Get ready — Toronto’s next wave of Black voices will be more urgent, strident and radical: James
For Black citizens, the city just doesn’t feel like home anymore and nothing is being done to change that.
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Unless you are a liar, you won’t be able to say you were not warned.
You cannot plead ignorance to the perennial, century after century cannibalization of Black humanity and dignity in the pursuit of western civilization.
You cannot say no one told us there is a problem; that the descendants of enslaved Africans are still considered less than human. That even as they walk among us, in Toronto the Good, in the burgeoning suburbs from Burlington to Bowmanville and up to Barrie, an off-duty cop allegedly stopped a young Black man for no apparent reason, fabricated evidence, beat him up and no one in the police chain of command reported it to the agency that investigates police. The cop faced no repercussions until the young Black man’s lawyer reported it. The young Black man was left with several broken bones and an eye that is so badly damaged it will have to be taken out.
Our Black citizens are:
- Carded by police – in case there’s some future, maybe, possible, potential indiscretion.
- Racially-profiled – cause, y’know, they are up to no good. Right?
- Disengaged and discouraged in the halls of learning.
- Overlooked in the workplace, their credentials undervalued and competencies discounted.
- Under-paid, over-worked, over-incarcerated, victims of higher unemployment, poorer health and more likely to be victims of violence.
- Invisible everywhere except in the bulging tenancy of the prison complex where membership costs as little as smoking a joint, the kind of indiscretion that earns white citizens a shrug of the shoulder, not the long arm of the law.
These are not the wild musings of Black Lives Matter (BLM) radicals we tolerate for a moment before we tune out and return to a world dominated by the colonizer. (Those European empire builders who traversed the world to “discover” indigenous and established civilizations, capture land, enslave the inhabitants and appropriate their labour for economic gain — all the while denigrating the captured as heathen or not fully human.)
These are the lived daily experiences of Black folk — our friends and lovers, our teacher and accountant, our surgeon and carpenter and insurance broker. These are the stories laid bare again Wednesday by the latest report, called the Black Experience Project, chronicling Black life in the GTA.
And, give me a shake, the next generation of Black people in Toronto feel more victimized than the previous one.
Astonishingly, half of Black youths aged 16 to 24 identify racism as the greatest challenge facing the Black community. These are kids born here. In 2011, for the first time, the majority of young Black adults in the GTA were Canadian-born, outnumbering those born in the islands. But instead of building security on top of their parent’s angst, they report anxiety beyond that of their elders.
And still you wonder why Black Lives Matter has such resonance.
Hundreds filled the auditorium of the downtown Y on Wednesday night to receive the report, six years in the making. Black folk interviewed themselves, in depth, 250 questions over two or more hours, each posed to more than 1,500 respondents in the GTA, buttressed by the polling expertise of the Environics Institute.
Findings? No surprises here. The gathering had a vibe of self-prescribed group therapy where victims comfort each other with nodding heads and sighs that breathe, “the story of my life.”
Validation is good, one woman said, providing feedback. “Now I know it’s not just me; I’m not crazy,” she said.
Another summed up the daily toll of racism encountered in a society steeped in the ethos of colonized and colonizer. “It drains you,” she said.
Then she asked the tough question. “How are you getting this information in front of the people who need to hear — so it’s not just us talking to ourselves, telling us what we already know?”
Almost 40 years ago when I took pictures and wrote stories for Contrast Newspaper, the parade of headlines had a numbing sameness: Man beaten by police. Mother says school discriminates. Youth says racism kept him from job.
In the 1980s when I joined with Toronto Star colleague Leslie Papp to examine life in Metro Toronto for Black folk compared with whites, little had changed. In daily interactions large and small, Black folk endured the slings and arrows of outrageous racism.
In 2002 the Star unleashed its study on racial profiling, Black pain and suffering finally received an official stamp of institutional and scientific approval. No one who was serious could deny the reality anymore. Black people were being targeted, harassed, arrested, imprisoned and victimized at a rate three to four times their white neighbours — not because of wanton crimes but for the same misdemeanor and behavior that left white citizens free of censure.
When the Star verified in 2010 what Black youths complained about from my Contrast days — that they are systematically watched, targeted, surveilled, had their movements recorded and “carded” as a matter of police policy — one would have thought the jig was up.
But no, the racism deniers only got bolder and intransigent.
Police chiefs and mayors and citizens defended the most outrageous violation of the human and civil rights of its Black citizens — in the name of a safety no one could identify or specify.
I sat at a police services board meeting and watched my mayor support carding — immediately after Black and white citizens begged the board to please, stop, in the name of God or justice. Former metro councillor Bev Salmon was in tears. Former police board member Roy Williams was near depressed. Desmond Cole renounced his journalism credentials and attempted to shame the bastards into doing the right thing. And they sat there unmoved.
I wept that day — at police headquarters.
I wept many other nights that year as I watched the systematic de-humanization of Black people, across America and the globe.
Why do we matter so little?
Fowzia Duale Virtue, one of the presenters Wednesday night, in a moment of revelation, put her finger on the trigger:
“I’ve been Black in a lot of places in the world. I’ve lived on four continents, lived in 22 countries” and encountered racism “so overt that I didn’t want to spend another” dollar in that place. And she’s experienced the “refreshing welcome of humanity in places without the history of colonization.”
Right here, Black response evolved into Black Lives Matter (BLM) — young, accented in Canadian lilt and vocabulary. Where Dudley Laws and Charles Roach and Black Action Defence Committee (BAD-C) once roamed, BLM occupies. The youths seem more strident, more forceful, direct and impatient and radical.
And some GTA teacher posted or retweeted the sentiment that says BLM is our local terrorist group.
Dude! You should be ecstatic. The alternative will be unrecognizable — more combustible and radical and urgent and disruptive than the 2017 version of BLM.
Consider that the majority of young Black adults is now Canadian born. They have more white friends and connections than their immigrant parents. One might expect their reported experiences in Toronto society would leave them with a more hopeful, less victimized existence. Yet this latest report says:
“Young Black Canadian-born adults are more likely to identify racism as an obstacle they face; more likely to say they experience some forms of unfair treatment because they are Black; and more likely to be adversely affected by these experiences. It appears, therefore, that young Black adults are more impatient with the failure of Canadian society to deliver on the country’s promise of equality.”
That’s what should bother us. BAD-C leads to BLM. What will BLM morph into, if current conditions persist?
Carding had to go because it was just too odious. The disrespect so obvious that regular middle-class folk, Black and white, could see its devilish design. But the racism that’s part of our DNA is so much harder to erase.
Black people have shown they won’t stop pushing for equality. Toronto’s next wave of Black voices will be more urgent, strident, boisterous and radical. You can count on that.
Malcolm X talked about the ballot or the bullet, even as Martin Luther King marched in non-violent protest. One day, the idea of Black Lives Matter as an incendiary terrorist group will be as absurd as calling the Black Action Defense Committee dangerous. Current requests will pale in the face of future demands.
“We are just like everyone else,” Virtue said Wednesday, her form steady, poised, articulate and resolute. “We will fight and demand that our humanity is respected and honoured and received.”
We won’t be able to send these kids home — back to Africa or Jamaica. They are home. What too many of them are telling us — if we open our ears and hearts — is that our beloved Toronto doesn’t feel like home.
We have been warned.