Editor’s Note: There is reference to police violence in this story.
So Far ….
We’ve discussed the aspects that make anti-Black racism in Canada systemic, including the manner through which the safety of Black homes and environments, Black bodies and their physical safety, and Black minds and mental health have been stripped in an attempt to send the message that their lives do not truly matter. We’ve discussed the archaic methods used 100 years ago to strip Africville from Black folks, and how they were not so different from what happened more recently in the Ottawa neighborhood, Herongate.
In Short: There is a historical trajectory of devaluing Black people’s health, safety, and environments. Past installments in this series have looked at examples ranging from Africville to Herongate to the continuity of this process. Ultimately, although some advocate for Black folks to join and change the system from within, without the system being open to change, this will not be enough.
Penetrate the System?
It is natural to believe that the answer to these issues would be to penetrate the system. Logically speaking, why wouldn’t that work? If the issue is so systemic, if it involves decision making and impositions from those in power then why don’t Black folks just place themselves in those positions? Wouldn’t that stop the cycle?
Yes, it could! But it does not.
Firstly, there needs to be a reminder that an issue that is multi-faceted and layered such as systemic anti-Black racism does not have one grand and ultimate answer.
With that being said, it takes more than one educated Black person in a high position for systemic anti-Black racism to be resolved in Canada. It is a bigger issue -some would say a cultural issue- and it is a topic that includes more than just Black folks, it requires everyone to question how they may have perpetuated micro-aggressions or have replicated false ideologies of Black folks that they were taught in their small hometowns or at home.
Think about it this way. No matter how great a coach is, if the players do not want to listen and learn from their coach, the team is less likely to win.
If it were so easy to say that power within the system that oppresses Black folks was the resolution, then the abolishment of slavery in 1834 or the first Black city councilor in Toronto elected in 1894 should have halted things for the future. Yet over 100 years later, systemic anti-Black racism is still an issue in Canada.
There have actually been hundreds of members of parliament, city hall members, lawyers, and other highly socio-economically positioned individuals who were Black in Canada. As these numbers continue to grow, the systemic aspect of anti-Black Racism have not stopped but have developed and manifests themselves in new ways that continue to prevent Black folks from making the significant change that there needs to address and overcome systemic anti-Black racism in Canada.
Barriers To Success Today
Some aspects of systemic anti-Black racism have stayed the same, much like the historic destruction of Africville, a Black community in Halifax, which was quite similar to the recent experiences of Herongate, one in Ottawa. Other aspects and issues regarding systemic anti-Black racism is a result of the change we see in society today. As Black folks begin to penetrate these spaces more frequently, a sort of reformed racism has evolved in public and private workplaces alike.
If I was to tell you that “being successful” in Canada includes overcoming a multitude of barriers that, unless you’re a Black person, many will never experience or understand.
- The overcompensation to comfort white counterparts,
- The simplification of struggles as to render white counterparts more comfortable,
- The toning of our image as to not be “too Black” or “unprofessional”,
- The fear of public speaking because of accents or unfamiliarity with public speaking skills,
Just to name a few.
The notion that Black folks have been able to live freely since the abolition of slavery in North America is a false one as we continue to appease and ensure the comfort of white folks since they are the ones hiring most of the time.
What is a microaggression?
It can be intentional or unintentional but it always has the same effect on those targeted. Verbal, physical, or environmental, a microaggression sends a negative message to an individual and makes them feel as though they are not wanted or should not be there.
Most Black folks will tell you that this is the form of racism they experience in the workplace in Canada today. Especially when they work in fields where there are limited folks who look like them. The truth of the matter is that microaggressions can range from asking to touch someone’s hair to making jokes about the food they decided to bring for lunch that day or the manner at which they spend their personal time or assuming that they listen to a certain genre of music because of their race.
All of this to say that navigating systemic anti-Black racism in the workplace for Black folks who are successful in fields such as politics, law, medicine, government, real estate, or really anything that brings them wealth and some sort of power is never easy. On top of this difficulty, there is the added pressure to represent and support an entire race with our actions/inactions due to the fact that our every movement will be interpreted by our white counterparts.
The New Kind of Success
With all that being said, there are great initiatives and projects throughout Canada that are not only staffed by Black folks but led by them and geared towards Black issues.
- BLAC stands for Black Legal Action Centre and it is based in Toronto. Specifically geared to help low to no income Black folks, this service is available for all kinds of legal action people may need.
- TAIBU Community Health Centre is also based in Toronto and the greater Toronto region. It is a health centre specifically geared towards the needs of Black folks and
- CABL stands for the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers. On their website, you can find Black lawyers in almost every field of law for individuals to contact and get their services. Although many of them are located in Toronto, not all of them are.
- BHA stands for the Black Health Alliance is a resource that can guide Black individuals to better their health, to understand the issues they face within the healthcare industry, what steps they can take to better their health, and what research/information is available for Black folks to further understand what it means to be a Black person with healthcare issues or questions in Canada.
- Black Youth Helpline is a Manitoba based initiative that provides a safe space for Black folks to express their need for help or guidance. As they focus on education, health, and community, they work in person with projects at schools with large demographics of visible minorities and particularly Black children. They have a toll free number that ensures accessibility and is a great tool to initiate contact with Black folks when they are in an emotional or physical breakdown.
It is important to highlight efforts like those listed above to remind folks of the change that there is and the change that is to come for Black folks in Canada. It is true that one single successful Black person will not make the grand scale change that we need, but when multiple come together to work on this issue real change can happen.
The Bottom Line: The purpose of this article and of the series “Just how systemic is anti-Black racism” was not to simply point out the issue or to bash white folks or to just explain what systemic anti-Black racism is. It was to show what can be done and promote the change we wish to see in the world. To encourage a large scale understanding of what it means to progressively fight against systemic anti-Black racism as a nation. It was to serve as a reminder that Black folks are also multi-faceted beings and this complexity has been used to destroy us as a community but can also build us back up as one. By taking up space again, by asserting our heritage and pride of such heritage, by providing services for mental health and healing – all of the complexities that make us who we are, are being restored. In conclusion, it’s not about simply joining the system but about the system intrinsically becoming one that fully accepts and protects Black folks for all that they are.
- Black Health Alliance
- Black Legal Action Center
- Black Physicians Association of Ontario
- Black Youth Helpline
- Insights for Canada: George Floyd and the Anti-Racism Revolution | Op-Ed
- BLM Is a Response to the State Breaking Its Social Contract Says Trevor Noah | Op-Ed