Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.
Vicky Mochama: Ottawa needs to listen to MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes
In a Facebook post, the Liberal member of parliament for Whitby, Ont. wrote about the microaggressions she faces as a Black woman working on the Hill.
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I like to joke that my biggest fear is a white girl with a clipboard.
It’s actually clowns and backwoods camping. But the image is an easy way to explain a problem I regularly face: the spaces I want to go are all too often blocked by gatekeepers who do not believe that I belong.
I’m starting to think it’s too true to be funny.
In a Facebook post published last week, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, the Liberal member of Parliament for Whitby, wrote about the microaggressions she faces while working on the Hill. In one instance detailed by Caesar-Chavannes, as she was doing her makeup in her office washroom, a woman “jokingly” asked her not to steal the wallet she left near the door. That same day, she said, security failed to open the door for her after a year of working in the building.
Often, irony is used to cover for racist sentiments. How many times have I held back my contempt when someone jokingly asks if I know another Black person that they happen to know? Or as they add a stereotypical finger snap and sassy head shake after I have said something pointed? The point of those “jokes” isn't humour. Instead, they're meant to make me complicit by laughing or excluded if I disapprove.
For her part, Caesar-Chavannes is determined not to be silenced by these types of encounters. She writes, “I will continue to bow my head and swallow the shame as I pull out my pass and show it in order to verify that I am truly a Member of Parliament and therefore allowed access to the building or bus.”
Consistently having one’s credibility and validity questioned is exhausting. The writer Kiese Laymon notes that answering those questions taxes the respondent, saying “scars accumulated in battles won sometimes hurt more than battles lost.”
Despite an uninterrupted presence of Black people in Canada of over 400 years, Black women’s political presence in Ottawa is a short history: starting with Anne Cools’ appointment as Senator in 1984 to Jean Augustine’s election to the House in 1993.
We are still in the land of “Firsts” as a Black woman has yet to be appointed to a senior cabinet post. Augustine was appointed the cabinet post of Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Status of Women. Caesar-Chavannes also serves as a parliamentary secretary. Credible and talented Black women continue to be appointed to worthwhile but less-empowered roles as Parliamentary Secretaries.
Caesar-Chavannes’ message should inspire all the political parties and the organization around the Hill to think about the barriers and humiliations that prevent Black women from taking up space.
As she writes, “Glass ceilings do not get broken by sitting on the sidelines and watching. They break when you stand up.”