Royson James: Be careful who gets the honour of a memorial

Good reflections by Royson James on the need for reflection before erecting or removing monuments:

Be slow to tear down; slower to erect.

Heroes and villains are too often aligned — in the same body. So beware the memorials and monuments we construct.

That should be a direct lesson from the mound of past sins now being excavated and tossed on the sculpted images of our once shining heroes.

Once a hero, always a hero — in somebody’s mind. But the conquering coloniser is a miserable picture of pain and suffering to the victims of imperial conquests.

So, rip ‘em down. Tear down that statue. Remove the monument. Behead that statue that causes us so much pain. But be willing to square off against a phalanx of counter-protesters brandishing “Hands off our heritage” placards. America is Exhibit A — raw, extreme, seemingly irreconcilable, attempting to confront the past and a study in how not to get there in the first place.

It doesn’t have to be so, of course. Reasonable human beings can study the lives and contributions of the people our forebears honoured with monuments and memorials and reconsider their place of honour in light of modern norms and practices.

We learn. We grow. We listen to our neighbour. We may have to change our minds.

A tear-down doesn’t have to be a whitewash or a blackout. It can be an opportunity to present an era or person or people in wider context. Still, in real life, on the street, it doesn’t play out that neatly.

Toronto is not a city of statues and monuments. There are a few at Queen’s Park and along University Avenue and on university campuses, but nothing like the affinity found in Europe or the American south.

Maybe it’s because we are so young, compared to ancient cities. Maybe the paucity of public statues serve as a natural inhibitor to erecting new ones. After all, who are you to tower over us when so many before you have not been awarded that honour? Why this hero when we can name another 10 or 20 worthy competitors?

Count me among those who have advocated for more piazzas, grand boulevards, fountains and statues. Maybe we are fortunate not to have a proliferation because it is so difficult to install perfect human beings. Prime Ministers and presidents owned slaves. The British monarchy sponsored slave-ship expeditions. The Anglican Church owned slaves and branded them on the Codrington estate in Barbados.

In the midst of this tangled time stamp, affirming the victims, confronting the ugly truths and moving towards reconciliation and reparations is no easy feat. Denial is the worst option. So is a blanket erasure of evidence of the past.

We could be Richmond, Virginia, where the mother of all statues — the 21-foot high horse and rider General Robert E. Lee, head of the pro-slavery Southern Confederate states in the U.S. civil war — is coming down after years of protest that it is a symbol of white supremacy and racism. Opponents see it as symbol of southern heritage. The work, completed in Paris in 1890 is considered an artistic “masterpiece.” It took 10,000 people to transport the pieces from port to platform. Dismantling it and its granite base that’s almost twice as high as the stature itself, is a feat.

Here, we worry about spray paint on the King Edward VII statue at Queen’s Park.

Here, the city of Vaughan is embarrassed when a citizen pointed out that by changing the name of its August civic holiday in 2013 to Benjamin Vaughan Day, the city was celebrating a man of who not only owned hundreds of slaves in Jamaica but fought against the abolition of slavery. (Educated, Vaughan city council dropped the holiday name this year, returning to Simcoe Day.) There’s no word on the fate of the city’s name itself, cut from the same cloth.

Clearly, we pay scant attention to the names we give our streets. So many streets to name in so many subdivisions. Developers name your street address after their girlfriends. Architects throw in ninny names to satisfy whatever fantasy overcame them. Who’s to know?

Maybe Toronto city planners were a bit more fastidious when they laid out the old city by name. You can’t go wrong with Front or Lakeshore, er Lake Shore, or King, Queen, Princess, John and Jane. Who would suspect Mr. Bathurst or Mrs. Dufferin of having damaging secrets that might render them unfit to adorn our boulevards? Dundas? Harmless.

Oops. Apparently, only as harmless as Ryerson and Macdonald — names and esteemed people now under scrutiny for questionable racial history.

Toronto’s city manager has issued a brief committing to “broadly understand and respond to how systematic racism and discrimination are embedded in city assets, commemorative programs and naming policies.”

Chris Murray says “this might ultimately touch all named city streets, parks and facilities, public monuments, and civic awards and honours, potentially leading to a variety of actions (e.g., renaming streets, removing monuments, revoking awards or reinterpreting any of these).

“Addressing the historical legacy of Dundas Street is one of these steps” necessary in challenging systemic institutionalized racism and build a more inclusive Toronto,” Murray writes.

If these are more than just words — and if city council next month adopts the philosophy and true intent — we are in for a turbulent period that will test our maturity as a city. If the effort doesn’t get messy, it’s a sure sign it isn’t real.

We honour people who touch us and move us to dream and aspire to greatness. When the very visage of our “heroes” evoke the image of “villains” in our neighbour, this clash of vision can only crash at our feet — assuming we are equally invested and rooted and valued.

How we clean up the mess will define our future. It will also remind us: Be slow to tear down; slower to erect.

Get ready — Toronto’s next wave of Black voices will be more urgent, strident and radical: James

More analysis of the Black Experience Project and potential implications:

Astonishingly, half of Black youths aged 16 to 24 identify racism as the greatest challenge facing the Black community. These are kids born here. In 2011, for the first time, the majority of young Black adults in the GTA were Canadian-born, outnumbering those born in the islands. But instead of building security on top of their parent’s angst, they report anxiety beyond that of their elders.

And still you wonder why Black Lives Matter has such resonance.

Hundreds filled the auditorium of the downtown Y on Wednesday night to receive the report, six years in the making. Black folk interviewed themselves, in depth, 250 questions over two or more hours, each posed to more than 1,500 respondents in the GTA, buttressed by the polling expertise of the Environics Institute.

Findings? No surprises here. The gathering had a vibe of self-prescribed group therapy where victims comfort each other with nodding heads and sighs that breathe, “the story of my life.”

Validation is good, one woman said, providing feedback. “Now I know it’s not just me; I’m not crazy,” she said.

Another summed up the daily toll of racism encountered in a society steeped in the ethos of colonized and colonizer. “It drains you,” she said.

Then she asked the tough question. “How are you getting this information in front of the people who need to hear — so it’s not just us talking to ourselves, telling us what we already know?”

Almost 40 years ago when I took pictures and wrote stories for Contrast Newspaper, the parade of headlines had a numbing sameness: Man beaten by police. Mother says school discriminates. Youth says racism kept him from job.

In the 1980s when I joined with Toronto Star colleague Leslie Papp to examine life in Metro Toronto for Black folk compared with whites, little had changed. In daily interactions large and small, Black folk endured the slings and arrows of outrageous racism.

In 2002 the Star unleashed its study on racial profiling, Black pain and suffering finally received an official stamp of institutional and scientific approval. No one who was serious could deny the reality anymore. Black people were being targeted, harassed, arrested, imprisoned and victimized at a rate three to four times their white neighbours — not because of wanton crimes but for the same misdemeanor and behavior that left white citizens free of censure.

When the Star verified in 2010 what Black youths complained about from my Contrast days — that they are systematically watched, targeted, surveilled, had their movements recorded and “carded” as a matter of police policy — one would have thought the jig was up.

But no, the racism deniers only got bolder and intransigent.

Police chiefs and mayors and citizens defended the most outrageous violation of the human and civil rights of its Black citizens — in the name of a safety no one could identify or specify.

I sat at a police services board meeting and watched my mayor support carding — immediately after Black and white citizens begged the board to please, stop, in the name of God or justice. Former metro councillor Bev Salmon was in tears. Former police board member Roy Williams was near depressed. Desmond Cole renounced his journalism credentials and attempted to shame the bastards into doing the right thing. And they sat there unmoved.

I wept that day — at police headquarters.

I wept many other nights that year as I watched the systematic de-humanization of Black people, across America and the globe.

Why do we matter so little?

Fowzia Duale Virtue, one of the presenters Wednesday night, in a moment of revelation, put her finger on the trigger:

“I’ve been Black in a lot of places in the world. I’ve lived on four continents, lived in 22 countries” and encountered racism “so overt that I didn’t want to spend another” dollar in that place. And she’s experienced the “refreshing welcome of humanity in places without the history of colonization.”

Right here, Black response evolved into Black Lives Matter (BLM) — young, accented in Canadian lilt and vocabulary. Where Dudley Laws and Charles Roach and Black Action Defence Committee (BAD-C) once roamed, BLM occupies. The youths seem more strident, more forceful, direct and impatient and radical.

And some GTA teacher posted or retweeted the sentiment that says BLM is our local terrorist group.

Dude! You should be ecstatic. The alternative will be unrecognizable — more combustible and radical and urgent and disruptive than the 2017 version of BLM.

Consider that the majority of young Black adults is now Canadian born. They have more white friends and connections than their immigrant parents. One might expect their reported experiences in Toronto society would leave them with a more hopeful, less victimized existence. Yet this latest report says:

“Young Black Canadian-born adults are more likely to identify racism as an obstacle they face; more likely to say they experience some forms of unfair treatment because they are Black; and more likely to be adversely affected by these experiences. It appears, therefore, that young Black adults are more impatient with the failure of Canadian society to deliver on the country’s promise of equality.”

That’s what should bother us. BAD-C leads to BLM. What will BLM morph into, if current conditions persist?

Carding had to go because it was just too odious. The disrespect so obvious that regular middle-class folk, Black and white, could see its devilish design. But the racism that’s part of our DNA is so much harder to erase.

Black people have shown they won’t stop pushing for equality. Toronto’s next wave of Black voices will be more urgent, strident, boisterous and radical. You can count on that.

Malcolm X talked about the ballot or the bullet, even as Martin Luther King marched in non-violent protest. One day, the idea of Black Lives Matter as an incendiary terrorist group will be as absurd as calling the Black Action Defense Committee dangerous. Current requests will pale in the face of future demands.

“We are just like everyone else,” Virtue said Wednesday, her form steady, poised, articulate and resolute. “We will fight and demand that our humanity is respected and honoured and received.”

We won’t be able to send these kids home — back to Africa or Jamaica. They are home. What too many of them are telling us — if we open our ears and hearts — is that our beloved Toronto doesn’t feel like home.

We have been warned.

Source: Get ready — Toronto’s next wave of Black voices will be more urgent, strident and radical: James | Toronto Star

Graduation season sparks pride — and hope — for Black community [private school bursaries]: James

Good initiative to improve the opportunities for Black Canadian kids and improve the diversity of private schools, even if numbers are small. Of particular note are the efforts made to prepare them for the private school [elite] experience, :

It’s that time of year when graduates leave a lump in our throats and hope in our hearts.

The awkward child who found purpose and now clutches a diploma. The son who struggled mightily just to stay in school, before connecting with a teacher who cared beyond duty and made all the difference. The brilliance and awesome wonder of youth on a mission.

It could be found in the hundreds walking from Westview and C.W. Jefferys to York University in the annual statement that education is the path out of the social housing traps.

Or the 40 or so who will graduate from Crawford Adventist Academy, an independent church school where 38 of them will go on to tertiary education. Not just once. Every year.

To prepare for the annual season of uplift, I attended an unusual recruitment drive at North York Civic Centre last week. Hundreds of parents and students of African and Caribbean descent were kicking the tires on a schooling opportunity that’s as rare and unlikely as, well, as a Black kid at Upper Canada College (UCC).

Oh, that’s not so rare? Not anymore? So I discovered.

Since 2007, 120 Afro-Caribbean students have received scholarships to attend the elite private schools known to churn out prime ministers and business moguls. Most of the 120 have been to UCC. But the tables displaying recruitment literature last week boasted about the rarefied life at Branksome Hall, Havergal College, St. Clement’s, Crescent School, Sterling Hall, Royal St. George’s College, Appleby College and others, 20 in all.

These elite private schools brag about low teacher-student ratio, high academic standards and expectations, deep and worldwide alumni network, a balanced and varied school life and the making of solid men and women out of unsteady boys and girls.

And here they were reaching out to Black students — the very students we fret about every time we peruse reports on dropout rates and lagging academic achievement in our province’s public schools.

The parents and their children in tow are a mix of wonder, anticipation, anxiety and resolve. These are families willing to take a path less travelled, one that begins far from their familiar neighbourhood and class and friends and promises to land the voyager in unimaginable places.

The pioneers file reports of launching out into a world where few look like them, sound like them, have their experiences. “I told him he’ll likely be the poorest kid in the school, but to hold your head up,” one parent tells the gathered mass looking for tips on what life is like at the schools of the privileged, where a $30,000 tuition tab is not unusual.

They go in timid and tentative. By November their chests are out. They are leaders, articulate, sure-footed, integrated and part of the UCC brotherhood or the sisterhood at Havergal.

“A new world has opened to them. They can shine,” says Anne White, who helps prepare the students for the unexpected world of Canada’s elite private schools.

Just after the Year of the Gun (2005) the Ontario government funded the African-Canadian Christian Network (ACCN) to administer grants to various church-based organizations committed to community “ministry.”

I know about this because then-premier Dalton McGuinty announced the funding at my church, where Amon Beckles was shot and killed on the front steps while attending a funeral of his slain friend. The idea was that churches might be able to reach “at risk” youths that government institutions were unable to contact.

One funding success is the creation of outreach to African and Caribbean families to prepare them for entrance exams and the steps to apply for scholarships to attend elite schools.

“We got an invitation from (former) principal Jim Powers of UCC,” recalls Cheryl Lewis, executive director of ACCN. “He’d looked around and saw the tapestry of his school did not reflect the city. So, he offered two boardings (residential places) for boys.”

The ACCN was a fledgling organization. The government funding allowed it the capacity to reach out to several churches and establish the educational initiative. Word got out. Parents and students took up the offer to prepare the applicants for life at the elite schools.

Just outside the council chamber at North York city hall I’m surrounded by male and female Black students, in crested uniform, waxing about their experiences. The head spins.

Source: Graduation season sparks pride — and hope — for Black community: James | Toronto Star

John Tory, Mark Saunders get cover from Queen’s Park on carding issue: James

Royson James on the Ontario government’s public consultations on carding:

There is little reason to believe that the provincial Liberal government consultations on carding will yield anything more satisfactory than the chaotic farce the Toronto Police Services Board has delivered, led by Mayor John Tory.

To expect meaningful reform from the current initiative, with a stop in Toronto at the reference library Tuesday night, is to be overcome with naiveté borne of willful blindness.

In fact, the evidence points to a provincial government in cahoots with Tory and the Toronto police brass; one whose intervention is designed to offer pap and a public relations show, while preserving the essence of police street checks.

Notwithstanding the lofty statements about the government’s intolerance of discrimination, the impact of any new rules passed will likely be: police will have the ability to stop anyone, anytime, for any reason, stated or unstated, to psychologically, if not expressly detain said person, record personal information from said subject, and record the same in a police database.

And we know who will be targeted most.

And we know — or have been told ad nauseum this past year — the real, psychological, and social costs borne by the black community, particularly young black men.

But carding is a useful tool — according to opening statements on the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services website, announcing the review.

Done properly, the new police chief has said, carding is legal.

Done properly, we wouldn’t be here debating the matter, attempting to tame it, wrestling with the chief to find reasonable constraints on the practice, and advocating for reform.

Done properly, street checks in Toronto would follow the protocol drawn up in April 2014 by a Toronto police board that studied the matter and came up with as good a compromise as possible.

That was before John Tory and (now board chair) Andy Pringle and former chief Bill Blair turned the file into a horrible mess, a political hot potato and a public relations disaster.

Pringle, a member of the board in 2014 and Tory acolyte and Blair’s fishing buddy, convinced Tory that he should back Blair in his refusal to implement the board’s decision. Tory, while condemning carding, destroyed the 2014 policy designed to fix it, brought in new guidelines that created a firestorm of controversy, and was forced to go back to the very 2014 board policy he meddled with.

And this is where the province mysteriously entered the fray.

Why? Few can explain the motivation. How? In a manner that only fosters cynicism. Who would enter this messy situation, with the epicenter in Toronto, and decide to hold consultations in Ottawa and Thunder Bay but not Toronto? Who would set up private sessions with groups familiar with the issue and not include the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC)?

Source: John Tory, Mark Saunders get cover from Queen’s Park on carding issue: James | Toronto Star

Advising resistance to police’s carding efforts grows more tempting: James

Royson James on Toronto police carding and the recent court decision:

In awarding damages to a man stopped in Moss Park and beaten up by police after he refused to engage the officer, citing his right to walk about the street without police harassment, Superior Court Justice Frederick Myers wrote:

“One who is not being investigated for criminality is allowed to walk down the street on a cold night with his or her hands in the pockets and to tell the inquisitive police officers to get lost without being detained, searched, exposed to sub-zero temperatures, or assaulted.”

You think?

Judge Myers awarded the victim, Mutaz Elmardy, $27,000 in damages in the 2011 incident.

“That police officers shattered Mr. Elmardy’s feeling of the law strikes at the rule of law itself and requires condemnation by the court,” the judge wrote.

You, sir, are a credit to your profession.

The same cannot be said of our Mayor John Tory (open John Tory’s policard). Since his election, it seems like he has done everything to perpetuate this odious police practice — from manipulating the membership of the police board, to hiring a chief committed to carry on the controversial exercise.

Tory calls carding corrosive. He says the police board is reviewing it. Yet he wouldn’t demand basic police accountability: provide those carded with a receipt of the encounter and respectfully inform them of their right not to engage.