The summer of 2020 unfolded in the tense air of COVID-19. A global chanting of “Black lives matter” enveloped the digital realm and took to the streets after George Floyd, a Black man, was publicly killed by a police officer.
The resulting movement against police brutality that sprung up in the United States reproduced itself in Canada. While well intentioned, institutions such as U of T have misconstrued the ideals of the movement by adopting its Americanized form without sufficiently accounting for its own domestic context.
It is not only Black people in Canada who deserve justice — it is also Indigenous peoples. Institutions like U of T should recognize that efforts to address racism cannot be meaningful unless both anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity are collectively accounted for.
American versus Canadian contexts
Being a visibly Black person isn’t a homogeneous ordeal anywhere; experiences differ depending on where you are in the world. Black Americans remain one of the groups that poverty hits the hardest, have lower incomes on average, and are less likely to have a college degree than white Americans.
This is due to an American history with roots in a prolifiic slave trade, the Civil War, and Jim Crow laws that crucially link the sovereign state’s development to the current disenfranchisement and oppression of Black Americans. It’s no wonder that the Black Lives Matter movement began in the United States.
Colonial Canada too saw enslaved Africans brought overseas by French and British settlers when they were first establishing their colonies in the nation. However, the history and impact of slavery is not as extensive in Canada as it was in the United States. While the descendents of enslaved Africans make up the vast majority of Black Americans, the majority of Black Canadians by contrast are African and Caribbean immigrants.
This isn’t to suggest that there ceases to be racism toward Black people in Canada, or even that the Canadian system is kinder with its marginalization. Indeed, the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary in Canada too.
The point, however, is that anti-racism efforts must address Canada’s unique development — one rooted in Indigenous genocide. In this way, we must account for the ways in which Canada and the United States are both similar and yet different.
Indigenous peoples deserve recognition by
U of T
To list just a few of the ongoing institutional sins toward this country’s Indigenous population, Indigenous peoples face the highest rates of poverty, are overrepresented in prisons, and are still enduring intergenerational trauma from residential schools and the “Sixties Scoop,” which took children from their families, stripped them of their culture, and fostered a place
for both sexual and physical abuse.
Furthermore, Indigenous children are overrepresented in the foster care system, and the genocide of Indigenous women is still a national crisis. It suffices to say that such matters are for Canadians to take notice of.
The reality is that the structural racism we fight here in Canada was born out of a constant effort to brutalize and control Indigenous peoples. This is seen, for example, in the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which was created for the sole purpose of displacing Indigenous peoples.
Take into account that today, Indigenous people represent more than one third of those shot to death by RCMP officers between 2007 and 2017, while only accounting for 4.5 per cent of the national population. Clearly this is a practice that is still embedded into the structure of modern policing.
Over the summer, in response to the movement against structural racism, U of T President Meric Gertler issued a statement condemning anti-Black racism and created an Anti-Black Racism Task Force. These major announcements made no mention of racism or violence against Indigenous peoples.
This is not to say that every action against racism must include every racialized group — but U of T’s lack of focus on anti-Indigeneity demonstrates a lack of adaptation of this movement born out of an act of police violence into its own context.
U of T must contemplate the way systemic oppression operates domestically and make tangible changes because this task can’t be delegated to anybody else.
Cleo Sood is a third-year philosophy and economics student at Innis College.