Why blm is important in canada?
At the height of the renewed Black Lives Matter movement last summer, Canada saw its prime minister and Toronto's former chief of police take a knee in the middle of protests. They saw premiers tweet promises to fight anti-Black racism. They saw businesses join other Canadians in posting black squares with statements of solidarity to Instagram feeds on #BlackoutTuesday.
Nine months later, during a month that commemorates Black history in this country, activists such as Rodney Diverlus of Black Lives Matter Canada who are still working behind the scenes want to know: Where are those changes?
"What has yet to be seen is the mass change and the mass transformation of our systems that we have asked for," Diverlus said.
Watch: Black Lives Matter activists in Canada say the time to act is now. Here's why:
Diverlus and other BLM activists say the time is now to dial up pressure on those politicians and businesses that made commitments to change the policies and institutions that maintain anti-Black racism in Canada.
Adora Nwofor, president of Black Lives Matter YYC in Calgary, says her organization and others across the country aren't waiting on politicians. Instead, they're investing in Black communities themselves.
"We are specifically working on mentorship programs, getting some funding, trying to promote some Black joy," said Nwofor.
Diverlus says it's important to remember anti-Black racism work and calling on leaders to act isn't just the responsibility of Black people. The work doesn't end once strategic plans are made, he said.
This activity has been largely precipitated by the police killings of Alton Sterling in New Orleans, Philando Castile in Minnesota, and the police shooting of Charles Kinsley in Florida.
But why are Canadians getting so bothered by anti-black police violence in America?
What most Canadians do not appreciate is that we too have a tragic trend of black men who have been killed by police with impunity, and thus who could be just as easily memorialized with their own haunting hashtags. Think, #AndrewLoku, #JermaineCarby, #AlexWettlaufer, #KwasiSkene-Peters, #Jean-PierreBony, #IanPryce, #FrankAnthonyBerry, #MichaelEligon, #EricOsawe, #ReyalJardine-Douglas, #JuniorAlexanderManon, just to name a few names since 2010.
Despite this, as gatherings to protest state violence against black people in the U.S. have happened across Canada, what has emerged in media and public discourse has been disturbing. The typical response has been: “Hey, at least being black in Canada is far better than being black in the U.S.”
What needs to be understood is that by defensively diminishing black Canadian experiences of police violence by arguing that it is worse in the States, that person is repeating the same violence as those who use the retort, All Lives Matter.
Both responses, All Lives Matter and “at least blacks in Canada have it better than blacks in the U.S.,” dehumanize and help to justify the molestation, maiming and murder of black bodies by police. Both expressions callously discard the sacred humanity, extreme pain and torturous trauma of not only the individual victims, but also of their families, friends and personal connections. This is also extremely insensitive to the black families, communities and their allies whose connection to common human decency causes them to feel the pain of others.
Any compassionate Canadian who has been following the solidarity gatherings that have been happening in Canadian cities will have heard some form of the same statement: Anti-blackness knows no borders. It is here and always has been. Just as Canada cannot deny its black population, it cannot deny its own record of anti-blackness.
Canada’s record may not look as extreme as the American stack of black bodies bloodied, battered and buried by police violence with impunity, but ours is a deplorable record on its own terms. For instance, in Toronto, since at least 1978 no police officer has ever served time in prison for killing a black person, despite the fact that black people are extraordinarily overrepresented in instances of police use of lethal force.
The Special Investigations Unit was in large part created to close the police accountability gap that existed and still persists when a black person is killed by an officer. Instead the SIU has primarily served to rubber-stamp black death at the hands of police with a horrifying nonchalance that is too typically consistent with the polite and passive-aggressive character of the ways anti-black racism plays out in Canada.
Indeed, the absence of police accountability for the taking of black life is a sordid and shameful tradition that Canada shares closely with America.
But let’s not forget that lethal force is only the most extreme expression of police violence.
Long before the blast of a police bullet burns through a black body, far too many blacks in Canada have been subjected to disproportionately high police scrutiny and surveillance, racial profiling, carding and other invasive intrusions that ultimately impale their life prospects, tear away at their humanity and compromise their sense of belonging in Canada.
To dismiss Canadian gatherings sparked by anti-black police violence in the U.S. only delays the inevitability of the racial justice reckoning that is already underway in Canada. The force behind this reckoning is primarily young, it is growing, it is Canadian.
This reckoning calls for a new generation of fairer and transparent state-accountability mechanisms that will fully and finally replace the inaction and cowardice of police, public-policy makers and politicians who refuse to honestly and ethically respond to the ways that anti-black racism penetrates the 49th parallel.
Here in Canada, anti-black racism is usually denied, ignored, and played down. The classic response from non-black Canadians to mentions of systemic anti-black racism and injustice is “well, there is more racism in the US than there is here”. This irks me to my core because it shuts down conversation and dismisses our experiences. I’m tired of educating my peers, but at the same time, I recognize the need to seize these opportunities to set the record straight.
The growth of Black Lives Matter protests beyond US borders highlights the urgency of dealing with anti-black racism and systemic inequality in Canada and the rest of the world. To me, this movement inspires hope and change.
I’m a black Canadian of Ethiopian origin who was raised in Québec by white, anglophone, adoptive parents in a completely white rural environment. I was disconnected from black people for three quarters of my life. That changed when I moved to Montréal. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a diversity of black people from the French and English-speaking Caribbean and also from francophone West Africa.
I was happy for the diversity, but because I didn’t know anything about Ethiopian culture at the time, I didn’t feel like I belonged. I actually felt closer to black Americans than to black Canadians. Black Americans on TV and in movies were the only black people I saw for most of my life! I admired them for surviving years of oppression, emerging victorious and carving out a space for themselves as an essential part of American society. However, we have a history of slavery and institutionalized anti-black racism here too. It’s just not as well-known.
I often have conversations with my black American friends about the black Canadian identity. I don’t think it’s accurate for me to call myself a black Canadian, because I was born in Ethiopia. I am Afro-Canadian, or Ethiopian-Canadian, and I self-identify as Ethiopian and black. Black communities in Canada and the issues that affect us are diverse.
Most black Canadians tend to identify more with their ethnicity or their family’s country of origin. We don’t want to deny our blackness. We just don’t really have a single, shared, easily identifiable, cultural, black Canadian identity.
Also, in places like Québec, linguistic and cultural differences separate French and English-speaking black communities. Some people even consider themselves Québecers, not Canadian. Nonetheless, we have a lot in common. We face the same systemic racism: racial profiling, high rates of unemployment, under-representation in private and public sectors, and over-representation in prisons, to name a few examples.
For me, identifying as black is a way of honoring my connection and commitment to other people of African descent, and to our shared experience of racism, discreditation, marginalization, resistance, resiliency, and brilliance that spans five continents and thousands of years.
I think the huge outpouring of support for Black Lives Matter has unsettled some people because, as the writer Brené Brown says, “we can’t have real conversations about race without talking about privilege and when people start talking about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame.” I believe that adopting anti-racism as a practice requires introspection, honesty, and a commitment to listening to and learning from people of colour. It’s not an easy feat, but it’s do-able.
My hope is that Black Lives Matter will continue to spread across the globe, and that it will incite people to work in solidarity with communities whose voices, like those of black Canadians, aren’t being heard. My hope is that they, too, can get the human rights and dignity that they deserve. Black Lives Matter is not just about resisting white supremacist modes of existing in the world. It’s about love: love for myself, and love for others. Black Lives Matter because all lives should be treated with the same value.
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