The 17th annual Margaret Hancock Lecture, titled “Black & Educated? Unveiling the Contradictions & Redesigning the Future,” featured Hancock Lecturer Chizoba Imoka and moderator Dr. Kofi Hope. At Hart House on January 23, Imoka spoke about key issues facing today’s Black youth, primarily focusing on the effect of colonialism on the education system.
Imoka began by recognizing the history of Black people, who made it possible for her to gain a platform. “A little over 200 years ago, people like me were slaves,” she said. “How we evolved from there to here has really been because of the vision, the courage, and the persistence of many Black people who did not give up.”
She also stressed the importance of providing space and platforms, such as the Hancock lecture, to Black people.
“For me, what it has meant to be Black and educated has meant being uprooted from my cultural heritage and being forced to take on a Eurocentric perspective,” she said. “And that has prevented me from transforming the world, transforming my continent, transforming Canada at the time and the place that I thought was necessary.”
She recalled a specific instance when her advisor told her that she was not eligible for a particular scholarship because he assumed she did not go to school in Canada, “an assumption based on [her] skin colour.”
She elaborated on how the effects of colonialism are still present in Nigeria. In 1969, the country held its first conference regarding Indigenous education, in order to design an education system better suited for postcolonial Nigeria. “After the conference, what changed? Nothing.”
“[The] language of instruction remained English, even though there are 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, and 400-plus languages,” said Imoka.
She suggested a shift from a universal world with common understandings of religion, philosophy, and art to a world with a melting pot of ideas and cultures.
“We need to move to a pluriversal world, where all the diverse cultures and epistemologies of the world that we shut out as a result of colonialism… We need to bring them in and create a world where all the multiple knowledge systems and all the philosophies start to form the world,” she said.
Hope delivered a short speech containing examples of his own personal experiences in education to end the talk, and he reiterated many of Imoka’s points.
“When you think about people of African descent, we know certainly that educational systems can perpetuate anti-Black racism, but they can also provide social mobility, and a platform for us to overturn oppression,” he said.
The Hancock Lecture was first launched in 2001, with the goal of igniting conversation and debate among the public about issues deemed important by youth. Originally named Hart House Lecture, the event was renamed in 2007 in honour of Margaret Hancock, the first female warden of Hart House.
Editor’s Note (February 2): A previous version of this article incorrectly state that Imoka’s father was an immigrant to Canada.