Andray Domise: The deterioration of data is robbing marginalized communities of their voice

The Globe’s ongoing series on Canadian data gaps is welcome and continues to draw attention to the gaps. As someone who relies on various data sources, particularly the Census, I find these concerns reasonable when it comes to health outcomes, incarceration rates, foreclosure data, children’s aid, police checks.

I am less convince, however, in some of the other areas. We do collect race-based data (visible minorities) in the Census which has finer gradations than the US Census (11 categories compared to 5 in the US). Census data allows analysis of participation and unemployment rates, average and median income, low-income, highest level of educational achievement, areas of study, employment in the public sector (federal, provincial, municipal, healthcare, education, social services, police) and whether in more senior or support positions.

In education, as I have argued earlier (Karen Robson: Why won’t Canada collect data on race and student success?), we actually have good data in terms of the outcomes of the different visible minority groups and the absence of comparable data to the TDSB data from other school boards is more a “nice-to-have” than necessary (see my analysis of education outcomes Education fields of study and economic outcomes).

Researchers and others will always want more data. How this gets priorized and implemented requires some choices given resource implications. In the meantime, researchers should explore creative ways of teasing out the insights from existing data sources:

The Institute for Policy Studies released a study last month on median wealth in American households, and the findings were unsettling, if unsurprising. While the inflation-adjusted median wealth of white families in the United States had grown from US$110,160 to US$146,984 over the past three decades, it had hardly increased at all for Hispanic families (US$4,289 to US$6,591), and dropped by roughly half for Black families (US$7,323 to US$3,557). By 2082, the study concluded that, should current trends hold, the Black family will have a median net worth of zero.

I posted excerpts from the study online, and an acquaintance of mine asked how Black families in Canada compared with their U.S. counterparts. I had no idea, I said. In Canada, we don’t collect, study and distribute such information.

This has long been a point of frustration. When I was a financial planner in a previous life, I often found myself having to debunk misconceptions about the ever-shrinking middle class. One of the more pernicious narratives was the long-term effects of the 2008 financial crisis, which, more than a decade later, many still erroneously blame on irresponsible, low-income “deadbeat borrowers.”

A 2010 study conducted by the American Sociological Review, I would note, found that banks not only targeted low-income areas for risky and complicated subprime loans, but denied traditional loans to qualified Black and Hispanic applicants, effectively creating a segregated class of borrowers who were disproportionately impacted when the interest on those loans skyrocketed.

A slew of follow-up studies in the United States eventually spurred federal investigations, which found that lenders did engage in discriminatory and predatory practices. One of the worst offenders, Wells Fargo, was hit with a US$175-million judgment in 2012 for saddling non-white borrowers with higher interest and worse deals on their mortgages than their white peers of similar credit standing.

Without publicly available municipal census metropolitan data, federally legislated land data and foreclosure information from private oversight agencies, not only could banks have gotten away with enriching themselves through illegal lending practices, there would have been no counternarrative to the myth that broke borrowers of colour collapsed the global economy.

And equivalent data, available and freely usable for such comprehensive studies, does not exist in Canada.

Not so long ago, the collection of race-specific data was seen as unseemly at best, and targeting at worst. That data was often used as a cudgel by police forces to stereotype marginalized communities, and often there was no counternarrative offered. But now, with data analysis having become essential to the global economy and our political systems, everything boils down to the numbers. Geopolitics are being tilted and societies are being reshaped by information asymmetries. Avoiding discussions about race has effectively left policy-makers wandering blindfolded through a forest, at the expense of communities of colour.

Our federal and provincial governments, for instance, have responded to increasing conversation about racialized state-sanctioned violence and discrimination by declining to quantify the problem. Even as policing agencies across the country tout the value of street checks as a tool for preventing and solving crime, data on their efficacy have typically not been studied nor reviewed by independently operated and funded oversight agencies. In Edmonton’s case, the police service funded a study in which the dataset was described as “contaminated” by officers’ subjective evaluations; in Vancouver, the data was only released to the public after a Freedom of Information request. Meanwhile, in Ontario, a report by a provincial judge declared it bluntly: “There is little to no evidence that a random, unfocused collection of identifying information has benefits that outweigh the social cost of the practice.”

While Canadians thank the heavens we don’t experience the statistically proven dysfunctions in the United States’ health, financial and public-safety systems, that gratitude is rooted in ignorance. We know that south of the border, Black mothers are three times as likely to die during childbirth as their white peers, but Canadians have no way to understand the scale of the Indigenous child-welfare crisis beyond the blunt sum of Indigenous children being funnelled into the children’s aid system. We have no aggregated national data on maternal (or even infant) mortality rates among specific ethnic groups, preventing Ottawa from creating targeted health policy. We have no comprehensive data on sexual-health practices among teens and young adults, which effectively granted the Ontario government carte blanche to roll back the sex-education curriculum by 20 years.

Time and again, marginalized communities have had to rely on an irregular flow of data to validate our stories and lived experiences – forced to marshal math in support of our stories that broader Canadian society too often dismisses as hysterics. Canada’s data deficiencies are not merely problems of public policy: They reflect an unacceptable level of neglect that’s become an obstacle to our ability to advocate for ourselves.

Source: The deterioration of data is robbing marginalized communities of their voice

The related Globe article: How Canada’s racial data gaps can be hazardous to your health


Yes, a MAGA hat is a symbol of hate: Domise

Good commentary by Andray Domise:

A few years ago, a very close friend of mine was hailing a cab off Spadina street, in downtown Toronto. He, a tall and broad-shouldered Black man, was on his way to a social event with an acquaintance, a blonde white woman. They were both well-dressed for nightlife, which is a normal sight for that neighbourhood on a Friday evening. What was not normal, however, was the gaunt white man approaching them wearing Doc Martens boots, a bomber jacket, and a clean-shaved scalp. My friend registered danger just before the skinhead opened his mouth twice, first to shout “Don’t trust that nigger” at the blonde woman, and again to spit in my friend’s face.

Being a dark-skinned man whose personal experience with hate crime stretches back to his childhood (when he was introduced to that ugly word right after being shot in the head by a white teen armed with a pellet gun), my friend didn’t need to have a conversation to assess the character of the man before the assault happened. He knew right away he’d just encountered a skinhead, a self-ordained social enforcer who believes the human species can be ordered by a racial hierarchy—one which places Black people like us below the cutoff.

If the man hadn’t given the game away with the racial slur, it would be ridiculous to try and convince my friend that was, perhaps, not a hate crime. When a person wearing the visual markers of a neo-Nazi passes every other human being on a busy street without incident, but singles out a Black man and a white woman for violence, there aren’t many questions to be asked.

And yet, supposedly sensible people and media outlets are willing to debase themselves by proposing that the Make America Great Again hat, that bright red beacon of racialized aggrievement, is somehow not a hate symbol. The perennial conversation bubbled to the surface again this week after an altercation between members of the Omaha nation (led by longtime activist Nathan Phillips), and a mob of students from now-infamous Covington Catholic high school.

In a nearly two-hour video shot at the Lincoln Memorial, students wearing MAGA hats shouted at the elders, danced mockingly, and pantomimed tomahawk chops. One of them, Nick Sandmann, made his way to the front of the crowd to stand almost nose-to-nose with Phillips and smirk in his face as the elder drummed and sang the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) song.

By now, nonwhite groups are all too familiar with hate groups and what they’re about. The similarity in their tactics is not an accident. Hate groups typically construct an extremist kinship through shared values, language, and an aesthetic that serves a twofold purpose: to visually signal themselves to allies, and to let their enemies know they intend harm. The skinhead aesthetic—black boots, weathered denim, suspenders, and shaved heads—is one of these. Proud Boys—khakis, beards, and Fred Perry polo shirts—are another.

These aren’t political organizations that happen to attract the occasional radical, or unpolished community groups that happen to have a large platform. There is no driving sociopolitical force behind these movements outside of white nationalist ideology, which is why they’re designated hate groups. And they understand this, which is why they’ve spent so much time lately cultivating an everyman aesthetic. Even David Duke famously tried to rebrand the Klan with a kinder, gentler image before leaving in frustration that the message wasn’t catching on. His movement had long passed beyond plausible deniability of their motives.

We know this, yet when people quite logically connect the people who wear MAGA hats with the white supremacist ideology of Donald Trump, this is considered painting with too broad a brush. The same Donald Trump who egged on violence against Black protesters at his rallies, stereotyped Mexicans as rapists, referred to African and African-descended nations as “shithole countries,” referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” and for years has rattled off a near-endless litany of ad-libbed comments that place him squarely in the white nationalist camp – that is the Donald Trump with which a person openly signals kinship when they put on that garish red hat in public.

So when a restaurant manager refuses to serve a MAGA hat-wearing patron, or Omaha elders confront a crowd of MAGA hat-wearing students to try and diffuse an escalating conflict before it gets out of control, they’re not making assumptions out of whole cloth. Neither is Alyssa Milano, who tweeted “The red MAGA hat is the new white hood.” They’re justifiably responding the way that my friend responded to that skinhead, moments before that skinhead spat in his face, and the way decent people should be expected to respond to those who publicly align themselves with hate movements. If the people who wear the hat feel unfairly maligned, that’s just plain unfortunate for them. Maybe they should examine their politics, and their own hearts.

In other words: if the hood fits, wear it.

Source: Yes, a MAGA hat is a symbol of hate

Remembering Bromley Armstrong, and the segregation of Canada’s stories

Nice and important profile:

In January of 1991, when I was in the fifth grade, my mother woke me up early on a Saturday morning to go to school. I put on a white dress shirt, navy blue pants, and a matching tie before she packed me into the car and drove me across town to Higher Marks, a tutoring and mentorship program for Black youth in the Greater Toronto Area. At the time, the school was located near the intersection of Bathurst and Bloor streets, a corner that functioned as one of Toronto’s original Black business hubs and community gathering spots. While my friends ate sugary cereals and gorged themselves on morning cartoons, my mother parked my behind in a cold, cramped classroom to learn advanced math skills and Black Canadian history.

I hated it, of course. But it was in Dr. Ronald Blake’s classroom at Higher Marks that I first learned the phrase “Jim Crow,” and that even in Canada, the fight to end segregation was long and arduous. There were no textbooks we could flip open to read this history, and Google wasn’t yet even a twinkle in Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s eyes. It was inside that classroom that I learned of our separate history, carried on the lips of Black community members who were either born or immigrated to this country early enough to have witnessed the events as they happened.

This is one of the stories I first learned at Higher Marks.

In July of 1943, carpenter and Second World War veteran Hugh Burnett wrote a letter to federal justice minister Louis St. Laurent about an incident he felt demanded the minister’s attention. While Burnett was in town to visit relatives, he went to have lunch at Kay’s Café, a restaurant in Dresden, Ont., while wearing his army uniform—the one he voluntarily put on to fight the tyranny of the Third Reich. But because he, like approximately one-fifth of Dresden’s 1,700 residents, was descended from slaves who escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad, he was told he was not welcome to eat at that counter. Its proprietor, Morley McKay, was a flagrant racist who, like many of Dresden’s white residents, believed in the separation of the races.

St. Laurent’s reply to Burnett’s letter was curt and dismissive: there was no law in Canada that barred racial discrimination.

In response, Burnett, his family, and several Dresden residents organized over several years to form the National Unity Association, which joined with the Toronto-area Association of Civil Liberties to draw attention to Dresden’s Jim Crow-like racial atmosphere. Vivien Mahood, chair of the ACL’s committee on group relations, contacted Maclean’s managing editor Pierre Berton in 1949 regarding the town’s growing discontent, and Berton dispatched feature writer Sidney Katz to cover the story. Katz’s article, “Jim Crow Lives In Dresden,” helped propel the Dresden story to national interest, even quoting McKay as saying “I get raging mad every time 1 see a Negro. Maybe it’s like an animal who’s had a smell of blood.”

The story of Dresden helped precipitate two events in 1954. One was a 30-minute documentary entitled Dresden Story, in which residents debated the problem of segregation, and in which pro-integrationists were even accused of having “communistic influences;” it was an eye-opening look at the intellectual lengths to which white Canadians would leap in order to keep Black Canadians yoked to second-class citizenship. The second was the Fair Accommodation Practices Act, passed into law by Ontario premier Leslie Frost, a Progressive Conservative who served at a time when the party stood for racial and gender equality. The act erased the ambiguity of anti-discrimination policies that varied from municipality to municipality, and made clear the province’s stand on segregation: “No person shall deny to any person or class of persons the accommodation, services or facilities available in any place to which the public is customarily admitted because of the race, creed, colour, nationality, ancestry or place of origin of such person or class of persons.”

In order for the law to be effective, though, it had to be enforced. And in order for that to happen, businesses had to be caught in the act of discrimination. Enter a 21-year-old labour activist named Bromley Armstrong.

Along with University of Toronto student Ruth Lor, Armstrong was dispatched to Dresden in the fall of 1954 to sit at Kay’s Café and request service. According to Armstrong, McKay became so angered at this “test” that Armstrong feared that the man would attack him with the meat cleaver he was holding. The cafe’s waitress refused them service, which not only violated of the law but also exposed McKay in front of undercover reporters that were invited from Toronto to witness the test. McKay was prosecuted by the government of Ontario, marking a first for Canada: a racial discrimination trial in which a business establishment was the defendant.

McKay would go on to lose the trial, successfully appeal on the basis that a business proprietor shouldn’t be punished for the actions of an employee (i.e. the waitress who refused service), and then lose on the basis of another test, in which his overconfidence in the secret handshake of white supremacy led both the waitress and himself to deny service to two more Black patrons.

Armstrong’s name would become widely known throughout the Black Canadian community over the course of his decades-long career in civil rights and labour activism. He helped to found the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Black Business and Professionals Association (with which I’ve served as a board member and consultant), the Black Action Defense Committee (which successfully pressured Ontario into create the Special Investigations Unit oversight branch, for police incidents involving injury, death, and sexual assault of civilians), and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.

For his tireless work, Armstrong was granted a seat on the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as well as admission to the Order of Ontario, and the Order of Canada. And after a life lived in service to the communities he loved, Bromley Armstrong passed away on Aug. 17, at the age of 92.

And yet, outside of labour websites and Facebook tributes from small-press Black publications in Toronto like Share Magazine and Pride News, media coverage of his death was nonexistent. While activists like Bromley Armstrong helped end the segregation of Canada’s public spaces, his story has been deeply segregated from public knowledge.

By Aug. 22, Black journalists (including myself) began to make noise on social media, arguing that it was unacceptable that the passing of someone with such a rich legacy, and whose work helped drag Canada into civil-rights modernity, would go unremarked upon by the mainstream media. It wasn’t until a week after his death, on Aug. 24, that CBC’s “As It Happens” picked up the story—and even then, in the original published draft, Armstrong was incorrectly reported to have died the previous Saturday.

Bromley Armstrong’s life, and his work, matters. Within the Black community, this is incontrovertible fact. But in our classrooms, almost 30 years after I first set foot in Higher Marks, his name is still absent from the textbooks. And in our newsrooms, where Black journalists regularly watch our colleagues take cameras and laptops out to our neighbourhoods to report tragedies in our community, and convert our blood into copy, clicks, and revenue, our history might as well be that of some small, unremarkable country overseas.

I attended Armstrong’s wake, and shook hands with his family. There were labour activists present, a few MPs and MPPs, and members of the organizations that Armstrong helped found. It was not a somber event, but a joyful one, as people shared stories about the man, including that long-ago time when he sat stoically at a café table while a bigot, armed with a meat cleaver, hurled insults his way. And it saddened me to know that, if it hadn’t been for the few Black journalists in Canada’s media industry holding their colleagues’ feet to the fire, some of the people listening to those stories might not have known who the man was.

And if it wasn’t for Higher Marks, I might not have known either. None of what I learned in Dr. Blake’s classes—not in middle school, high school, or university—was any of this history taught. As with most Black Canadian history—the razing of Africville, the No. 2 Construction Battalion, the trial of Viola Desmond, and stories of Armstrong, Burnett, Lor, Joseph Hanson, Bernard Carter, Lyle Talbot, Sid Blum, and the National Unity Association—there was no space in the public school classroom for the Dresden sit-ins. Instead, during the school week, my classmates and I read books about Sir John A. Macdonald and the formation of the Dominion. But on Saturdays, in a classroom my mother worked double shifts for me to attend, I watched a VHS copy of Dresden Story. I read news clippings blurred by the imperfect cloning process of the photocopier, as well as Katz’s story. And I listened to an instructor who knew Bromley Armstrong on a first-name basis—as well as several other Black civil rights activists, like Charles Roach, Dudley Laws, and Denham Jolly—deliver the man’s oral history. Otherwise, I might never have known about the Dresden story at all.

As the concept of diversity comes under attack by white nationalists in Canada, and when prominent members of Canada’s opposition party have castigated the taking-down of Macdonald statues as the erasure of history, it’s time for this whitewashing of our history and of the quiet struggles that people of colour have undertaken to end. Slowly and inevitably, the civil-rights generation is leaving us behind in troubled times. The story of Dresden led to the end of segregation, and if that can teach us anything, it’s this: if we truly want unity and shared values to prevail in Canada, some stories have to be told.

Source: Remembering Bromley Armstrong, and the segregation of Canada’s stories

If you vote for a reckless politician, you can’t claim to be a good person: Domise

While  it is unhelpful to label people as good or bad, it is valid to highlight that people are accountable for their political affiliations and positions and are somewhat complicit in the overall nature of political decisions:

Earlier this year, while talking to a relative about Donald Trump’s comments regarding “s–thole countries,” I mentioned that Trump’s voters are every bit as responsible as Trump himself for converting the executive office into Coachella for white supremacists. My relative responded that free choices are part and parcel of democracy, and that we should respect people’s voting choices, even if we don’t agree with them. After all, she said, these are mostly good people who generally feel put off by politics.

At the time, I let the matter drop, but I think about that conversation when the Know-Nothing school of the authoritarian right defends its leaders against scandal and ignominy. And with the recent stream of news over the last couple of weeks, it should be safe to say that not only are voters of the populist right driven by their own politics—rather than an alienation from it—they cannot hide behind the assumption they are good people.

Many who throw in their lot with the populist right have serious hang-ups about immigration and multiculturalism, as shown in a study by Jackie Hogan of Bradley University, and Kristin Haltinner of the University of Idaho. Dehumanizing words such as “barbarians” and “parasites” are often used by political and nationalist organizations to describe out-groups, and to circle the wagons in defence of whiteness. These groups have, in recent years, co-opted the right wing and replaced principled conservatism with nationalist and religious theatrics.

Additionally, a recent study conducted by Steven V. Miller of Clemson University and Nicholas T. Davis of Texas A&M University found that white people who would not want immigrant or non-white neighbours were more likely to oppose democracy. Moreover, they were “more open to rule of government by the army,” or by a “strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections.” (The study, by the way, was conducted from 2011 to 2016, before Donald Trump was elected President.) In a follow-up article for NBC News, writer Noah Berlatsky summarized this effect as a tendency of white voters to pull away from democratic institutions, when marginalized people are perceived as benefiting from democracy. “When faced with a choice between bigotry and democracy,” wrote Berlatsky, “too many Americans are embracing the first while abandoning the second.”

The study dovetails with previous evidence to show that white people with racial hang-ups are more supportive of harsh punishments in the criminal justice system, and less supportive of social service programs, when they perceive racialized minorities as the targets of those programs. Prejudice isn’t simply a matter of personal preference, and it doesn’t park itself at the ballot box. Voters who elect populist right-wing politicians—and who know they’ve proposed or support policies that are likely to harm broad swaths of the population—aren’t good people forced into a bad decision by a disdain for politics. Harm against those groups are their politics.

In April, the New York Times reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have separated more than 700 migrant children from their asylum-seeking parents since October, and taken to shelters run by non-government agencies. Many of them wind up in the facilities indefinitely, and many of them are younger than four years old. And earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy for the crime of crossing the border illegally, which pledged to separate children from their parents if they are apprehended.

While the alleged abuses by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection date back to the Obama administration, the response from the Trump administration has been an encouragement for these agencies to escalate punishments in order to deter future migrants. In a recent interview with NPR, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly commented that the migrants in question are “not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society,” and that children separated from their parents “will be taken care of—put into foster care or whatever.”

In short, it’s easy to let right-wing populism slide by a simple rejection of élitism—performing a civic duty that occasionally has unforeseen consequences. This is a complete cop-out, and assumes voters have no responsibility to engage with their own humanity. To mark the ballot with that motivation, under the belief that one is fundamentally a “good” person, is to fool oneself. Especially when candidates tout policies during the campaign that will punish and marginalize, and then receive an electoral mandate to act on them. Voters knew who Donald Trump was, before they elected him President. They knew this could happen to innocent migrant children.

Keep that in mind as Ontario’s election day nears. Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford has taken to the campaign trail with his everyman attitude and a bullish approach to sensitive issues. This brand of empty populism—rooted more deeply in his feelings than any demonstrable evidence or priced-out policy—has not deeply hurt his election chances among working-class and high-income voters.

In a community meeting in northern Etobicoke, Ford has pledged to bring back the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy. TAVIS was a police detachment whose tendencies towards racial profiling (or, if you will, “carding”) and strong-armed tactics were so destructive to community policing that even the Toronto Police Service itself recommended the organization be disbanded. And Ford has plainly stated that he is dead set against safe injection sites for opioid addicts, stating that society can’t “just keep feeding them and feeding them” drugs. This, despite repeated rafts of evidence that safe injections sites help save lives, and no evidence that shutting them down will accomplish the same.

Ford’s disregard for the well-being of some Ontario communities doesn’t end there. He has also thrown in with the Campaign Life Coalition’s opposition to Bill 163, which establishes protest-free zones outside abortion clinics. He has floated the idea of requiring parental consent for teenagers to seek abortions. And in his capacity as Toronto city councillor, he attacked a home for autistic youth as having “ruined the community.”

But according to polls, even with his musings on his record, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives remain a strong contender to form Ontario’s next government. Without a coherent and fully costed platform for voters to examine so they can arrive at an educated decision, the PC campaign has mostly surrendered itself to Ford’s own political and social revanchism. Even the Campaign Life Coalition says that his actions and words should speak for themselves: “There is much on the public record about Ford’s views on Toronto’s controversial gay pride parade…This public record can also be considered an indicator of where Doug stands with respect to the pro-family values that are important to many socially conservative members of the PC party.”

And now, voters appear poised to hand him a blank cheque.

Though I may disagree with many on the right, there are principled ways to practise conservative politics. At the very least, if a politician intends to cut back on social services, spur business by cutting red tape, and address the sticky matters of crime and drug policy, those proposals should have plenty of evidence and a fully costed budget attached. But what has passed for “evidence” lately are the gut feelings of people with low stakes. People whose lives and safety are not placed at risk by reckless policies that result in young men of colour being racially profiled, young women screamed at as they enter abortion clinics, and children ripped out of their mothers arms at the border. People who would generally refer to themselves as “good.”

It hardly matters what a voter’s intentions might have been when they cast a ballot for bullies and panderers who have no moral objections to making life more difficult for the marginalized. Regardless of the intent, if the pain of marginalized communities is less important than jamming a finger in the eye of the so-called elites, that voter has signalled to politicians that inflicting pain is a sound campaign strategy. Our pain, in other words, are their politics.

If this is how they choose to exercise their civic duty, then God save the rest of us from good people.

Source: If you vote for a reckless politician, you can’t claim to be a good person

Andray Domise: Why I’m #HereForCelina

Valid and needed perspective:

The first thing to know about Black political involvement in Canada is that, until very recently, its success or failure has mostly revolved around managing white perceptions.

This isn’t hyperbole, or even a gripe, but the simple reality of getting elected and keeping one’s seat in a country where Black people make up less than three per cent of the population. For far longer than I’ve been alive, there has been an unspoken understanding in the community that, while the Black politician knows firsthand the frustration, pain, and anger of living in a society that abides our unequal treatment, there is a certain decibel level above which a politician cannot speak. Better to do the work quietly and accomplish what they can for the community, than risk offending the white Canadian who, while benefitting from the systemic racism that keeps him perched atop the social hierarchy, feels unfairly indicted for having his position explained to him.

This is what makes Celina Caesar-Chavannes unique among Canada’s Black political class. The Liberal MP for Whitby not only carries the work outside of Parliament Hill to the broader community, often speaking at events and encouraging organizers to demand more from their elected representatives, but publicly names white supremacy for what it is. Whether speaking to systemic and institutional violence, or individualized racism (e.g. discrimination against Black women’s natural hair, a topic for which she became known internationally), Caesar-Chavannes has, like Rosemary Brown before her, defied the accepted wisdom that Black politicians must face down racism with resolute silence.

And for that, she was named a racist.

In the last few weeks, Caesar-Chavannes has made headlines repeatedly for using Twitter to call out Canadian politicians and media figures who, having no firsthand experience with racism, have attempted to define the terms of its discussion. First, there was her suggestion that Conservative MP Maxime Bernier “be quiet” when Bernier criticized Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s language in cheering a budget set-aside of $19 million for programs that serve racialized Canadians. She later apologized for her comment, and Bernier rejected the apology via Twitter, responding that it’s “time we Conservatives stop being afraid to defend our vision of a just society made up of free and equal individuals and push back against those who want to silence any opinion that differs from theirs.”

And then there was her response to Robert Fife, the Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau chief, who questioned the existence of “systematic racism” in a CPAC interview. Fife was discussing the Liberal government’s announcement of a strategy to counter systemicracism, and flippantly dismissed the announcement as a “wedge issue,” given that schoolchildren seemed to be integrating well with one another. Caesar-Chavannes tweetedthat Fife’s comments made her question his “ability to investigate stories of the Canadian experience without bias.”

In response, former Rebel Media co-founder Brian Lilley wrote a blog post accusing Caesar-Chavannes of “seeing racism everywhere,” following an earlier claim by Rebel Media owner Ezra Levant that she is “a racist,” and “a disgrace.” In a 20-minute video, Levant claimed that “Canada has been good to her,” implying that Caesar-Chavannes could not have achieved similar success in the “very poor” and “very small” Grenada, her country of birth. He later compared Caesar-Chavannes’s description of her skin colour—“Black, no sugar, no cream”—to Malcolm X’s anti-integrationist coffee allegory, solidifying the assertion that her extremism made her unfit for office. This, of course, triggered a wave of harassment by the Canadian alt-right, with several Twitter users calling her a “racist,” and others descending into racial slurs.

In the messy business of combating racism at the political level, too often the burden of white anger falls on the shoulders of outspoken Black women. In the UK, Labour MP and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has spoken at length about the harassment and racial abuse she’s faced as a result of her Black skin and high profile. In the United States, Congressional representative and Donald Trump critic Maxine Waters has faced racism not only from the President’s alt-right supporters, but from the President himself. It seems that, whenever a Black woman in office uses her platform to denounce the systemic oppression of Black people, the immediate and overwhelming response is to tear that woman down, paint her as an extremist, and break her will to continue.

For transparency’s sake, Celina Caesar-Chavannes is a friend of mine; the social circles that comprise Toronto’s Black political, business, and media class overlap heavily, and most of us are at least passingly familiar with one another. So it would be disingenuous of me to pretend I have no interest in seeing her succeed, or that I didn’t have a personal stake in promoting the #HereForCelina hashtag on Twitter (which was started by fellow Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, and joined by thousands of Canadians including the Prime Minister) in response to the harassment she faced.

But the backlash that she has faced over the last few weeks is more than an unfair attack on a friend. It has been an instructive guide to the way we deal with racism in this country. We avoid naming the issue for as long as possible (witness Justin Trudeau’s acknowledgment of the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent almost three years after he took office), and when it is named, we stand by and watch as the whistle-blower is attacked by aggrieved white people who demand gratitude for merely tolerating our existence.

The right-wing attack on Caesar-Chavannes is the scenario that many Black politicians before her have avoided by keeping their heads down in public, while discussing matters of race within the confines of the community. And it demonstrates the importance of discussing these issues frequently and in the open. If, as other writers have suggested, we keep a low profile on discussing matters of race, we inevitably surrender the power to shape the conversation to those least equipped to handle it.

Levant isn’t fit to discuss Caesar-Chavannes’s racial politics when he missed that her proud “no sugar, no cream” description wasn’t lifted from a Malcolm X speech, but rather a Heavy D song that praises dark-skinned Black women in a culture that has, for centuries, elevated lighter skin. Bernier isn’t fit to discuss racism when he lacks awareness that the white moderate’s mantra of “colour-blindness” is its own pernicious form of racism. And Fife isn’t fit to criticize systemic racism when it seems he isn’t even clear as to its definition.

Eliminating racism means much more than a personal distaste for neo-Nazis and other unrepentant bigots. It means supporting Black women who’ve spoken up about the soft bigotry of Bay Street, written about Canada’s history of policing the Black body, and called attention to the violence of forcibly placing Black children in the care of the state. It means showing up for Black women, like Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who use their political platform to advocate fiercely for an equal society. And it means facing the uncomfortable truth that our institutions—schools, social services, the justice system—were not designed for the protection and equal treatment of racialized Canadians. We’ve long passed the time when white perceptions about our language and our politics ought to be considered when advocating for our lives.

Source: Andray Domise: Why I’m #HereForCelina

In the U.S.’s debate over free-speech politics, Black Americans lose: Domise

Good piece by Andray Domise:

Where Black identity is concerned, all speech is political speech. In a social environment where principals suspend students, coaches expel players, and spectators are confident shouting slurs and dumping beer on the heads of silent protesters (in an eerily similar fashion to the pro-segregationists who showed up to the Woolworth’s lunch counter to remind integrationists just who was in charge), Black people and public figures find themselves in the exact double-bind Jemele Hill described. When other Black Americans face state-sanctioned violence and injustice, does one choose their profession and education, and even their personal safety? Or should they choose the community they represent?

In September, after Hill was reprimanded for her tweet about Trump being a white supremacist, ESPN president John Skipper issued a memo to employees:“ESPN is not a political organization,” he wrote. “Where sports and politics intersect, no one is told what view they must express.” Later in the memo, Skipper writes: “…we have social media policies which require people to understand that social platforms are public and their comments on them will reflect on ESPN. At a minimum, comments should not be inflammatory or personal.”

As I’ve mentioned before, those most violently affected have the most to lose by speaking up about white supremacy. ESPN may see itself as an apolitical organization, but it cannot avoid politics where they’ve been brought into the game by players, coaches, owners, and the President and Vice-President of the United States. Suspending a Black journalist for discouraging lateral violence among football fans is necessarily a political position. Going by ESPN’s reasoning, Hill may comment on what she sees on the field, but the conversation happening off the field, even when it involves her own community, is deemed off-limits.

Universities and high schools may see themselves in a similar light—existing outside of politics—but the personal politics of their staff, when allowed to supersede the right of students to speak out for the modern civil rights movement, make that impossible. There is no avoiding politics on the matter of Black lives. There is only the exercise of free speech in the face of oppression, or the complicity in enforcing silence among the oppressed.

By hiding behind an “apolitical” stance, and punishing Black people who dare speak up about an unjust system, institutional politics in America are clear. And they just happen to line up perfectly with a white supremacist President who demands Black Americans be punished for engaging in peaceful protest. The question isn’t whether or not speaking, tweeting, or kneeling is appropriate. It’s whether those with the ability and willingness to silence protest, while claiming a false neutrality, will ever realize whose side they’re taking.

Source: In the U.S.’s debate over free-speech politics, Black Americans lose –

Get real. Jagmeet Singh has been dealing with racist hecklers for months. Andray Domise and John Ivison takes

Good article by Domise on how Singh has been dealing with these issues over the year. I don’t have the same assessment of the political chatter as Domise – agree with Ivison below:

Yet taken as a whole, the response to his campaign from the political class seems to be that Singh should hang back in Brampton until the rest of the country—a country which prides itself on not being as despicably racist as America—has evolved enough to accept him. At a time when white nationalists have crawled out of the dirt to murder people in the streets, shoot up and firebomb mosques, and taint the office of the U.S. president, this is not a good look. Regardless of the NDP convention outcome, Jagmeet Singh has, so far, made his candidacy look like light work. But the way he handled Jennifer Bush wasn’t the true demonstration of his class and grace. It’s the way he’s handled Canada’s serious thinkers, who can’t help but find polite ways to explain why he doesn’t belong.

Source: Get real. Jagmeet Singh has been dealing with racist hecklers for months. –

A ridiculous article in Macleans suggested the “political class” has been operating from a “racialized” script that urges Singh to return in ignominy to his native Brampton and wait until the country has evolved enough to accept his candidacy.

But no one is saying this. Even in pro-secular Quebec, the informed commentary has pointed out that Singh won’t automatically lose on religious grounds.

This country still has work to do integrating its most recent immigrants, and its original inhabitants, into the tossed salad that is Canada.

Singh said as much recently when he pointed out that, while Canada is known for celebrating multiculturalism, “as a kid growing up, it didn’t always feel that way … my turban and beard evoked a reaction in every room I walked into.”

He said fashion became his “social armour … insulating me from the negativity I faced.”

Yet, here he is — the front-runner to lead one of Canada’s national parties.

He has embraced his Sikh identity and had some fun with it in an attempt to make it cool — who else could get away with a pink turban?

He understands, as did Barack Obama, that race is more a social construct that a biological reality — and that he can shift the culture.

His ethnic background has proven to be a power base from which to launch those ambitions.

I first met Singh in his Brampton riding during the 2015 election, when he helped his friend Harbaljit Singh Kahlon campaign for the federal seat he holds provincially.

He pulled up in a convertible sports car, in matching turban, tie, socks, and proceeded to charm the voters of Brampton East on their doorsteps.

Against the background of a lacklustre national NDP campaign, Kahlon lost, but it was clear: a) that Singh is a charismatic campaigner; b) that he has built a powerful political machine in the very young, very brown suburbs of Canada’s biggest city.

The Liberals will be disquieted by a capacity to generate publicity that might rival the prime minister.

New Democrats will just be delighted that someone, anyone is paying them a little attention. The net effect of the heckler video is that it may convince enough of them that Singh has been transformed from “precariously electable” to “sufficiently electable.”

Source: John Ivison: Jagmeet Singh heckler video may be his Trudeau boxing match moment

What an all-white roster of astronaut hopefuls says about our schools: Andray Domise

In Domise’s efforts to make valid points regarding Black Canadians and the school system, he misses the bigger picture: no visible minority candidates made it to the final 17, even from groups that whose university graduation numbers are better than non-visible minorities.

That being said, I would hesitate to compare astronaut selection to other selection processes given the nature of the requirements.

In the earlier stages of the selection process, there were five visible minorities out of 72 according to my rough count (no Black Canadians among them):

While parents do bear responsibility in raising bright, ambitious youth, their work can easily be undone by teachers and school administrators who hang their preconceptions around those children’s shoulders. Rachel Décoste, a software engineer and public speaker, told me a story about her sister, who sought the help of a high school guidance counsellor in planning a career as a doctor. “The guidance counsellor said, ‘Your grades are not good enough for even considering medical school. You should look at becoming a personal support worker, through community college.’ ” Décoste’s parents, furious at the counsellor’s obstruction, contacted the school principal and demanded another counsellor provide the information that was asked for. Décoste’s sister is now an anaesthesiologist.

For youth of colour—especially Black and Indigenous youth who are stigmatized by tropes on their intelligence and ambition—the soft bigotry of low expectations can have devastating effects on those young minds. A similar sentiment came up when I spoke with Kike Ojo, an organizational change consultant whose work includes addressing the alarming rates at which the Children’s Aid Society takes custody of Black and Indigenous youth. We discussed the matter of TDSB streaming, and the tendency of guidance counsellors to push certain students towards applied courses, even though a transcript filled with applied courses could disqualify those students from university acceptance. “It really is no wonder that we see this outcome over and over,” Ojo says. “[Parents] actually have to be aggressively involved. We want to believe that success is directly linked to effort and merit, but where race is a factor, it can override even class differences.”

On the bright side, there are examples where institutions have not only acknowledged, but undertaken the work to resolve this problem. Shareef Jackson, a data analyst in the U.S. and founder of the MathLooksGood tutoring program, explained that where public schools fall short, some outside help may be needed. “A lot of students don’t have the motivation to enter the programs, or even stay in the programs, because it doesn’t seem like a realistic goal.”

Jackson attributes his own educational success to an organization called New Jersey SEEDS, a nonprofit which works with bright students from low-income neighbourhoods in order to provide access to private schools and colleges where their aptitudes may be better encouraged. Jackson also mentioned the importance of NASA’s strategic diversity and inclusion plan, which received widespread exposure last year with the release of the film Hidden Figures.

According to Jackson, positive representation and teaching the history of people of colour in the STEM fields can create a positive feedback loop, one where careers in science, medicine, and even space travel occurs to young people of colour as not only a daydream, but a real, possible outcome of hard work. The logic makes sense; if Mae Jemison, the first Black woman astronaut, was inspired to her field by Nichelle Nichols’s portrayal of Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek, then who knows how many future Katherine Johnsons might be made by NASA’s joint marketing efforts with Hidden Figures?

North of the border, the message seems to be getting through at the university level. Encouraging diversity in STEM fields has recently become a higher priority for institutions like Waterloo, Ryerson, and the University of British Columbia. At the University of Toronto, where Black enrolment in the medical program has historically been thin or nonexistent, only one Black student exists among the current first year medical cohort. In response, U of T launched the Black Student Application program, which aims to promote medicine as a career option among Black students, as well as increase the pool of candidates by boosting applications. All of this is encouraging, but the difference still needs to be made within the seedlot for future prodigies: our public schools.

With the first pair of Canadian astronauts set to be announced later this year, making it the first cohort since 2009, there is much to be excited about. After Cmdr. Chris Hadfield’s stellar performance and social media popularity, sending more Canadians into space will be an awesome feat, no matter their background. And while the Canadian Space Agency continues the winnowing process, hopefully our educators and counsellors across the country will take heed to the fact that science is not only cool again—it’s in drastic need of new faces.

Time to start looking for those future astronauts in your classrooms.

Source: What an all-white roster of astronaut hopefuls says about our schools –

How to be Black at work: Andray Domise

Interesting series of anecdotes:

Last week, I spoke to a meeting of the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals, a professional association for Black people working in the financial sector. During the talk, I discussed the importance of representation in the workplace—an all-too familiar conversation for those of us in corporate environments. But I also spoke to my experience as a former financial planner and manager at a time when Black people losing their lives to police violence was becoming the stuff of weekly headlines. After the talk was over, I was approached by several Black business professionals, some of them in senior management and C-level positions, who traded stories about Blackness in the workplace at a time of resistance. The consensus was, despite the money and resources that many companies pour into diversity training, the corporate world doesn’t appear ready for this conversation.

I reached out to other Black professionals to share their stories, and the result, while unsurprising, was disheartening. “It’s very subtle, a lot of it is unspoken stuff,” said David, a sales manager. “In a team huddle environment, you normally talk about current events, just to break the ice. But in one huddle, the subject of police brutality came up, and some members of my team were so uncomfortable with that conversation, they put their heads down.”

 He said he felt isolated. “What I got from it was that people in the room felt uncomfortable, because they didn’t feel the way I did about it. There’s nobody to talk to about it, and there’s definitely no one on my level bringing it up.” Normally, he told me, going to work the day after reading about another Black person executed by police is manageable. But when he saw the video of Philando Castile dying in the passenger seat of his vehicle in Minnesota, it took him a week to regain his focus in the workplace. “You have to protect yourself, and know who really stands with you,” he said. “So I was also trying to gauge how other people felt about it, and whether I’d be able to look at them the same way after that.”

Another woman, Melanie, talked about treading carefully around discussions of Black lives in the workplace, even as other causes are openly embraced. “We need to not feel that we’re making a career-limiting move by talking about these things that affect us. We have Breastober and Movember, but we can’t talk about bias and racism in the workplace, or in our daily lives.” It was an interesting point, given the renewed attention the psychology community is paying to the toll that racism and micro-aggressions have on the psychological health of Black people. She explained that, in a previous position, a superior heard about her Jamaican background. To break the ice, he asked her if she could score weed for him. “We have such a long way to go,” she said. “But there’s no one to talk to about it. A white, male executive might see how his daughter, or his gay son could impacted by discrimination, and say, ‘I don’t want them to go through this,’ and make some changes. But unless some benevolent actor sees how Black people are affected in the workplace, nothing will happen.”

Sometimes, the challenge in the workplace doesn’t come from superiors, but from peers, company partners, and those lower on the pay scale. When I spoke with Vivian, a white-collar manager working with mostly blue-collar employees, she told me colleagues and subordinates would often bring up the protests by the Black Lives Matter Toronto—but only to heap scorn. “There’s just no understanding of why we give a s–t,” she told me. “I’d hear it all around the workplace. ‘Why are these Black Lives Matter people demonstrating here? All of this stuff that’s happening is in the States.’ ” As the only Black woman manager in a building with over 1,400 employees, she told me that she felt walled-off in a workplace where the conversation around Black lives barely registered. “You listen to people’s stories about their cats, and their cottages. And I’m thinking, ‘Yeah? Because I spent the weekend writing articles and speaking on panels about people f–king dying. Tell me more about your cat.’”

Vivian likened the experience in the workplace to her experience as a sex abuse survivor. “For many years, I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t disclose. But every day that I had it in me and couldn’t talk about it, or get it out, it felt like another traumatic day.” Vivian explained that, for a long time, the trauma of the incident left her vulnerable to being triggered by seeing or hearing things that reminded her of the abuse, but she couldn’t express to her friends or family what the problem was, for fear of having to defend herself, and relive the trauma. “That’s how it feels, going to work as a Black person in this climate right now,” she said.

Though Black people working in the corporate world are not usually the ones on the front lines of protest, all of us are dealing with the movement in our own way. Some of us donate to Black Lives Matter, some attend community consultations with police and local government, and some offer mentorship and support to our youth. But the dual nature of the workplace environment, where Black people face pressures from the community to create pathways, and from the white-dominated corporate world to maintain the status quo or face career-limiting consequences, leaves many of us without a way to make meaningful change. Perhaps that’s why the central conceit of #Missing24 was so flawed. In the workplace, where we’ve had to outshine our peers in order to simply be included, we can’t afford to go missing. The only way to make our presence felt is by having more of us show up.

Source: How to be Black at work –

How to talk about cultural appropriation: Andray Domise

While the focus of Domise is with respect to transgender, the issues apply more broadly:

At Sunday’s Primetime Emmy Awards, Jeffrey Tamborpicked up his second win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. On the Amazon series Transparent, Tambor plays Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman whose transition forces her shallow, upper-class wife and adult children to grapple with their own shortcomings. Jeffrey Tambor is a cisgender man—which means someone who identifies with their sex at birth, or anyone who isn’t transgender—and when he accepted the award, he made an open plea to Hollywood to make him an anomaly. “Please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story . . . I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a transgender character on television.” With his acceptance speech, Tambor was the first high-profile name in weeks to address the issue of cultural appropriation with any degree of tact. Up to that point, the mainstream response to claims of appropriation have been pleading childlike ignorance at best, and downright hostility at worst. It’s long past time for the conversation to evolve.

Because there seems to be a bit of confusion over the term “cultural appropriation,” let’s be clear on what it isn’t. White rappers aren’t appropriating culture by dint of their whiteness. There’s a reason that accusations of cultural appropriation don’t stick to Eminem, for example, but leave a rancid cloud trailing in Iggy Azalea’s wake. A white author writing Indian characters into the story is not prima facie cultural appropriation. Neither is a white chef specializing in Vietnamese cuisine. Whenever the conversation on cultural appropriation resurfaces, it always begins with unnecessary theatrics over the definition of the term, and drifts into hurt feelings when appropriators feel they’ve been compared to racists. After these exercises are complete, the conversation goes unresolved anyway.

Some refer to cultural appropriation as “borrowing” from other cultures, which is about the same as your least favourite houseguest “borrowing” your silverware. In the creative industries, where touching off trends among receptive audiences can bring multimillion dollar rewards, cultural appropriation is theft. It is plunder. It is lifting cultural aspects from underrepresented groups of people, and not only offering nothing in return, but expecting their gratitude for the promotion. It is trying other people’s identities on as costumes, while people who live within their skin, hair, culture, and gender identity struggle for acceptance. Navneet Alang, a writer for Hazlittwrote a piece last year on the appropriation of South Asian culture and offered a most succinct explanation of the phrase:

“[For] a certain kind of person, the whole world is waiting to be mined, packaged, and sold, regardless of what the things in question mean to people, or whom such selling benefits.”

Cultural appropriation is when Marc Jacobs affixes ludicrous neon dreadlocks to the hair of white models during New York Fashion Week, while the fashion industry has fewer high-profile black designers and models now than it did in the 1970s. It’s Jacobs’s claim “I don’t see colour,” in response to criticism, while putting his name on a makeup line whose colour scheme runs from “bone china” to “paper lunch bag,” and then claiming that Black women straightening their hair is also cultural appropriation. Never mind that many Black women’s hair is naturally straight, and that many curly-haired white women also straighten theirs. At a time when Black children are being disciplined by schools for wearing their hair in natural afros, when a biracial Zara employee in Toronto was reprimanded by management for her box braids, and when a Black employee at a Toronto Jack Astor’s was sent home for wearing her hair in a bun, this should not be a talking point.

I spoke with April Reign, managing editor of Broadway Black, and the creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag that shook up Hollywood in the lead-up to last year’s Academy Awards. “In movies,” Reign said, “they hire cops as consultants in films. So why wouldn’t you respect someone else’s culture in an area where you’re getting paid? If you’re going to make money off my culture through your book, your fashion line, your movie, or your TV show, but you’re not being considerate of it, that’s where I really have a problem.” I joked that an answer might be, for example, to hire “Blackness consultants.” But Reign said the idea wasn’t so far-fetched, because in order to properly respect a culture, entertainment creators need to engage with people who were born into and live within the culture. These exchanges need to be meaningful and mutually beneficial.

Put another way, cultural appropriation is what keeps scores of trans actors underemployed, while cisgender men like Jared Leto and Eddie Redmayne are hailed for their bravery in playing trans women on screen. It’s Matt Bomer, another cisgender man, refusing to answer to trans women who questioned his decision to accept the role of a trans woman in the upcoming film Anything. It’s his castmate Mark Ruffalo pleading for compassion and understanding because the film’s already been shot, rather than showing compassion and understanding to trans women fed up with seeing their identities simplified to men in drag by the film industry.

Yet, with less than 30 seconds of speaking, Jeffrey Tambor showed how easy the dialogue on cultural appropriation can be. If he can use his platform to do this so effortlessly, then his creative peers are out of excuses.