Black History Month at McGill kicked off with a well-attended keynote address by Professor Wendy Greene, Kline Law School, Drexler University. Photo: Lysanne Larose, McGill Law.
February 2020 marks McGill University’s fourth annual celebration of Black History Month (BHM), which aims to honour and place Blackness throughout the history, the present, and the future both at McGill and beyond. On February 3, the Faculty of Law had the immense honour of being the first faculty partner to host BHM 2020’s Opening Ceremony, which welcomed Professor Wendy Greene from the Kline School of Law at Drexel University as its keynote speaker.
Professor Greene is a legal scholar, gender and racial equity advocate, and leading expert on hair and appearance discrimination. In 2019, she served as the legal expert for the California CROWN Act, the first statewide law in the United States that prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture. Professor Adelle Blackett, Ad. E., BCL’94, LLB’94, gave a powerful introduction for Professor Greene, noting that her work has played “a pivotal part of the journey that many of us have taken to in our own lives to break with a paradigm of assimilation through emulative sameness via our hair”.
Professor Greene delivered her keynote address, Rooted: Locking Black Hair to Human Rights Activism, to the crowd that filled the Maxwell Cohen Moot Court to capacity. She reflected upon how Black hairstyles are used as grounds for discrimination, mentioning two cases that took place mere weeks ago where Black youths were asked to cut off their locs before they could participate in school-related events. She showed how banning natural hairstyles in schools and workplaces particularly burdens Black women, who are required to change their natural hairstyles through time-consuming, costly, and often damaging procedures. “If you care about Black women and girls’ health, you must care about our hair,” Greene said.
BHM: “A moment of celebration and reflection”
The organization of this year’s BHM celebrations at McGill is led by Shanice Yarde of the Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) and students Shona Musimbe and Catherina Musa, in collaboration with the Black Students’ Network and the McGill African Students’ Society. Students, staff, and faculty from across the University community organized a range of events and activities as part of the celebration. “This year’s theme, Rooted, feels particularly significant and timely as we move into a new decade and period of transition,” Yarde noted. She hopes this year’s BHM celebrations continue to bring people together and support both existing and new opportunities to center Blackness at McGill: “Black History Month is a moment of celebration and reflection, but the most important and impactful work needs to happen outside of February. Anti-Blackness and systemic racism is unfortunately still pervasive. Challenging that oppression and addressing the barriers and harm should always be a priority if we are committed to supporting Black people and our liberation.”
Save the date: 80 years after Christie v York on February 29
On the last day of Black History Month, February 29, the Faculty of Law will proudly host Commemorating Christie v York, 80 Years On, a symposium marking the 80th anniversary of Mr. Fred Christie’s fight for racial justice in Montreal.
Mr. Christie’s case is particularly significant to the McGill community: the second Black professor at McGill University, Dr. Kenneth Melville, was Chair of the Christie Defence Committee, which raised the funding needed to carry Christie’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. “This event is an invitation to recall past histories of relationship and to think about how to rebuild and sustain them into the future,” Professor Blackett said.