When white Canadians think of racism, they think of America. These Black MPPs know better

Good conversation and discussion:

“Five Black politicians have changed the face of Ontario politics.

They’ve formed the first Black Caucus in the history of Canada’s most diverse province — which still has a mostly white legislature.

In the worst of times, their timing couldn’t be better. In the wake of the 2018 election that vaulted them to the provincial legislature, in advance of the violence-plagued summer of 2020 that sparked public protests, five New Democrats came together to speak out.

Now, they are being put to the test. We all are.

When white folks confront racism, their first thought is usually slavery or strife in America — with Canada as an afterthought. For the Black Caucus, the reality of racism is closer to home, here and now.

“When I as a Black person am thinking about racism, I don’t actually see a difference between the U.S. and Canada in the same way that a lot of white community members seem to believe is true,” Black Caucus chair Laura Mae Lindo told a Ryerson Democracy Forum I hosted Thursday on the NDP Black Caucus — why it matters.

“What I see is a similarity about how quickly we stop talking about racism in the U.S. and Canada — how quickly we accept people’s apologies for racist comments or denial of my history or denial of my humanity.”

Lindo, who spent much of her career before politics educating people on diversity — as a researcher and university administrator — has a keen eye for Canadian blind spots. And an ear for classic Canadian excuses.

“There’s a subtlety and a politeness in which Canadians perpetuate their anti-Blackness,” she muses. “And much of that is linked to their ability to just say, ‘I’m sorry,’ when somebody calls them on it.’”

Lindo came face to face with that in her Kitchener riding when she asked a gathering of Black students from the school district if the N-word was thrown around by white folks in their presence. Every single hand went up.

Not in America, not decades ago, here and now.

“I cried — I’ll be honest — because it’s shocking,” Lindo recalled. “It was overwhelming.”

And a life lesson for the mostly-white teachers in the classroom. Racism isn’t just accidental or incidental in Canada, it’s ingrained — even if sometimes invisible.

To cope with deadly serious racism, Lindo has resorted to humour as a teaching tool. Studying for her PhD in education, she focused on standup African American comedians for her doctoral thesis.

Diversity training for white folks too often tried to “guilt them and shame them into doing better.” She wanted to get their attention by harnessing humour, after realizing that “the people who were doing that best were the standup comedians.”

She coined the academic term “race-comics” to analyze their ability to “keep people in that room.” Laughing can make listen and learn the lessons of racism.

“I need to laugh…. We can’t do that if we’re angry all the time. Racism makes me rage-y, right?”

Fellow MPP Faisal Hassan recounted his own life story as an immigrant, experiencing homelessness, hardship and harassment on his way from the Horn of Africa to his Toronto riding of York South—Weston: As a Black male, he was carded a half-dozen times by local police.

But he described his journey in surprisingly resilient terms.

“My story is a happy story — I am an immigrant, I came here, and I have been welcomed,” Hassan told the students, many of whom wanted to know not just how he got to Canada, but how he got where he is today — in the legislature.

“Nobody’s going to give you anything,” he replied to student Stephen Mensah. “You have to be competitive, you have to be working hard with others, you have to show that you are going to be the voice of your community.”

Ontario needs more Black, Brown and Indigenous politicians so that people feel reflected in their institutions, added Jill Andrew, who represents St. Paul’s and proudly describes herself as the first Queer and Black elected representative in any provincial legislature.

“There’s a subtlety and a politeness in which Canadians perpetuate their anti-Blackness,” she muses. “And much of that is linked to their ability to just say, ‘I’m sorry,’ when somebody calls them on it.’”

Lindo came face to face with that in her Kitchener riding when she asked a gathering of Black students from the school district if the N-word was thrown around by white folks in their presence. Every single hand went up.

Not in America, not decades ago, here and now.

“I cried — I’ll be honest — because it’s shocking,” Lindo recalled. “It was overwhelming.”

And a life lesson for the mostly-white teachers in the classroom. Racism isn’t just accidental or incidental in Canada, it’s ingrained — even if sometimes invisible.

To cope with deadly serious racism, Lindo has resorted to humour as a teaching tool. Studying for her PhD in education, she focused on standup African American comedians for her doctoral thesis.

Diversity training for white folks too often tried to “guilt them and shame them into doing better.” She wanted to get their attention by harnessing humour, after realizing that “the people who were doing that best were the standup comedians.”

She coined the academic term “race-comics” to analyze their ability to “keep people in that room.” Laughing can make listen and learn the lessons of racism.

“I need to laugh…. We can’t do that if we’re angry all the time. Racism makes me rage-y, right?”

Fellow MPP Faisal Hassan recounted his own life story as an immigrant, experiencing homelessness, hardship and harassment on his way from the Horn of Africa to his Toronto riding of York South—Weston: As a Black male, he was carded a half-dozen times by local police.

But he described his journey in surprisingly resilient terms.

“My story is a happy story — I am an immigrant, I came here, and I have been welcomed,” Hassan told the students, many of whom wanted to know not just how he got to Canada, but how he got where he is today — in the legislature.

“Nobody’s going to give you anything,” he replied to student Stephen Mensah. “You have to be competitive, you have to be working hard with others, you have to show that you are going to be the voice of your community.”

Ontario needs more Black, Brown and Indigenous politicians so that people feel reflected in their institutions, added Jill Andrew, who represents St. Paul’s and proudly describes herself as the first Queer and Black elected representative in any provincial legislature.

She noted the impetus for creating Black Caucus — its two other members are Kevin Yarde (Brampton North) and Rima Berns-McGown (Beaches—East York) — came from members of the Black community who pointed out that the Official Opposition NDP now had enough MPPs to make it happen (two Black MPPs in the Liberal caucus, Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau, have not been invited to join the New Democrats).

Now the challenge is to get more outsiders inside the halls of power — and inside voting booths. Getting engaged, and getting elected, can be doubly hard for Blacks and Indigenous peoples, Lindo added.

“When you have been subject to the realities of a political system that has never seen you, kept you invisible, ignored your needs, used you — it’s very difficult to trust that the politician knocking on your door, asking for your vote, or putting her name forward is going to be any different,” the caucus chair told students.

“The formation of the Black Caucus at this point in history has pushed us to really look deep into our souls, too, and decide: ‘Are we going to push?’””

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2020/10/04/a-black-caucus-at-queens-park-is-an-idea-whose-time-has-come.html

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: