DISE's Professor Howard shares his research about Canadian blackface incidents with new SSHRC Connection Grant

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Professor Philip Howard, of our Department of Integrated Studies in Education (DISE), has been awarded a SSHRC Connection Grant to mobilize knowledge from his research into contemporary Canadian blackface. 

A large proportion of contemporary Canadian blackface incidents occur on university campuses, with a significant number also occurring  in professional entertainment venues in the province of Quebec. Given national narratives that regard Canada as non-racist, Canadian blackface has a tendency to be interpreted as harmless fun.

"The blackface phenomenon -in which people darken their skin with makeup to parody Black people- has resurfaced in Canada since 2005," explains Professor Howard. "This practice is similar to that used in blackface minstrelsy -a form of 19th and early 20th century entertainment that expressed nostalgia for slavery and racist violence, and employed stereotypical representations of Black people. While postracialist claims in Canada attempt to suggest that race and racism are declining in significance, contemporary Canadian blackface employs many of the tropes of anti-black racism associated with this more explicitly racist era. These contemporary blackface incidents therefore deeply challenge Canadian claims to postracialism, and it is important to understand both the allure and the pedagogical effects of contemporary blackface."

The outreach project will use arts-based methods to engage audiences with Professor Howard's research. The objectives of the project are threefold:

  • Raise awareness about blackface's history and impact in Canadian universities.
  • Offer Black students and others who have been negatively impacted a space to heal and develop strategic responses.
  • Combat isolation by fostering connections between Black student organizations across Canadian universities.

To these ends, Howard has invited Camille Turner to collaborate on this project. Turner has over 20 years of experience as an artist, curator, and educator, and has facilitated collaborative partnerships between artists and researchers. The project will commission four artists -Nadine Valcin, Anique Jordan, Esmaa Mahomoud, and Quentin VerCetty- each having a socially engaged, critical art practice, to produce a video installation, a sculpture installation, two Afrofuturist lenticular prints and two 3D printouts. These installations will be the focus of an event that will take place at McGill University on October 23, 2017, which will include performance installations and workshops, as well as a public lecture by Professor Howard. The event will be replicated at Queen's University on October 25, and Wilfrid Laurier University on October 27. Through a collaboration with the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas at McGill University (IPLAI), the artwork will also be on exhibition for a week in Little Burgundy -a historically Black community in Montreal- at Le Salon 1861. The exhibition and events will occur in October, a time around which Canadian blackface incidents often occur.  

Dr. Philip Howard is assistant professor with the Department of Integrated Studies in Education with McGill University’s Faculty of Education. His areas of interest include critical race studies, anti-colonial and post-colonial studies in education, Black Canadian studies and critical race pedagogies. Professor Howard serves on the editorial board with the journal Whiteness and Education, and is a Consulting Editor with the Canadian Journal of Education. Among his publications, Professor Howard has authored the following articles related to this project "Drawing Dissent: Post-Racialist Pedagogy, Racist Literacy, and Racial Plagiarism in Anti-Obama Political Cartoons” (Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 36(5)) and “On the back of Blackness: Contemporary Canadian blackface and the consumptive production of post-racialist, white Canadian subjects” (Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture).