Janelle Joseph, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, was recently awarded the Connaught New Research Award for a project studying Black physical literacies, sport and anti-racist education.
The annual awards are provided to U of T assistant professors within the first five years of a tenure-stream academic appointment to help them establish strong research programs.
“Physical literacy, the knowledge, confidence and competence to be physically active, is the fundamental ingredient of physical education and sport skill development,” says Joseph, who teaches about race, Indigeneity and physical culture at KPE. “Black physical literacies draw on physical activities that originate from African, Caribbean and Black histories and cultures, which are often left out of dominant education systems. Black physical literacy also includes centering Black learners and promoting empowerment to enhance lifelong physical activity.”
So how does Black physical literacy tie in with sports and anti-racist education?
“Anti-racist education has involved fights for political emancipation, Black self-empowerment and dismantling White supremacy for over a century using many avenues for activism, including art, poetry, film, literature and scholarship. But, physical cultures, dance, martial arts and sport have also been used for anti-racist education,” says Joseph.
“Serena Williams has been tirelessly advocating for decades for Blacks, women and especially maternal rights in sport, and Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee in 2016 during the US national anthem to protest anti-Black racism and police brutality. They showed that sport spaces can be activist spaces and have taught everyone around them about equality.”
Joseph will train KPE graduate students to become community-based, anti-racism researchers, as part of her new course called Decolonizing Sport Studies, but any U of T graduate student with an interest or expertise in anti-racism or physical cultures can apply to be a research assistant in her Indigeneity, Diaspora, Equity and Anti-Racism in Sport (IDEAS) lab. Together, they will research what developing Black physical literacies means for Black youth participants, parents and educators in the GTA, and ask how anti-racist physical activities operate and what participants get out of being involved.
According to Joseph, responding to these research questions will yield benefits for school physical education, community sport and physical culture programs, as well as the youth, parents and educators who participate, because they will be able to clarify the role physical activity can play in enhancing anti-racism in their lives, while also examining how a racism-free environment can augment physical activity access.
“At a time when the value of Black life is prominent in the media, it is essential that organizations and individuals understand our histories and know what they can do to create anti-racist change. Collecting counter-stories and witness accounts of barriers to inclusion helps to understand the realities of racist structures and create collective memories which is part of a much needed healing process," she says.
“This research will also provide specific and empirically-supported recommendations for Ontario’s policymakers who inform improved community programs and school curricula and create sustainable frameworks to address anti-Black racism. The IDEAS lab is enhancing community programming by bridging research and practice, and integrating tools to promote the collection, evaluation and analysis of race-based data.”
The project will kick off in September, but already work has started on developing research with Black physical literacy and anti-racism programs in the GTA with the Black Canadian Coaches Association, Black-led yoga classes, gymnastics for Black girls programs, Soca and Kizomba dance classes, and Afro-Brazilian martial arts organizations, among others, connecting and teaching audiences online or with social distancing measures in place.
“Connecting to community and anti-racism philosophies is even more important during a pandemic that disproportionately affects Black people,” says Joseph. “Black people in the GTA are more likely than other groups to work in front-line positions in health-care, retail and transportation industries. They and their children may turn to physical cultures for wellness and this project will explore what they learn about anti-Black racism and activism in these spaces.”