Solidarity with the Black Canadian Studies Association (BCSA)

The Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS) observed with deep disappointment the unfortunate events that took place at the 2019 Congress of the Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences held at UBC. The racist harassment of Shelby McPhee, a member of the Black Canadian Studies Association (BCSA), is a reminder that concrete action for profound change must be systematically undertaken to establish an academic culture that is inclusive, open, and respects difference.

The BCSA requested that the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences 1) waive Congress 2021 fees for its student and community members and 2) make a formal commitment to a Black Studies themed Congress in the foreseeable future. We believe these requests were reasonable given the prevailing structures of disadvantage affecting Black scholars as well as the cancellation of Congress 2020, which focused on a theme (Confronting Colonialism and Anti- Black Racism) that would have allowed for much deeper conversations around systemic racism. We are therefore disappointed in the Federation’s reactive rather than proactive approach to the current crisis. The Federation’s impression management orientation in its relationship with the BCSA since the 2019 incident is an utter embarrassment. It has become clear that the firefighter approach is no longer acceptable.

As an association with explicit focus on Africa, CAAS is organically linked with the BCSA in addition to the intellectual solidarity that binds us to all other academic associations. CAAS had already decided to hold its 2021 annual conference at the University of Western Ontario, for reasons unrelated to the current situation. However, CAAS stands in solidarity with the decision of associations that have withdrawn from this year’s Congress. We would have done the same.

CAAS supports the BCSA on the urgency of clearly articulating issues related to anti-Black racism as a Congress theme. The UN’s statement in its declaration of 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent recognizes that ‘people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected’. An organization purporting to represent scholarly associations and universities ought to have more than a pedestrian or impression management approach to these issues. The Federation needs to do a lot more on its vision ‘to build an inclusive, democratic and prosperous society by advancing understanding of peoples, cultures, institutions and social relations’.

CAAS has participated in past Congresses and continues to be part of the Federation. Thus, current and future actions of the Federation regarding this important matter is of interest to CAAS members and will determine our association’s relationship with the Federation. We are, however, hopeful about the work being done by the Advisory Committee on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Decolonization (EDID). CAAS looks forward to reading the Committee's report in April and working with the Federation, BCSA and other associations to implement various activities and programs that would contribute towards eradicating systemic racism and injustice in academia.

In solidarity,

Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS)