closure of the last black Canadian school in 1983.

Public schools for black students in 19th and 20th century Canada rarely saw the same funding and support as the schools for white children. Hamiliton’s interviewees, many of whom were students and/or teachers in segregated schools in Ontario and Nova Scotia, paint a nuanced portrait of the black schools: at once celebrating the close communities that the schools created while lamenting the necessary struggle against systemic and personal racism. They also praise the teachers and administrators who inspired their students while condemning those who discouraged black students from pursuing high school or post-secondary education, thus venerating the stubborn determination to access education amidst the challenges posed by inaccessible school locations, undersupplied classrooms, and an uninspired curriculum.

The film also reflects on the persistent lack of administrative support for black students, as well as the inadequate representation of black culture within contemporary public school curriculums. As one interviewee summarizes, “it is very bad manners to invite someone to dinner and then to not set a place for them at the table ... If you cannot close your eyes and imagine that your doctor may not look like you, and that the Prime Minister of Canada may be Chinese, or black, or First Nations, you shouldn’t be in front of a classroom”.

THE LITTLE BLACK SCHOOL HOUSE is an important voice in the ongoing conversation about educational inequality and its greater societal implications around race and racism. Although markedly different from the cultural genocide perpetuated at the First Nations residential schools, the underlying attitude of patriarchal colonialism and legally sanctioned racism in Canadian educational systems has created significant and lingering problems for non-white students across the country.

While confronting this history of systemic inequality, Hamilton’s film foregrounds the black Canadians who flourished in spite of the system and have sought to change it in their adult vocations as lawyers, doctors, judges, professors, entrepreneurs, and – in inspiringly large numbers – as teachers.

Click here to watch THE LITTLE BLACK SCHOOL HOUSE on CPVOD today.


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