How activism has evolved for Black Canadians

Interesting article on the changing nature of Black Canadian activism.

While sympathetic and understanding of some of their concerns (indeed as the Ontario government’s recent data collection and related anti-racism strategy does), and that activism is needed for change, exaggerated rhetoric hardly helps the case with the broader public discussion and debate.

But of course, that is part of free speech and related rights:

At a time when so many Canadians were celebrating the end of the Harper era and, with it, an apparent return to “sunny days,” Khogali’s words eroded the image of Canada as a genteel, meritocratic, accepting nation, instead indicting its leader on the grounds of racism and discrimination. Khogali not only named whiteness—a bold act given the state of our national discourse on race—but specifically white supremacy. She also labelled the Prime Minister a terrorist, implicating Canada as a nation trafficking in fear and oppression. While there were certainly Black Canadians who did not endorse Khogali’s words, online discussions and think pieces written in the aftermath of Khogali’s statement suggest that her statement wasn’t as aberrant for young Black Canadians as for their white counterparts. But regardless of where one finds themselves in relation to Khogali’s words, one thing is clear: a vision of change that does not require the nation state or the sanction of white allyship—let’s call it disruption—has begun to gain credence among Black Canadians. It may make some uncomfortable—but it’s also starting to produce results.

This paradigm was on display during BLMTO’s disruption of Toronto’s Pride Parade last summer, an action that drew the ire of many white members of the LGBTQ community who believed that BLMTO was undermining its authority and the gains that it had made in society. It was on display at Tent City when BLMTO occupied the area outside of the Toronto Police Headquarters. It was on display when BLMTO showed up at Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s private residence in protest of police. These are the new tactics of disruption: disruption of parades, disruption of privacy, disruption of comfort, disruption of permission, decorum, civility, and the various ways they have been used to obscure Black plight. Disruption is inspired by a lack of visible progress promised by the Prime Minister’s own father.

Currently, BLMTO boasts 18,000 followers on Twitter including many high-profile members of the Canadian media landscape, some of whom subscribe to the same style of activism; Desmond Cole’s recent disruption of the TPS meeting in protest of carding is a compelling example. BLMTO is also actively involved in Toronto’s Black communities, holding many discussions and events and, in March, the group achieved its goal of having police banned from Toronto’s Pride parade.

I ended up speaking out against the elder’s words at the meeting; silence felt inadequate. I told the young man that an appeal to reason could not work in a system predicated upon his dehumanization, and that to assume otherwise was dangerous. When I spoke, I found myself supported by several others in the room, including a few elders. As Foster observes of Black elders, “many of them immigrated to Canada with their heads full of dreams. They were going to do well and succeed, become an example for all those back home. Now, in the middle of the night, they find themselves scratching their heads and asking what went wrong. For they did not attain their dream, and what is even more significant, they now despair their kids will be worse off than they.”

In these dire times, when 42 per cent of Black students have been suspended at least once in the Toronto District School Board and Black Canadians constitute nearly ten per cent of federal prisoners—but only three per cent of the Canadian population—unwavering subscription to infiltration is difficult and often dangerous. Entire generations of Black Canadians have watched Black teachers in Ontario face racism in the staff rooms and barriers to promotion. We’ve seen how the establishment of the SIU, a major reform secured through the tireless efforts of the Black Action Defense Committee, did not protect Jermaine Carby or Andrew Loku. We see the hollowness of the promises made four decades ago.

For Black Canadians wedded to the idea of infiltration, it is high time to acknowledge its limitations, the many ways in which the face of the mainstream has yet to soften. It is also incumbent upon non-Black Canadians and, especially, White Canadians to examine their relationship to Canada in light of history. To label Khogali’s words violent and call for her resignation without any discussion of state-produced violence is to ignore centuries of injustice in this country. It invests in ideals of merit and civility, assuming the effectiveness of nationhood, while conveniently overlooking the violence visited upon racialized bodies and, in particular, Indigenous bodies.

As people across this country move to celebrate Canada 150, the important shifts that have occurred in Black political engagement from Trudeau to Trudeau ask all Canadians to re-evaluate the narratives that structure what it means to be “Canadian.” The politics of disruption recognizes that systemic racism may be just as Canadian as maple syrup. The barriers to full participation in Canadian society have not been removed—in fact, many have been redoubled. In contrast to the decades of Black support for Pierre Trudeau, Khogali’s indictment of Justin Trudeau reminds us that it is racialized Canadians who are often left in the shadows of these long-awaited sunny days.

Source: How activism has evolved for Black Canadians – Macleans.ca

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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