Paul Hébert

HebertPhoto I am a recent graduate of the doctoral program in History at the University of Michigan. My dissertation, “A Microcosm of the General Struggle: Black Thought and Activism in Montreal, 1960-1969” examined how black Canadians, West Indians, Africans, and African Americans living in and passing through Montreal contributed to the development of schools of Black Power thought and action that were not simply reflections of Black American radicalism, but intellectual and activist movements that responded to specific local dynamics. The experience of living with Canadian racism and critiques of Canada’s extractive economic role in the Anglophone Caribbean combined with the disappointment felt by many young people with the first generation of post-colonial national political leadership to inspire the development of political theory and action that was specifically tailored to address the concerns of Black people in the Commonwealth. By focusing on the development of Black Power outside of the African-American context, the dissertation contributes to a growing body of scholarship that understands Black Power as a multi-faceted political, intellectual, and cultural phenomenon that took shape across national boundaries and in response to local concerns.

The dissertation also reveals how Canada’s imperial identity and its enduring ties to the British Empire shaped public debate about local and international anti-racist activism. While many Canadians were able to accept that their country was not free from racism—a fact that challenges popular conceptions of Canada as a country blind to its own racism—many of them saw international Black activism through a colonialist lens that presented Africans as underdeveloped subjects lacking the political maturity necessary for self-governance and Canada as the inheritor of Britain’s imperial responsibility for ensuring the “proper development” of the West Indian nations.

Besides Canada’s history as a site for the development of Black radical critique, I am also interested in the longer intellectual history of the Anglophone Caribbean. My chapter “‘Thought is Action for Us’: New World, Lloyd Best and the West Indian Postcolonial Left,” which looks at the New World Group, one key force in the shaping of postcolonial West Indian radical thought, was featured in A New Insurgency: The Port Huron Statement and Its Times, edited by Howard Brick and Gregory Parker and published by Maize Books in 2015. The chapter may be read here.

I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, where I teach reading, writing and critical thinking to high school students. I am currently writing an article on Canada’s first Black Studies program and working on turning my dissertation into a book manuscript. When I’m not teaching, reading, or writing, I can be found on my bicycle or practicing jazz and Brazilian guitar.