Friday, 28 November 2014

Black in Canada - #Ferguson From an African-Canadian Perspective

The grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO earlier this week has created a range of emotions for me and millions of other people across North America and the world. Tragically, this is nothing new in America and there is evidence that this type of thing happens all too often. In fact, just last weekend, a Cleveland police officer fatally shot a 12 year old boy for brandishing a toy gun. When the officer called it in, he described the young African-American as a 20 year old. American craziness.

The disturbing video is here:

People of all races have been outraged and disgusted by these obvious abuses of police power, and they have filled streets in cities all over America to protest.

Here in Canada, being of African descent does not come with the same level of social oppression or stigma. It's important to say that this is just my own opinion.

We have an interesting perspective here in Canada. There are still awkward taboos and stereotypes surrounding black people (mostly based on American caricatures) and of course we encounter racism, much like many other minorities in any Western country. Yet, I can't help but be thankful that we do not encounter the blatant systematic oppression that our American cousins have to deal with daily.

The kind of systematic oppression that allowed a law enforcement official to claim that he was just so terrified of a big black 18 year old that he fired 12 shots indiscriminately at his direction in hopes of stopping the teenager. I'm not going to get into the weeds of the grand jury's decision or Officer Darren Wilson's testimony, but it was quite apparent that he was playing on not-so-latent American stereotypes in order to justify his fear and the events of that day.

Mike Brown was unarmed and in my opinion that is all that should matter.

Full breakdown here:

Back to Canada.

I am incredibly patriotic, with an immense love for the country where I was born. I consider myself Canadian above anything else. I am African-Canadian too. My mother was a first-generation European-Canadian, and my dad immigrated to Canada from Sierra Leone in the early 80s. His love for PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau was infectious during my childhood. Most immigrants who came from developing countries during that time have an immense love for Trudeau, because he essentially equalized immigration in Canada, which was far more Euro-centric before his tenure as Prime Minister.

Canada's multicultural society and liberal ideals of progress for everyone have allowed me to largely ignore the racism that does exist - choosing to focus on my future instead. However, not every African-Canadian feels the same way or shares my perspective. The casual stereotyping or use of derogatory racist remarks does impact too many even here in multicultural Canada. Still, I would hope that on a night like November 24, 2014, all African-Canadians felt a sense of gratefulness for being in a country that does not have a corrupt and racially-biased legal system.

Of course, Canada is far from perfect and the argument could be made that there is ongoing systematic oppression of First Nations communities across the country. But the legal system seems to be much more impartial (as law is supposed to be) and an important tool as they struggle for equal access to human rights like healthcare, shelter and education that the rest of Canada enjoys.

Back to America.

I know many African-Canadians who don't like being lumped in with African-Americans, but for better or worse our history is interconnected and the profound cultural impact of America is inescapable. When they face injustice, we share in their anger and sadness. When they elected President Barack Obama we watched with glee and celebrated with them. And of course the music of African-Americans has impacted our culture here in Canada and I would argue it has had that impact globally, again for better or worse.

It is an interesting time for global race-relations. We all want to think we are in a post-racial era, largely due to the blood, sweat and tears endured by protestors during the Civil Rights Era. Unfortunately, it is clear that a bigger shift is needed and that shift is less political and more personal in nature.


Here are some classic tunes about the African-American experience.

Mos Def - Umi Says

James Brown - Say It Loud (I'm Black & I'm Proud)

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