Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dear African-Americans, Stop Expressing Shock at Racism in Canada

I came across a timely post on Facebook by an American friend I follow, which links to an article about the KKK.  She was shocked to see the existence of the hate group in the so-called land of milk and honey.  It was timely because Destruction just finished a project in which he tackled racism in the education system in Canada.  At 12, he is well aware from his lived experiences that Canada is no utopia for Black people and yet African-Americans continue to look upon Canada as such and express surprise when Black Canadians correct their assumptions.

One of the major differences I see as a Black Canadian is that though America clearly has a troubled past when it comes to racism, there is at least an ongoing discussion about race and its impact on people of colour.  Such is not been the case in Canada.  As I help my kids with homework and projects, I can see that in the years since I graduated, not much has changed.  Destruction has learned all about Canadian historical figures like Jacques Cartier and Samuel De Champlain but nothing about the experiences of Black Canadians.

When he was offered the chance to write an opinion piece on a timely issue, Destruction chose to write about the fact that everything he has learned about Black history, he has either sought out on his own or learned about at home.  In his report, he asked what it means that in his history classes, the history of the people who look like him has been excluded and I think it is a salient question. What does it mean that Black children learn about the underground railroad but not about how hard the lives of the former slaves were?  What does it mean that there is a universal denial about slavery in Canada and that the push to end it was not based in the fact that slavery was a moral wrong but the fact that slavery was not as economical viable in Canada, due to the shorter growing season, as it was in the southern U.S.? What does it mean that the history of segregation and its impact has been ignored?  What does it means that names like Viola Desmond and incidents like Africville have been scoured from the curriculum?

It is tough living in a White supremacist state and harder still when you're natural allies (read: African-Americans) continue to be ignorant of your struggles and down play them to assert how much more oppressed they are.  This is a defeatist approach and an absolute failure to understand that what happens in the diaspora effects us all. This is especially true when it comes to the relationship between Canadians and Americans because we have the largest undefended border in the world and we regularly cross that border.  Many have relatives on both sides of the 49th parallel.

Canadians are heavily impacted by racial incidents which happen in the U.S. because a large part of our media is American.  Sure, we have specific Canadian content like Bomb Girls (note: it's on Netflix) but they are often overwhelmed in the ratings by American choices.   Bomb Girls was a great show about women who worked in defense factories during the second world war and it was cancelled when it could not compete with the more popular Survivor. Yes, Survivor.  While this show was far from racially inclusive, it did have great LGBT inclusion and highlighted the experiences of Italian Canadians during the war. American beliefs, stereotypes and outright racism are beamed into our homes each day with no filter because the majority of  Canadian shows, despite the mandate which demands Canadian programming on Canadian Networks, cannot compete with the ratings Americans shows provide.

When Canadians see shows in which African-Americans are routinely cast as prostitutes, drug dealers, poor, gang members and uneducated, do you think for one moment they stop and think, that this representation is limited to African-Americans because this is an American show?  They internalize all of the negative representations on television and then marry them to Black Canadians.  Thus, the representation of African-Americans becomes universal of Blacks and not simply African-Americans.  Because there is no counter in the education system to tell the specific narrative of Black Canadians, our experiences are erased and the African-American experience becomes the only true narrative of oppression.

It was far easier for me to learn about people like Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Harper, Medegar Evars, Ida B Wells and A Philip Randolf for instance, than it was for me to learn about Canadian civil rights heroes or various instances of injustice.  It is only thanks to the internet that I have learned so much in recent years.  I know that many Americans have a largely insular view of the world and few know who the Prime Minister of Canada is, or what the capitol is, let alone anything about the experiences of the marginalized people in this country.  That being said, I am sick and tired of reading about what a utopia Canada is, while having to negotiate racism every damn day because of my Black skin.  African-Americans can afford to remain ignorant because it does not effect them.  Their ignorance is harmful and extremely hurtful and I think that it's time that this is soundly acknowledged.  Many Black Canadians are intimately versed in the experiences of African-Americans and I think it's time that African-Americans do the same.  It's bad enough to have experiences denied by White supremacy but when it done by someone who looks like you, the pill is that much bitter to swallow.