'Policing Black Lives' author talks racism, resistance—and Canadian histories made invisible
Robyn Maynard tackles 400 years of Black Canadian history, state-sanctioned violence and the 'kind of erasure' involved in anti-Black racism in Canada at Thursday event.
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Dispelling the myth that anti-Blackness does not exist in Canada, feminist and author Robyn Maynard is touring her book Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present with the West Coast launch Thursday in Vancouver.
The underlying issues were so fundamentally invisible Maynard said, that she felt an urgency to write the book. Many Canadians don’t know our own history — from slave ships to segregated schooling, she explained.
“Anti-Black racism is seen as something that fundamentally exists in the United States but not in Canada," Maynard told Metro. "That really extends from a lack of understanding surrounding Canadian history, including the practice of slavery which was legalized for over 200 years.
“We don’t have the same attention to often very similar realities that the Black community face here.”
A panel will follow the Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre launch of her book — already a national bestseller and the first comprehensive account of 400 years of Black Canadian history — along with community organizer workshops in Surrey on Friday.
What she described as a labour of love involved diving through the work of several Black historians.
“It was really often uncovering a lot of these histories that had been neglected within the media,” Maynard explained, pointing to the recent United Nations report concerned about human rights situation of Black Canadians. “What has happened is a kind of erasure.”
Disproportionate incarceration, children being separated from families at massive rates, higher rates of school expulsion and lower rates of graduation along with indefinite detention or deportation for members of the population without papers or born elsewhere — are all examples of the present crisis, Maynard said.
“The issues that are facing Black communities today remain a form of harm,” she said. "I want to really commit to creating a Canada in which Black lives really do matter."
Tracing the still-living legacy of anti-Blackness, including through the urban planning that destroyed Hogan’s Alley (a thriving Black community displaced in the 70s when the Georgia Viaducts went up), ongoing police violence and the impacts of the housing crisis is essential in Vancouver, said Lama Mugabo, community organizer and panel member.
“We have to situate this in justice,” he said, with hopes of reducing the isolation of Vancouver’s Black community. “It’s a way to look at it through reconciliation and redressing historical wrongs. I would urge the public to read, and for schools to assign, this book.”
The event is hosted by several advocacy groups including Black Lives Matter. Co-founder and panel member, Cicely Blain said, “It’s such a crucial and important text that ... brings to light the ways in which police violence does and has always existed in Canada.”