Eighty years after African-American historian Carter G. Woodson chose February to launch Negro History Week, African-Canadians (and other Canadians) still use February to observe what is now titled Black History Month, most of us unaware of its origins in African-American idolatry of their homegrown cultural martyrs and champions.
The month was chosen in honour of the birthdays of U.S. president Abraham Lincoln ("the Great Emancipator") and fiery slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
No wonder, then, that in applauding black achievement, many Canadians - black, brown, golden, ivory and copper - summon up African-American icons or, if pressed, one Jamaican (Marcus Garvey) and one South African (Nelson Mandela).
Absent today in Canada is any sustained attentiveness to African-Canadian history or achievement.
Ironically, in Canada (or perhaps just in Toronto), this short, bleak, cold month dedicated to according public respect to black cultures is used chiefly to glorify only one, African America, and its cinematic history of struggle and "overcoming." That's okay: African America is one of the world's great cultures - like that of India or China - and it is merely a matter of proper education to be acquainted with its majesty and accomplishments.
Furthermore, just as U.S. popular culture overshadows (English) Canadian entertainments, so does African-American art and history, broadcast (if grudgingly) by Hollywood and Wall Street, force upon African-Canadian cultural work the status of marginalia.
While the white Canadian cultural industry enjoys state-based support that gives it some market visibility and viability, similar assistance is seldom extended to black Canadian cultural workers. (Exhibit A: the Juno Awards.)
That the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission has licensed Black Entertainment Television for reception in Canada does not - cannot - resolve the dearth of African-Canadian information and imagery on our TV and film screens.
Thus, Black History Month can only focus on, for most Canadians, 1) the Underground Railroad, 2) Jackie Robinson playing baseball for the Montreal Royals, and 3) Martin Luther King, but not 1) slavery in colonial Canada, 2) Marie-Josèph Angélique burning down Montreal, and 3) Viola Desmond (our very own Rosa Parks, who in 1946 refused to sit in the "blacks only" section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia).
Nor do we bother to consider that, in Canada, August makes better sense for African Heritage Month - and not just because it gives us 31 sun-kissed days.
The British Empire abolished slavery on August 1, 1833 (although it was not supposed to take effect in the Caribbean until 1840).
Emancipation Day is still celebrated in Windsor, Ontario, in August.
Black Nova Scotia's major festivals - The Association (a gathering of African Baptist congregations) and the Africville Reunion - are held in August.
Toronto's Caribana is in August, as are similar events in Montreal, Ottawa, and even Vancouver.
The only sensible argument against adopting August for Canada's African Heritage Month is that school's out, and black artists supplement their incomes via those annual February visits to classrooms.
Must we abolish Black History Month?
No, we must nationalize - I mean, naturalize - it.
George Elliot Clarke's seventh collection of poetry is Illuminated Verses (Canadian Scholar's Press). It features 38 colour photographs by Ricardo Scipio of black nudes - classical, lyrical, natural.