Habiba Cooper Diallo’s book #BlackInSchool is helping readers educate themselves on the Black experience during Black History Month.
Cooper Diallo’s book was released in September 2021 and details her experience as a Black student in the public school system, who fights back against systemic racism in Canadian schools.
Sparking change in Canadian schools
Cooper Diallo, who is originally from Ontario, moved to Nova Scotia for her last two years of high school. She developed her book from a chronological series of journal entries she wrote throughout grades 11 and 12.
Hoping to spark change in the public school system, Cooper Diallo gets “very vulnerable” in her book, she says. On multiple occasions she shares her personal encounters with racism in high school, such as repeated harassment from a teacher about her elevator pass.
“My goal for the book is that it will be read in classrooms all across Canada, in high school classrooms and in university classrooms. . . to create a better, more inclusive, anti-racist world,” she says.
While she hopes her book will spark the change she wants to see, she knows that her voice alone is not enough.
“I think the most important [thing] is for there to be commitment, for administrators to say ‘We want to end it’,” she says. “There has to be that will because many of them say it, but the will is not there.”
The responsibility of administrators
Once staff have shown their commitment to ending racism in schools, Cooper Diallo believes the administrators will begin to fund that goal. She hopes to see schools bring in learning materials and anti-racism educators “to do rigorous training.”
Having seen some “important change” happening in public schools, Cooper Diallo has had many teachers reach out to her, hoping to open the eyes of their students and colleagues. She says more and more teachers are becoming aware of the reality of anti-Black racism.
“But it’s not enough and it’s not happening fast enough,” she says.
The portrayal of Africa in schools
Another theme Cooper Diallo explores in her book is the portrayal of Africa in high schools. She says the majority of what schools show their students is the stereotypical poor and starving Africa. However, Cooper Diallo wants readers to know that’s not all there is to it.
“I just want people to educate themselves. I just want people to stop being so defensive, white people to stop being so defensive,” she says. “And to just read some books. Read my book, read Chimamanda Adichie, world-renowned novelist, Nigerian novelist. Just read. . .books about Africa. Read books written by African authors.”
Cooper Diallo hopes her readers are able to take away a sense of understanding and courage after learning about her experiences.
“You see everything that’s happening in the world, you saw the murder of George Floyd, you saw those victims of the Bronx fire, who burnt up in their apartment building,” she says. “All of these issues are linked to systemic, anti-Black racism.”
The Bronx fire was one of modern-day New York’s deadliest fires that killed 17 people, eight of which were children, on Jan. 9 2021.
Stepping out of her comfort zone
A naturally reserved person, Cooper Diallo had to step out of her comfort zone when publishing #BlackInSchool.
She says she got her inspiration from her courage and desire to create change. Although she would much rather keep to herself, Cooper Diallo says she had no other choice but to share her experiences.
“As much as I would love to, it’s just simply not a privilege when there are so many atrocities being committed around us, simply due to the colour of our skin,” she says. “So, where do I get the inspiration? I just have to have it.”
#BlackInSchool can be found at Indigo and Chapters, Amazon, the University of Regina Press website and some independent book stores.