Black History Month is as American as apple pie.
It's also as Canadian as maple leaves and beaver tails, and although our countries have drastically different histories when it comes to blackness, let's not assume too much of a superior attitude, shall we?
We had slavery, too (although not for as long as our neighbours to the south), and one peek at the racial makeup of elected U.S. politicians versus Canadian ones should give us pause before we gloat.
Judging from the look of the benches of power in Ottawa, Canada isn't ready for black leadership. That's a stain on us; where is our Barack Obama? Or, for that matter, Condi Rice, Maxine Waters or Eric Holder? Let's not allow the trails blazed by Jean Augustine and Lincoln Alexander to be paved over and painted white. There's still work to do.
As for Black History Month, from politics to sports to the arts, if we don't indulge in a little hero worship every February, we run the risk of being erased from this country's official narrative of success.
I refuse to let this month be about American culture, American voices and American history. Black History Month is important to me from a specifically Canadian perspective, and the reason why goes back to an experience I had in my college years.
In theatre school, I was once told by a professor that being black and gay meant I had "two strikes against having a good career." At the time, I had a crush on Thom Allison, who demonstrated (as he still does) that blackness and gayness don't hold you back, but help you soar. He's a hero of mine not because he's black and gay, but because of those things in relation to his incredible and diverse body of work. Sometimes campy, sometimes not, often playing traditionally "black" roles, often not, he has consistently dazzled critics, audiences and his fellow artists.
Thom Allison and Trey Anthony
Allison's avoided typecasting to play all kinds of leading men, leading ladies and character parts, from Toronto to Broadway to television screens across the country. He didn't make me want a career as a performer, but quietly, beautifully and from a distance told me my professor was wrong and showed me that a career was possible.
Trey Anthony is another one whose showbiz reality seems like a dream. She has incredible talent that she uses both onstage and behind the scenes. But without the experience that being black in Canada gave her to work with and create from, would Da Kink In My Hair have gone on to international success? Trey's life, wisdom and insights from being a black lesbian - in other words, her history - formed her work, and that work set records and became a Toronto legend.
As Canadians, we have our own black heroes and heroines whom we must cherish, respect and make proud. Thom Allison, Trey Anthony, Jean Augustine and Lincoln Alexander are mine.
Their unique and diverse achievements give the lie to the idea that blackness, gayness or anything else that might give someone "minority" status could ever be considered a strike against a good career.
Ryan G. Hinds's cabaret/talk show Comedy, Cabaret, And Coffee Talk plays February 15 at the Flying Beaver Pubaret; he plays Greta in Bent, March 1 to 9 at Hart House Theatre.