Commentary by: Mohamed Hammoud in London, ON
A little bit of racism is okay seems to be the message coming out of the runaway success that is Black Panther.
Let's all admit this is a great movie, a testament to a first in Hollywood where we can finally celebrate a black superhero. Movies need to bring in the crowds and cash at the box office, and with $192 million in the first week alone, Black Panther is doing just fine.
While great, it falls short, however briefly, by propagating Islamophobia.
Yes, the movie does a formidable job at breaking with some common stereotypes by celebrating African Blacks as noble warriors in the fictional technologically-advanced nation of Wakanda. The characters are robust and emotionally intelligent and visually captivating with their traditional wardrobe. There is even testament to #FemalePower with heroes like Shuri, who exudes witty brainpower as T'Challa, the main character’s little sister, and with the characters of Nakia and Okeye as strong, independent women warriors who can think for themselves and are even willing to sacrifice their personal affections for a greater cause and the common good of their people.
In the wake of #MeToo, director Ryan Coogler scores again with a reminder to the need for powerful women role models.
Yes, I'm sure we have all waited long for a movie to do this, especially since the lack of diversity at the 2016 Oscars where Coogler's Creed, starring a black man, was nominated, although the nominee at the time was a white man. Black Panther can be seen as redemption for Coogler in 2018, but while the box office hit attempts to break stereotypes, in the same Hollywood fashion we have seen before, it doesn't quite succeed at breaking them all, and, it could be argued that it perpetuates some while dispelling others.
American vs African Blacks
Marvel wowed us with woman power with Wonder Woman, and now it is trying to appease us with a black superhero. Undoubtedly, this should be seen as a win for all of us, not just the black community. And it is. But as much as we want to celebrate the victory of T'Challa, does the plot do enough for the cause of #BlackLives as a whole? With the conflict between the two panthers, T'Challa and his outcast cousin, Killmonger, there is a message that when it comes to blackness, the noble African community fares much better than its American counterpart, struggling to reclaim their rights and glory.
While all good stories need a riveting plot, this tale compromises the struggle of the underdog, Killmonger, at the expense of his more noble African cousin, T'Challa. Spoiler alert: if the ending tries to redeem this split between the two communities, it doesn't do enough to counter the stereotype of the American black man as a thug and gangster.
Pandering to Islamophobia
The debate around black characters is not the movie's only downfall: the net’s ablaze with debates about the movie's alleged Islamophobic undertones. The much-discussed segment comes near the beginning of the story where T'Challa saves Nakia. Here, we witness the only reference to Arabic speech and to Muslims in the movie, and not surprisingly, they remind us that the only Muslim in the storyline is a terrorist who kidnaps women captives in full hijab.
Further to this, the female captives are emancipated not once, but twice, when they are rescued by T'Challa and Nakia, and then again, when they remove their ever-oppressive headscarves. If, as many are quick to point out in these online discussions, in defence of the movie and to exonerate this passage from pandering to #Islamophobia, that this was a reference to Boko Haram, I'm not sure that the majority of the viewing audience would pick up on it.
Or that they would be able to detach the significance here of the movie adopting another Islamic expression into Hollywood’s terrorist vernacular – the mention of "Wallahi", a very sacred vow meaning "By God I will" and much stronger than the more common "Wallah". These examples are enough to assert that even a little bit of racism in an otherwise praiseworthy artistic endeavour is still a bit too much.
In sum, while Black Panther portrays a new black reality, it falls short of fighting negative stereotypes of the typical black American outcast criminal and the Muslim terrorist. While surely a step in the right direction for #BlackLivesMatter, we must be aware that this more about celebrating box office revenues than anything else. Let's not get carried away.
Mohamed Hammoud has been involved in various public speaking engagements focusing on interfaith as well as training on leadership, diversity and inclusion. He is also an active contributor to New Canadian Media and a member of the NCM Collective.
IN response to the recent police killings of black men in the United States (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile), and the backlash against Black Lives Matter–Toronto’s protest at the Toronto Pride parade, Asians across Canada have written a series of letters to their families and communities to help start conversations about anti-Black racism.
Inspired by a similar initiative begun by Asian Americans, Letters for Black Lives Canada, intends to be a set of multilingual, culturally-aware resources for Asian-Canadians who want to talk to their parents and relatives about anti-Black racism in their own communities.
Commentary by Stephen Kimber in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Where to begin?
With the too-soon deaths of three young black men killed in separate incidents within a week last month?
Or with last Monday’s announcement the provincial government is restructuring — which is to say eliminating — a community-based program in North and East Preston, Cherry Brook and Lake Loon that had been helping young African Nova Scotians find jobs since 1983?
Or perhaps we should begin with the most recent: last Thursday, an independent human rights board of inquiry ordered Sobeys, our iconic, Nova Scotia-based supermarket chain, to apologize and pay $21,000 to a woman it racially profiled at its Tantallon store in 2009.
Nova Scotia has a race problem.
We like to believe the bad old days — segregated schools, movie theatres that wouldn’t allow blacks like Viola Desmond to sit in the white section, the Africville relocation — are now historic artifacts to be mea culpa-ed during African Nova Scotia Month each year — and then forgotten for the next 11.
The reality is we have never fully escaped our history.
The most obvious symbols have mostly disappeared. Restaurants on Quinpool Road no longer refuse to serve blacks as they did in the early 1960s when retired Senator Donald Oliver was a university student.
But blacks are still routinely followed around in stores by salespeople who assume they must be shoplifters, or stopped by police because… well, because.
Labour Minister Kelly Regan may be right when she says the jobs program she axed was administratively top heavy, but it’s hard to shake the belief her government is more committed to balanced budgets than to opportunities for those who have none.
“All of this leads to feelings of despair,” noted Reverend Rhonda Britton, the pastor at Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.
She was trying to make sense of the recent string of murders involving young black men. “They've had bad experiences in school or in society as people who have been marginalized, or people who have been discriminated against. It leads to a lack of self-worth — a devaluing of self and others,” she told the CBC.
That, more even than the murders, is the real crime, the societal crime we continue to commit. And our society pays a terrible price for that.
Stephen Kimber, a Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, is an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster.
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
A campaign to collect books and other resources to enhance educational opportunities for black children in Toronto is gaining support, while the Black Lives Matter Toronto continues to challenge anti-Black racism in the city.
A book drive took place recently at A Different Booklist, an independent bookstore in Toronto. It encouraged people to purchase books and donate them to Black Lives Matter Freedom School, a summer program focused on teaching black children aged four to 10 about black liberation history.
“[Children of African descent] do not get exposed enough, if at all, to the history of blacks in Canada or North America and around the world during the regular school year,” said Natasha Henry, an elementary school teacher and author. “The book drive is a way to engage them in their learning, contributing to the community, and really empowering them with knowledge that will help them to continue their education, whether at school or in the community.”
Movement targets education, police
LeRoi Newbold, a director of Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizer of the book drive, said the black community should have control over what black children are learning, independently from school boards.
“In Toronto, 40 per cent of black children did not graduate from high school,” said Newbold. While that number has decreased recently, black students still experience high suspension rates and low graduation rates.
“It’s alarming and unacceptable,” said Newbold. “We’re not waiting for that system to change. We’re creating our own schools, our own institutions.”
Black Lives Matter Toronto is also collecting resources for the school through an online Indiegogo fundraising campaign. To date, the campaign has raised $10,361.
Not far from the upbeat book drive that had a few dozen people packed into the tiny single-unit bookstore, Black Lives Matter Toronto protested for the seventh day in-a-row outside Toronto Police Service headquarters to draw attention to anti-black racism in the city.
The demonstrations began in part to protest the Special Investigations Unit’s decision not to lay charges against a Toronto officer who fatally shot 45-year-old Sudanese immigrant Andrew Loku. The group also announced a lawsuit against the Toronto Police Service for allegedly raiding and searching the home of Jean Montaque, a black mother, without warrant.
“We’re fighting for justice, freedom and dignity for all black people, and the right for black people to not experience violence [at] the hands of the police force,” Newbold said of the protest.
Teaching the history of black activism
[Block quote: sharing a pioneering black activist’s accomplishments and legacy show how the struggling for freedom has evolved over time.]
“Often of times, historians are very interested in the past, yet young people will say ‘What does that have to do with us today?’” Henry told the crowd. “So it’s very important that we provide the historical context, but mix it with what is going on today in our communities and around the world.”
In Firsts, Henry focuses on many “firsts” in the African-Canadian community and other African diaspora communities. The cover features an image of Michaëlle Jean, the first black person to serve as Governor General of Canada.
“When we’re looking at the markers of ‘the first’ African descent, it gets us to think critically about why some of these ‘firsts’ are just happening in the 21st century, despite the fact that Africans have been in Canada since the 16th century,” Henry said. She described how the stories of “firsts” began a legacy of anti-black racism and how that is manifesting itself today.
“Whether it is over-policing, police brutality, the unemployment rate of young black people – which is much higher than the general population – student dropout rates… these are all a legacy of how black people have been marginalized,” she says.
Henry read a part from the book about Viola Desmond, who was a black businesswoman born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the 1940s, Desmond fought for her right to sit on the main floor of a movie theatre after being told it was reserved solely for white patrons. Henry stressed that sharing a pioneering black activist’s accomplishments and legacy show how the struggle for freedom has evolved over time.
Community’s struggles not isolated
Another presenter, Nadia Hohn, demonstrated traditional African songs and dances during the book drive. Born to Jamaican parents, she is now an elementary school teacher and author and uses traditional music as a teaching tool for kindergarten children.
“We want our freedom and to live in dignity,” she sang to the crowd, holding one wrist with the other hand, then taking them apart to demonstrate freedom.
“There are many different groups in Canada that have experienced different degrees of discrimination,” Hohn said. “What happens to one group affects all of us in different ways. It might not be a direct impact, but it has ripple effects on others.”
Similarly, improvements in one community also have a positive impact on others, she added.
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-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit