Photo | Georgia Lin
The 2018 Hancock Lecture, entitled Black & Educated? Unveiling the Contradictions & Redesigning the Future with speakers Chizoba Imoka and Dr. Kofi Hope, was held on January 23rd 2018 in the Hart House Great Hall. Chizoba Imoka, a PhD candidate in the Educational Leadership and Policy program at OISE and founder of the NGO Unveiling Africa, delivered a powerful lecture on anti-racism and her vision for decolonized educational systems, focusing on her native Nigeria.
For Imoka, to be Black and educated meant being “uprooted from my cultural heritage and forced to take on an Eurocentric perspective.” She also recalled several instances of experiencing anti-Black racism in Canada, such as when a classmate said Western culture was better than African culture because the former didn’t practice female genital mutilation, or when professors had lower expectations for her educational potential because of her race.
In her lecture, Imoka analyzed the “broken” Nigerian educational system at length. In school, she was taught that “colonization was the salvation of Black people” and that Africans would be “illiterate” without it. While attending the University of Alberta, Imoka found that many students participated in efforts to “Save Africa,” whereas she had never been taught that Africa needed to be saved. She realized she had been denied the truth of her history in her Nigerian schooling, and came to the conclusion that the system required a complete, decolonizing transformation.
Throughout the evening, Imoka stressed that the world is not currently in a post-colonial state, and decolonization efforts must continue. Imoka claimed that the concepts of multiculturalism and freedom come at the cost of ethnocides and linguicides in Western civilizations; a Eurocentric education turns students into objects who sustain imperialism when “the flip side of imperialism is racism.” To be Black in higher education is to undergo “an identity crisis, because you are Black on the outside but feel white on the inside.” Imoka asserted that Eurocentric school curriculums seek to silence heritage, as students only learn about creation through Adam and Eve, “when my ancestors predate Adam and Eve.”
A Eurocentric Western education under-educates Black students and results in an intellectually colonized group of students becoming agents of their own colonization. “A Eurocentric vision of success is what makes Black people fit into Canada, but still get asked how [we] speak such good English,” said Imoka.
Instead, Imoka strives to create a “justice-orientated education” that will allow every student to emerge as a different cultural being. This includes creating classrooms where teachers facilitate “how young people ground themselves in their heritage by standing on the sides, and not the front.” Imoka pressed Black students to “declare your politics” and actively reject hierarchal oppressive systems, such as resisting discussions about the inferiority of African culture, and to fight for a “pluri-versal” world instead of submitting to universality. Imoka also encouraged allies not to “expect Black students to always be patient. Make space and advocate!”
The conversation between Imoka and Dr. Kofi Hope, a UofT alumnus and former President of the Black Students’ Association, explored how educational systems are contested spaces that perpetuate the anti-Black racism that is “woven into the texture of society.” Dr. Hope emphasized the need for North-South solidarity, and the importance of being allies to the Global South instead of wanting to “Save Africa.” In addition, he stated the importance of empowering Black youth when they rediscover their formerly colonized legacies, as “Black youth are not the problem, they are the solution.”
Imoka concluded her lecture by imploring everyone to take a class on African history taught from an anti-colonial lens, and called on UofT to ask itself “what it should mean to be the best university in the world, and how to be reflective of the diversity the world truly contains.”
The 2018 Hancock Lecture ancillary programming includes the In Their Own Words exhibit on Hart House’s Talking Walls, featuring UofT students discussing what it means to be Black on campus.