by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
When Elizabeth Philibert arrived in Montreal as an émigré in 1979, she immediately felt the city would be her closest connection to Haiti.
The city’s circle of activists quickly embraced Philibert, who had risked her life on the front lines of Haiti’s anti-Duvalier movement. The movement began in opposition to self-declared "President-for-life" Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and continued against the oppressive regime of his successor and son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
Most Canadians may not have heard of Philibert and other Haitian Canadians who, through their collective efforts, influenced Quebec’s cultural and political traditions.
In A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians and the Remaking of Quebec, historian Sean Mills chronicles how the Haitian community, while relegated to the margins, actively challenged the status quo while also finding common ground within it.
Haitians in the Quiet Revolution
Philibert joined the wave of Haitian immigrants who settled in Quebec in the 1960s and 1980s, drawn by shared linguistic and religious ties. She arrived at a time when members of Montreal’s Haitian community were claiming a stake in Quebec’s political future, and Canada’s international affairs.
While Quebec was gripped in its fight for sovereignty, Haitians in the province wielded what resources they had to insert themselves into the political debate.
“The importance of Haitians was well known among many Haitians, of course, but it wasn’t part of mainstream understandings of the Quiet Revolution and its aftermath,” says Mills, referring to a period in the 1960s during which the province saw the secularization and expansion of the welfare state in sectors such as health care and education. “I was struck by the involvement of Haitians in the waves of political and cultural activism in the 1960s and 1970s, and I wanted to learn more about these developments.”
Mills’ curiosity led him to delve into the written work of the Haitian diaspora and their oral histories, as told by those who had fled the violence under the two Duvalier regimes. He illuminates the ways Haitians sought to elevate their status in Quebec.
Through their vast literary publications, activism and media appeals they set out to upend a political system intent on shutting them out.
A Place in the Sun revisits history with a new perspective, and succeeds in delivering a nuanced portrait of their lives during a critical juncture in Quebec’s history.
The first contingent of Haitian exiles came in the 1960s. Most were francophone elites who integrated well into society. The second wave of migrants in the 1970s, representing a poorer class who spoke Creole, faced far more discrimination.
That they had markedly different experiences speaks to Quebec’s complex perception of Haiti, Mills writes.
Haiti had long held symbolic significance to Quebec, especially in the 1940s as it sought to establish cultural linkages through its Catholic missionary work. Although they were bound by a shared language and colonial legacy, the missionary cause set them on unequal footing.
It was a relationship defined in familial terms, albeit a paternalistic one, in which Haitians were ridiculed for their religious belief in voodoo and regarded as “childlike” and “devoid of complex thoughts.”
Mills argues, convincingly, that confined as many were to exploitative occupations in the taxi industry or domestic service, Haitian immigrants refused to be reduced to stereotypes. Instead, they cast themselves as political beings capable of exerting pressure on the government to confront its policies and in some cases, to adopt their cause.
“They had to fight to find a place for themselves in a political sphere that did not see them as legitimate interlocutors,” Mills writes. “By entering the political sphere and rupturing its traditional composition, they opened a new space for themselves.”
Culture of activism
It helped that Haitians were attuned enough to know that language can be a potent bargaining chip in Quebec.
One critical test was the “crisis of 1,500” in 1974, when Haitians mobilized support from diverse groups to quash the deportation of non-status migrants.
They appealed both to the “conscience of the population” and used language strategically to position themselves as “ideal francophone immigrants for modern Quebec.” René Lévesque, as Parti Québécois premier, ultimately endorsed their cause on humanitarian grounds, but also for demographic considerations.
For the Haitian diaspora, Quebec became a proxy battlefield through which they could undermine support for the Duvalier regimes. They compelled Canada to confront its policy of distributing foreign aid to a dictatorship, which had driven many to flee and was ultimately the root of the migrant crisis.
These efforts weakened the federal government’s claim that they were merely “economic migrants” as opposed to political refugees. It also served as a rallying cry of solidarity between Quebecers and Haitians, both vying for self-determination.
Although they’ve made significant strides in improving their conditions, the “asymmetrical relationship” between Quebec and Haiti persists, writes Mills. To this day, many of the organizations Haitian immigrants founded remain an enduring force in integrating new arrivals.
“[I’m] continually impressed by the incredible vitality of the Haitian community,” says Mills. “It’s certainly a world that is very alive and vibrant to this day.”
Beatrice Paez is a freelance journalist based in Toronto whose work spans from writing about international development issues to the arts and culture. She also writes a public art column for the Torontoist and co-founded The Origami, an online magazine about Asian Canadians in Toronto.
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by Anita Singh in Toronto
Ajit Jain is a three-decade chronicler of the Indo-Canadian community. His role as a journalist and editor for India Abroad’s Toronto edition and more recently, a contributor to TheIndianDiaspora.com has brought Jain in contact with Indo-Canadian trailblazers as he writes about issues relating to the community and the development of Canada-India relations. This unprecedented, long-time access has given Jain an excellent position from which he developed his most recent book, The A-List.
Why The A-List?
The A-List is an extension of India Abroad’s The Power List. It profiles 50 individuals from the Indian diaspora in Canada and three non-Indians, who Jain calls “Friends of India.” In addition, he profiles six organizations that are active in the social development of India or those working to improve Canada-India relations in this important time of political transition.
The A-List, rather than being a mere short-form biography of 50 important people within the Indo-Canadian community, has some underlying themes that are key to the story of Indian immigration to Canada.
“These are not just people who have made millions, they are people who contribute to the community through their philanthropy and intelligence,” Jain says.
The book does an excellent job at highlighting the diverse successes of the Indo-Canadian community.
It tacitly shows how Indo-Canadians have defied the stereotypes that have persevered in the West, assuming Indians excel in only a handful of professions as doctors, lawyers, or computer engineers.
Instead, The A-List profiles a range of individuals, including businesspeople (Prem Watsa of Fairfax Investments), politicians (new cabinet members Bardish Chagger, Harjit Sajjan, Amarjeet Sohi and Navdeep Bains), researchers and academics (Baldev Nayar and Dilip Soman), and entertainers (TV personalities Omar Sachadena and Vikram Vij).
In each case, Jain has selected individuals that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to become major players in their industries, prolific and engaged beyond their professions to contribute to the larger Canadian community.
Jain says that these individuals were selected because “we wanted to capture successes by Indo-Canadians nationwide and in all disciplines.”
Histories of immigration
All the Indo-Canadians profiled in The A-List are either first- or second-generation Indians, having first-hand experience in many of the initial culture shocks and challenges inherent in immigration to the West.
Language barriers, poverty, cultural isolation, and limited early job prospects play an important role in defining early generations of immigrant communities. Like the individuals profiled in The A-List, immigrants have to overcome these barriers through hard work, dedication and an interest in providing their families with the benefit of a new life in Canada.
The book highlights how these individuals have used their immigrant experiences to further their personal successes in Canada.
Take Steve Rai, who says “the purest form of community policing is found in Indian villages where everyone knows everyone.”
Rai uses this example to create inroads into communities across the greater Vancouver region. With this experience, Rai has risen in ranks in the Vancouver police department and recently named deputy chief constable – the first South Asian to hold this post.
Maintaining ties to India
In addition, Jain pointedly includes individuals and organizations that have been central to defining better relations between Canada and India.
He profiles individuals like professor Mathiew Boisvert from the Université du Québec à Montréal who has actively worked to raise interest in Canada on the contemporary culture and religion of people in India. His current work on the Hijira community in Maharashtra examines the social, legal and anthropological elements of this Indian subculture.
Similarly, Jain also includes six organizations in this esteemed list, focusing on the work of charitable organizations like AIM for SEVA and Child Haven International, which use their notable profiles in Canada to do work to improve the lives of underprivileged children in India.
In each of the stories highlighted in The A-List, Jain weaves a narrative that intimately connects each profiled individual back to India.
The next step
The A-List is an excellent snapshot that celebrates the best and brightest within the Indo-Canadian community. It does invariably miss a larger narrative on the less bright and shiny side of Indian immigration to Canada – an account of the taxi and truck drivers, cleaners and manual labourers who continue to struggle to create a better life for themselves and their families.
As successful as the community has become on many fronts, there is an equally notable silent majority in the Indo-Canadian community that continues to face poverty, domestic violence and racism while looking for their opportunity to grow and prosper in Canada.
To his credit, this has not gone unnoticed by Jain. His upcoming book, Violence against Women – All Pervading, co-sponsored by the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women in Toronto, is a journalistic view of the pervasiveness of violent crimes against women, recognizing this prevalence in the Indo-Canadian community.
Anita Singh is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.
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by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa
Inside the main atrium of Carleton University, four women wearing hijabs (a head covering worn by some Muslim women) set up tables and stands with mounted posters and banners in one of the busiest areas on campus. The most distinct writing on the posters and banners reads #JeSuisHijabi.
They are on their feet attending to people, mostly students, who come up to them to inquire about their mission. Among the women is Anna Ahmad, a government worker who has taken time off from her job to volunteer.
“This is who we are and we can be what we want to be, wearing the hijab,” she says.
Ahmad is among hundreds of Ahmadiyya Muslim women across Canada participating in a nationwide awareness campaign dubbed #JeSuisHijabi to explain the importance of the hijab and defuse any stereotypes related to it.
Niqab in the last campaign
In the recent federal election, the wearing of and proposed ban of the niqab (a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire head and face except the eyes) became a point of political debate.
The Conservatives insisted they were going to appeal a court decision that allows the wearing of the niqab while taking the citizenship oath, and that they would consider a ban on public servants wearing the niqab.
However, the newly elected Liberal government recently decided not to appeal a Supreme Court decision to allow the wearing of the niqab during citizenship oath taking ceremonies.
He commends the Liberal government for discontinuing the case. Ahmed says allowing the niqab debate into the campaign was needless and hopes this does not happen again.
Eesha Affan, one of the volunteers for the #JeSuisHijabi campaign, says the decision to wear a hijab or a niqab is to show people who they are as Muslim women.
“It’s our own decision and we want to protect our modesty,” she explains.
Equality in Islam
Ahmad says the #JeSuisHijabi campaign challenges a widespread portrayal of Muslim women as being inferior to men.
“This campaign is to create awareness that I am equal to a man, Islam allows me that equality,” she says.
She says the campaign has received some attention especially with the hashtag #JeSuisHijabi on Twitter and Facebook.
“Doing that campaign is creating that awareness of equality.”
Ahmed says this campaign comes at the right time to correct the misconception of how women are treated in Islam. He says Islam respects women and they are not forced to wear the hijab as it is always misconstrued.
The negative portrayal of women in Islam is more culturally related, he adds.
“Islam is not restricted to women in one country. People accept Islam and they have different cultures and different backgrounds and women are suppressed in some of the cultures,” Ahmed says. “It is the cultures that are to be blamed and not Islam.”
Attacks on Muslim Women
Following the shootings in Paris, there have been increases in attacks on Muslims in Canada.
“We’re trying to tell people that we are a very peaceful community and we want to tell people that what ISIS and other terrorist groups are doing is not the real Islam,” Affan says.
She says it is upsetting to hear of attacks on Muslim women and that ISIS is pushing fear into people’s hearts.
“When someone feels fear, they do irrational things,” Affan says. “So we’re trying to take away that fear; love is so much [more] powerful than hate or fear will ever be and that’s what we’re trying to put in people’s hearts.”
Ahmad emphasizes people need to be better informed. That is why the campaign’s purpose is to show people Islam is a peaceful religion.
Ahmed says attacks on Muslim women especially are very unfortunate.
“Just as those who perpetrate nefarious activities in the name of Islam don’t represent Islamic values, same thing with those who attack Muslims, they don’t represent Islamic values,” he says.
It is, however, comforting to know that the majority of Canadians have been condemning these actions, he points out. Authorities are also on the lookout for people who attack Muslims. A Quebec man was arrested three weeks ago for threatening to kill a Muslim every week in a YouTube video.
Affan and Ahmed say the constitution of Canada protects them just as it protects everyone. They want to be treated like any other citizen and not looked at suspiciously.
For the next two weeks, while they campaign in three universities as well as major shopping malls in Ottawa, they have the huge task of swaying a lot of negative stereotypes.
But even when the campaigning ends, they will still be in their hijabs and saying, #JeSuisHijabi.
As Ahmad states, “It’s a campaign within ourselves, it’s not a campaign we’ll run for two weeks, and it’s an awareness I’ll have for life.”
by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
A refugee advocacy group says it is concerned about Premier Brad Wall’s letter asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to suspend the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees in the wake of reports that one of the Paris ISIS attackers entered Europe in the Syrian refugee influx.
“It’s very disappointing that a leader like that would come out with such a position. The government has always been clear that nobody is talking about skipping security clearances for the refugees. Refugees are people who are victims of exactly the kind of bombing we saw in France,” said the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Janet Dench.
In a letter to Trudeau, the Saskatchewan premier says he is concerned about fast-tracking refugee claims and that doing so could undermine refugee screening. Wall wrote that the attacks in Paris are a reminder of what can happen when a small number of dangerous individuals make their way into a country. He’s calling on Trudeau to re-evaluate his goal, a campaign promise, of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by January 1.
Dench said she hopes that as people respond to the horrific events that happened in Paris Friday they will be even more sympathetic to fellow humans fleeing violence, on a much larger scale in Syria.
“I was disappointed about Premier Wall because he has, in the past, spoken in a very humane way about refugees being deprived of health care and here he’s jumping to a conclusion in a public way and this unfortunately tends to reinforce stereotypes that are completely unfair,” said Dench.
Wall isn’t alone in his reaction. In the U.S., several governors have said they intend to halt efforts to allow Syrian refugees from entering their states.
Dench insists refugees coming to Canada are subject to intense security and they receive much closer scrutiny than people who arrive as visitors.
People tend to focus their attention on refugees as security risks, said Dench, and suggested we think about people who have committed atrocities in Canada recently, “people born in Canada, not refugees,” she said, referencing the murder of Patrice Vincent who had been deliberately run down in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo who was shot and killed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
“Our main concern is the unfair association being made between refugees and a security risk — it has a broad impact in terms of how refugees are treated,” said Dench.
With files from the Canadian Press
Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Dawn Turner Trice (@dawnturnertrice) in Cambridge, Massachusetts
The high-profile deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray have allowed us to train the spotlight on law enforcement and examine how police officers can be more effective in beleaguered black communities.
But, in order to have a substantive discussion about newsrooms, race, and how we cover these stories, we in the media must turn the lens on ourselves and acknowledge our complicity in these tragedies.
It’s not an easy task. But it is a necessary one if we intend to be part of the solution, rather than the problem.
We have to ask ourselves: What role do we play in all of this when we constantly barrage our viewers and readers with images of black men as criminals? The repetition of these images has conditioned all of us (including police officers who carry weapons) in ways that make it difficult not to view black men and boys as dangerous.
In my hometown of Chicago, the number of homicides is about half of what it was in the early 1990s. But you wouldn’t know this by looking at the 10 o’clock news, which consistently leads with stories about violence and shootings, mostly in predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods.I’m not saying these stories shouldn’t be covered. Only that they often lack context and depth and feed a perception that skews and even skewers reality. Complicating this further is that these stories often are at the top of the news not because “what bleeds leads,” but because a 24/7 news cycle requires editors to deliver something new.
I don’t believe the intent is always malicious. It’s just that the consequences are never benign.
But this isn’t only about black men being depicted as violent. We media types tend to cast blacks as the poster children for far too many of society’s ills. Not because it’s the truth, but because it fits the familiar trope and it’s convenient to think inside the box.
A 2012 study by the College of Wooster analyzed the images that ran with 474 poverty-related stories in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report from 1992 to 2010. The study found that “while Hispanics are underrepresented in media portrayals of the poor, African-Americans are overrepresented.” Blacks appeared in 52 percent of the images, despite being a quarter of Americans living in poverty during that period. Although Hispanics made up 23 percent of the poor, we saw their faces in just under 14 percent of the photos.
If this were just about the media misrepresenting the poor that would be one problem. But it’s compounded by the harsh stereotypes that are attached to poor blacks, making it difficult for them to define themselves not only with journalists, but with educators, employers, and, yes, the police.
In 2008, one of the reasons I was excited about the prospect of a black family occupying the White House was that I hoped (however naively) that the image of the Obama family would serve as a counterweight to the many negative depictions of blacks. I also hoped that the media would no longer portray as anomalies successful black men who weren’t athletes or entertainers.
That really hasn’t happened.
The story of race in this country is one deeply rooted in fear—fear of the unknown, fear of the little known. We media types play into all of that, sometimes wittingly or unwittingly depending on the news outlet.
These stories and images are so powerful. They are also so unforgiving. They become hardwired into our brains. I would argue that the race problem in America is as neurological as it is sociological. Race makes us reactionary. We, pardon the cliché, shoot first and ask questions later.
For me, the reason it’s important to have a diverse newsroom and more in-depth news stories about race is because we need to train our brains to see people of colour as individuals rather than types. It’s a huge undertaking, one we’ve struggled to achieve through the ages.
Still, if we journalists don’t move beyond the standard, knee-jerk narratives, we will do more harm than good. Although that is not the mission of any news organization, it certainly will be the result.
Trice is a Chicago Tribune columnist and a Nieman Journalism Fellow 2014-2015 at Harvard University. This commentary has been published with permission from Nieman Reports and is part of NCM's effort to encourage a media conversation around diversity. Read more about inclusive newsrooms in Nieman Reports' Race and Reporting.
by Sam Minassie (@SamMinassie) in Mississauga, Ontario
“It’s just the truth, it’s one of my favourite plays.”
“I look forward to seeing more from the writer and what he does in the future.”
Those were just a few of the sentiments heard from audience members leaving the showing of Secrets of a Black Boy at the Maja Prentice Theatre in Mississauga, ON Tuesday night.
Six years after its initial debut, Darren Anthony’s hard-hitting comedic drama was still met by positive feedback from the crowd that gathered to watch the first show of a tour that will eventually move on to major American cities like Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
The play touches on a number of controversial themes that exist within the black community, but are rarely discussed within the public sphere. No topic is off limits as the drama portrays the everyday struggles of what it is like to be a black man within society today.
“We don’t really discuss the hard-hitting issues, issues like suicide, transgender, sexuality,” explains Anthony. “… I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless, [for] my peers, as well as the youth that I work with.”
The plot follows five black men as they reveal intimate accounts of events that have taken place within their lives over one last game of dominoes at their local recreational centre – right before it is scheduled to be torn down. Each of the characters represents a man at a different point in his life, who is going through problems that he has never been able to share with his peers.
Anthony says that this fear of opening up to one another served as a huge motivator behind his desire to be the one to start a dialogue on a lot of the issues covered.
“I find as a black man, we’ve conditioned ourselves to be strong as nails, not have any emotions or talk about our issues and those qualities are very problematic,” he says, adding, “I want to make sure that men seeing this realize that they can articulate their feelings and they can be vulnerable.”
Breaking Out of Society’s 'Sanctions'
The play gives viewers an in-depth look into the mind of a black man through a series of soliloquies, in which characters are able to share their innermost feelings. The pent-up emotion explodes from within the actors on stage as they reveal a side of them that is rarely, if ever, seen.
This was something that clearly resonated with several audience members including Lavelle Adams Grey, a post-secondary student who made the trip from Brampton to see the production.
“[The aspect that] I could relate to most, [would have to have been] trying to adapt to what society makes out of us as being a black man,” says Grey. “Trying to come up on your own and society putting sanctions on what you can do and trying to break out of that.”
The tension built up during the play’s dramatic scenes eventually eased through comedic interludes that provided a laugh without straying too far from the topics at hand. Edgy one-liners like, “If there wasn’t a black man around, a cop wouldn’t have a job,” kept the mood light during some very pressing discussions.
First-time viewer, Jeleesa Walker, commended the actors and Darren on this, stating, “They connected with the audience and not every movie or play that you see connects with the audience like that. They incorporate the crowd so that keeps your attention and keeps you happy.”
More Storytellers Needed
While Anthony indicates he had several motivators, he credits his older sister, Trey Anthony, as one of his biggest inspirations.
Trey, also a successful playwright, is most notably known as the mastermind behind the award-winning, da Kink in My Hair, which focuses on the difficulties black women must face and has since been remade into a television series. She was the one who initially challenged her brother to write about a lot of these issues from a black male’s perspective – something rarely seen within media outlets. Anthony’s continued appreciation for his sister’s support was put on full display during an emotional embrace following the conclusion of the play.
Moving forward, Anthony says that in order for more realistic portrayals of black men to become prevalent within the media, more individuals from within these communities must step up as storytellers.
“I find that when it comes to urban stories, there’s a lot of people who are telling our stories, but they don’t come off as being authentic,” Anthony says. “And I wanted to make sure that I was that individual, being in social work and being a storyteller for so many years, I have some credibility and I know what I am talking about, I’m on the front lines.”
Stage Photo By: Sam Minassie
by Shan Qiao (@dmaomao) in Toronto
Your name appears as anonymous; future employers can only search your skills.
Canada’s latest job network innovation Magnet aims to connect job seekers to employers based upon skills, preferences and talent needs. Foreign names will no longer be a barrier for immigrants.
Ryerson University founded the not-for-profit social innovation, in partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. The network was first launched in September last year. After several months’ operation and expansion, the online job search engine aims to supersede giants such as LinkedIn with its unique filtering and matching functions.
For individuals like executive director of the Global Diversity Exchange, and keynote speaker at the forum, Ratna Omidvar, who have “strange-sounding” foreign names, Magnet is a way to combat being stereotyped when job seeking. Future employers can only view a person’s skills online. Names will be listed as ‘anonymous’.
Omidvar shared some of her early job searching experience in the ’80s after she came to Canada from her home country Iran, as a refugee.
“‘Ratna you must change your name. It’s a very strange name. Strange-sounding name has less chance to get a job interview than Brian Smith,’ I was told,” recalled Omidvar, who admitted she considered adopting a “usual” English name, but eventually decided against it, and advised other immigrants against it as well.
“1981 was a very difficulty time in Canada. It was a period of recession, jobs were difficult to find,” cited Omidvar.
“We prefer to hire someone we know from an institution we respect as opposed to taking a risk on talents from overseas,” she explained.
“One of the reasons why Magnet is successful is because it is a large platform,” she added. “It’s not for one institution. It has many employers who signed to it. Because it focuses on competence and experience as opposed to names and where you came from. It has an added value in overcoming certain institutional barriers and individual barriers.”
To date, the Magnet network has 26 university and college partners representing over 700,000 students, 60,000 job seekers, 3,000 employers, over 100 community-based partners and 25 advisory council members composed of leaders from a cross-section of relevant sectors. Magnet boasts that with its specific filtering and matching search engine, chances for employers to find suitable employees or vice versa are much higher.
by Daniel McNeil in Ottawa
For better or worse, much of our Canadian media, culture and society can be understood as a response to the media, culture and society of the United States. In sickness and in health, Canadians distance themselves from the types of violence and racial injustice that they associate with their neighbours to the south. Following the death of Michael Brown – the unarmed 18-year-old black man killed in August by police in Ferguson, Missouri – the Canadian media reported violent protests that damaged the properties and businesses of their largest trading partner. Following the more recent decision of a U.S. grand jury not to indict the police officer who killed Brown,Canadian journalists emphasized the non-violent nature of Canadian vigils held for Brown and his family.
Since it does not challenge narratives of Canadian peace, order and good governance, Canadian journalists have also been able to pay close attention to the different stages of grief expressed by Americans on the news. They highlight portrayals of angry American conservatives who treat the social activism of young people of colour as a threat to the harmony of their nation. They note the anger with which American pundits trot out the red herring of “black on black crime.” And they acknowledge the types of bargaining in which calls for truth, justice and the American way are replaced with pictures that are more in keeping with hugs, smiles and the sentimental way.
Yet Canadians rarely stop to consider whether sentimentality – “the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion,” “the mark of dishonesty” and “the signal of secret and violent humanity” – might be a global problem rather than an American one. We don’t consider why America’s racial divisions are treated as a national shame when its multiracial military and cultural products are understood to be issues of global concern. We don’t ask why American journalists call for a national conversation about race even when their articles appear in global news outlets that discuss the fatal shootings of Black Britons by white police officers. Nor do we point out the arrogance of people in the West who bristle at the thought of comparing the United States with nations in the global South, and are shocked by statistics that show similar levels of racial segregation between Chicago and Johannesburg, or a greater wealth gap between black and white in the United States than in South Africa under Apartheid.
High moral ground
If such damning statistics mean that Americans can no longer claim to be “less racist” than South Africans, many Canadians are still able to assume a moral high ground in regards to the United States because police forces in Canada do not consider the collection of race, ethnicity and other characteristics “beneficial or appropriate,” and only tend to report race and ethnicity in regards to Aboriginal victims or perpetrators of crime. Rather than question these practices, Canadian journalists tend to simplify their message and claim that Canadians “have nothing to learn from Americans about the subject of race.” Even more disconcertingly, some of their articles exclusively compare the treatment of African Americans to the experiences of indigenous people in Canada, and omit to mention the social reality of racial discrimination for many African Canadians.
The erasure of African Canadians – and the dismissal of African Canadian grievances – is nothing new. There remains a rather grotesque silence about slavery in Canada, as is evident in the erroneous claim of the well-known film director David Cronenberg that one of the reasons Canada is different to the United States is because it “didn’t have slavery.” There are also attempts to disparage Black radicals in histories of Black Canada. In Robin Winks's account of African Canadian history, which is still used in schools and stocked in Chapters and Indigo bookstores across the country, Black immigrants are chastised for trying to apply the insights of militant thinkers to the Canadian context. To go further, such radical campaigns were considered part of a campaign to stir up “militant, noisy, pushy protests” that caused “thoughtless, needless, and frustrated destruction.”
Such desires to guide immigrants and Canadian-born Blacks away from radical protest often ignore the fact that many of the gains of a liberal, non-violent civil rights movement in the United States were linked to the threat of militant pressure. The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is inseparable from the threat of riots, just as the housing bill of 1968 was a direct response to the riots that swept American cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Gloria Richardson, an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, remembers that she could go into meetings and say, “well, either deal with us or you will have Malcolm X coming into here.” As I found in my own research on sex and race in Canada during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, moderate Canadian leaders in the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People also sought to use the threat of a Black United Front and revolutionary violence in order to resist racial discrimination in Canadian housing, education and employment.
Given the connections and overlaps between the United States and Canada, it is understandable that Canadians have sought to reaffirm a national identity that is defined against the types of violence witnessed in Ferguson over the past few months. It is also understandable that others undercut these myths by flippantly noting the recent riots in Canada in response to the result of a hockey game. Yet, it may be more productive – morally as well as politically – if recent media coverage of events in the United States forces us to confront our deeply entrenched stereotypes about race and nation. To imagine new ways of belonging – with space and time, and to each other.
Daniel McNeil is the new strategic hire in Migration and Diaspora Studies at Carleton University, where he teaches in the Department of History and the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies. He is also affiliated with the Institute of African Studies and Institute for Comparative Studies of Literature, Art and Culture at Carleton. His transnational and trans-disciplinary research engages with the intellectual and cultural history of the Atlantic world during the 20th and 21st centuries, and his publications include Sex and Race in the Black Atlantic: Mulatto Devils and Multiracial Messiahs (Routledge 2010), the first book to explore the self-fashioning of mixed race individuals in a trans-Atlantic context.
By PAT WATSON The poem delivered by 17-year-old Filmon Bereket at the recent African Heritage Educators’ Network (AHEN) awards ceremony for high achieving students spoke volumes about the particular nature of peer pressur
Written by Monia Mazigh
In the July 2012 issue of Muslim Link, I reviewed the Quiet Revolution by Egyptian writer Leila Ahmed.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit