Seven Black panelists break down Canada’s systemic anti-Black racism

This talk highlights Canada’s history of Black oppression and erasure while pinpointing needed reforms

In a long-overdue conversation, the panelists discuss the reality of being Black in Canada. Courtesy of Feminists Deliver

By: Meera Eragoda, Arts & Culture Editor

In response to the recent calls for anti-racism, Feminists Deliver, a BC grassroots organization, decided to host the talk Resistance and Resurgence: Confronting Anti-Black Racism in Canada. Feminists Deliver is an anti-oppressive, decolonial, and intersectional organization that aims to spotlight issues facing marginalized communities, connect grassroots feminist movements, and transform “the global women’s agenda” for all women-identifying and non-binary people.

The two-hour event featured several Black BC-based panelists: writer and historian Dr. Yvonne Brown; producer and community radio host Denise Goldberg; anti-oppressive facilitator Cicely Blain; poet Junie Désil; CEO of Elevate Inclusion Strategies Natasha Tony; and SFU’s director of the Institute for Diaspora Research and Engagement, associate professor in the Beedie School of Business, and co-chair of the Hogan’s Alley Society’s board of directors, Dr. June Francis. The event was also moderated by activist Angela Marie MacDougall. 

Opening the event, MacDougall acknowledged that the talk was taking place on stolen lands. Rhiannon Bennett, a member of the Musqueam nation, said a few introductory words. She stressed that Indigenous sovereignty and Black Lives Matter movements are both connected because their linked oppressions are a product of white supremacy. Bennett also emphasized that people need to stop pointing to one movement to say the other is not important.

The panelists covered a variety of topics regarding systemic racism towards the Black community in Canada, as well as the erasure of Black history. Given that Black women are often a footnote in history and in contemporary events, I was glad to see that the entire panel was made up of women and non-binary people.

The panelists discuss serious topics but manage to share a wry chuckle at the sheer performativity of the Instagram black squares.

Dr. Brown specifically noted how she decided to become a writer and historian in order to write her own history, so that those looking back from the future would not be able to erase her contributions. She also urged the rest of the panel to do the same and to create their own archive to ensure their stories would be told.

Dr. Francis spoke about how Canada has always painted itself as better than the US  for having slightly less-racist policies, despite the fact that Canada also had chattel slavery and segregation. Dr. Francis also referenced a 2017 UN Report which she described as “scathing” towards Canada’s anti-Black racism. This report highlights Canada’s history of slavery, as well as the history of Africville, the Nova Scotian community that was displaced, and calls for reparations. Adding to these comments, Blain spoke about how Canada embraced racist policies but concealed them with ambiguous terminology.

Blain also spoke about how the gender binary is a tool of white supremacy, and how Black Lives Matter means all Black lives, including women, trans, and non-binary people’s lives.

Goldberg addressed the medical industry and how racist it is toward Black women. She recounted her own experience going in for a surgery and not receiving any pain medication and when she alerted the medical professionals after the surgery, they argued with her. Eventually, they double-checked and apologized because she had been right all along. This brought to mind Serena Williams’ experience and how this, sadly, isn’t a unique occurrence for Black women.

Another interesting fact I learned was that Picasso — who I already disliked due to the fact that he was a violent misogynist — likely stole Cubism from African art.

Dr. Francis talked about how if you look at SFU or any other institution, their leadership is predominantly white. She explained that entering academia equates to the violence of having your history erased, pointing to a comment MacDougall made on how Black history did not start with slavery yet nothing about this is taught.

The conversation covered a lot of ground, and at the same time, not enough given that anti-Black racism has existed in Canada for a long time and pervades every institution from the medical industry to education to housing to academia to policing to so many more. 

Listening to all the panelists made me recommitted to wanting to decolonize my life and to burn the capitalist white supremacist system to the ground. 

I highly recommend all non-Black people go listen to the recording of the talk. It’s available on YouTube (with closed captions) and Facebook.