York University’s new Black Canadian Studies Certificate will launch in September for the upcoming 2018-19 academic year through the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies.
Students enrolled in the certificate will study Black Canada through four humanities and fine arts approaches: cultural studies, history, literature and music. In its inaugural year, the program will be available to students concurrently enrolled in an undergraduate degree. The certificate’s creation is, in part, a response to a call from undergraduate and graduate students.
“Students themselves at York, both undergraduate and graduate, have been calling for a more diverse curriculum that reflects their own histories, their own experiences and helps them to better understand their own relationship to the society in which they live,” says Professor Andrea Davis, chair of the Department of Humanities. “A program like Black Canadian Studies is necessary for all Canadians, for all of us, to interrupt this idea that Blackness is somehow separate from Canadian society as a whole.” To view a video interview with Davis, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnZtA0TBVIA.
Davis teaches the first-year prerequisite course, Cultures of Resistance in the Americas: The African American Experience, whose alumni include Jamil Jivani, lawyer, activist and author of Why Young Men: Rage, Race and the Crisis of Identity (2018).
“When you come into a class like this, you have a chance to really understand the diversity of experiences that Black people have and, by extension, that humanity has. You get to learn about the different solutions and responses that Black people have come to, to improve their conditions,” says Jivani. “From that you will draw tremendous strength moving forward to do what your conscience and heart tells you is right and to bring something fresh and innovative to a world where the problems that we are being asked to solve are too often ingrained in the status quo… To challenge them, we need new ideas and new perspectives.”
As students move through the program requirements, they will draw on a carefully selected group of courses that will help them build a sense of community with their cohort, graduate teaching assistants and professors.
Professor Christina Sharpe, a leader amongst contemporary scholars in Black Diaspora Thought and Cultures, will teach in Black Canadian Studies as a new member of the Department of Humanities. Her widely recognized research is rooted in Black visual and performance arts, Black literatures and cultures, Black feminist theories and queer studies. Sharpe’s most recent book, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016), has significantly broadened and deepened interdisciplinary understandings of the diaspora.
“I’m really excited about coming to York to work with a range of students who come from diverse communities and are explicitly interested in Black Studies, Black Diaspora Studies, Black Canadian Studies,” she says, adding that Blackness and histories of slavery are often excised from Canada. “The study of Black Canada from a humanities perspective is really important because the humanities offer multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity.”
Sharpe will be teaching a fourth-year seminar called Imagining Slavery and Freedom. Through the combination of creative texts — novels, music, films and other visual arts — slave narratives, nonfiction and theoretical works, students will critically examine questions surrounding Transatlantic slavery, the imagination and the idea of freedom. To view a video interview with Sharpe, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaQjRolu8n4.
“I wanted to think about all the ways that imagination was central to both the people who claimed ownership over other people and those people who were in a position of bondage who imagined themselves from bondage into a freedom they had not yet experienced,” says Sharpe. “One of my favourite quotations from [the novel] Beloved is that if you do not see it, if you do not imagine it, you will not have it. How important imagination has been in terms of Black life and possibility.”
Wendy ‘Motion’ Brathwaite, a spoken word artist, MC and playwright, spoke to the CBC about the new Black Canadian Studies Certificate and the course she teaches, Griots to Emcees: Examining Culture, Performance and Spoken Word.