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Nov 10th 2017
Content warnings: : anti-black racism
Image of the novel entitled “Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present” laying flat on a wooden desk. The cover shows a black woman & man, with their back to the viewer, facing a line of police officers, their faces aren't shown.

Because of lived experiences, I’m connected to understanding and addressing complicity in violence and oppression. 

Recently, my learning journey led to the book launch for Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, written by Robyn Maynard. The event was shared on Black Lives Matter Toronto’s Facebook page.

I arrived early to buy the book before the crowd hit, and sat in the back. As more people entered, it occurred to me that I was a guest in a space created for Black folk to share and discuss their stories, and that I needed to be considerate of how I take up space. My instinct was to keep quiet: I knew this wasn’t a space for my voice to be prioritized, that I needed to support the comfort of those in attendance, and that I should try to do as little accidental damage as possible.

The room’s plentiful warmth and bodies spilled out to Bathurst Street by starting time. We were packed to the walls with queer, trans, Muslim, disabled, and Caribbean folks, infants and small children, a few allies, and more. The moderator began by asking seated allies without (visible or invisible) accessibility needs to offer their chairs to Black folk; since this request aligned with how I wanted to decenter myself in the space and help hold the space for others, I gave away my seat and leaned against a pillar. As soon as I joined the side, a man berated the moderator — who was Black. He yelled indignantly at them about the request, calling them a racist; the mumbles in the room calmed and attention focused. Over the following seconds I froze and my mind spun: I knew as an ally that I should challenge him instead of leaving the responsibility with Black folk, but he was also a tall and much larger-bodied angry man, and I also wasn’t sure how it would be received for me to assert myself in a space I didn’t build. By the time my brain stopped spinning, attendants supported the moderator ignoring him, and he left. I think I failed.

Moving on quickly, as if this wasn’t the first time, Robyn discussed the importance of the book and pulling-back Canada’s illusory veil of diversity, inclusion, and human rights; an image frequently contrasted with the United States’ latent resurgence of anti-Black violence media coverage, an image masking Canada’s own problems.

Because I don't want to butcher it, the following is Robyn's book summary from Amazon:

Delving behind Canada’s veneer of multiculturalism and tolerance, Policing Black Lives traces the violent realities of anti-blackness from the slave ships to prisons, classrooms and beyond. Robyn Maynard provides readers with the first comprehensive account of nearly four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada. While highlighting the ubiquity of Black resistance, Policing Black Lives traces the still-living legacy of slavery across multiple institutions, shedding light on the state’s role in perpetuating contemporary Black poverty and unemployment, racial profiling, law enforcement violence, incarceration, immigration detention, deportation, exploitative migrant labour practices, disproportionate child removal and low graduation rates. Emerging from a critical race feminist framework that insists that all Black lives matter, Maynard’s intersectional approach to anti-Black racism addresses the unique and understudied impacts of state violence as it is experienced by Black women, Black people with disabilities, as well as queer, trans, and undocumented Black communities. A call-to-action, Policing Black Lives urges readers to work toward dismantling structures of racial domination and re-imagining a more just society.

In thumbing even the first few pages at my seat, my heart sank. I learned the last segregated school for Black Canadians didn’t close until the 1983. My mom was in high school while there were segregated schools in Canada? I was immediately overcome by a sense of embarrassment; embarrassment of how little I knew. The concept of segregated schools for Black folk in Canada never occurred to me. I wondered how existing Black Canadian families were psychologically and economically impacted by the system. Had I learned about Canadian anti-Black racial segregation in high school and simply forgot? I couldn’t remember. I remember brief mentions of slavery in Canada, but I always assumed it ended, much with the possibility of segregation, so far back in Canadian history that I need not focus on it; because in my mind, of course awful things happened a long time ago, but that was the past. “So much has changed,” I thought. This problematic reasoning is a whole other discussion in itself. When I asked two former classmates of mine if they remembered learning of it, one told me she probably heard 10 words on the subject, if at all. Robyn spoke to this erasure when she discussed the way the state hides its anti-Black history, preventing knowledge carryover for future generations. I could only imagine what I’d learn as I dove deeper in the book.

The more I listened and read, the more I grasped the depth of emotional labour and community support required to develop this book; the labour of folks with personal, traumatic ties to state violence to collect the too-similar gut-wrenching stories, fight the discomfort of unpacking such information, and then collaborate with other-like folks to develop solutions.

That night I learned that the Black Lives Matter Freedom School Work Book was also launching; a book developed in collaboration with Black community to build up Black youth with self-love, bestow an understanding of Black Canadian resisters, and instil values of intersectionality and collective resistance. In listening to LeRoi Newbold — an educator and member of Black Lives Matter Toronto — discuss the book, I had so many feels. I can only imagine the impact of sharing tangible stories of Black Canadian resistance and resilience against oppression with youth. We listened, hearts warming, as children appearing no more than five to seven years old read portions of the book aloud. The material even touched heavily on intersectionality and solidarity with Indigenous, queer, disabled, and other racialized communities. I’d never imagined engaging as deep topics with elementary school children. In my head I contrasted how I imagined this teaching model would survive in Muslim Canadian communities (recognizing that anti-Blackness and queerphobia is very much still a thing), and wondered on how I was challenging the status quo.

The workbook also made me wonder how I, or we as South Asians, challenge our youth. It made me wonder how we’re making sure our youth understand colonialism/decolonization, queerphobia, and Black and Indigenous solidarity. It made me wonder what my role could be and should be.

I have a lot of reading and thinking to do. I’m not sure what’s next, but I feel like I’m moving in the right direction.

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To support their hard work, if you can, I recommend buying or sharing their books (see links below), shouting them out on Twitter, and/or talking about them to your friends. Note that Policing Black Lives can also be found at Toronto Public Libraries.


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In the spirit of eternal learning, feel free to leave a comment/critique, call me out, or call me in.


first published in: https://medium.com/@harris.i.qureshi/learning-allyship-6f7ac67e056e
QSAY Collective Member, Former Chemist, and Wanna-be artist/Ally. Social Media: Twitter.com/harrisiqureshi https://medium.com/@harris.i.qureshi