Why #BlackLivesMatter Is a Canadian Struggle, Too

Here, in not-Africa, race is uncomfortable and racism is unpalatable, I think as I hear the chuckle of a blue-eyed, muscular, white classmate at the University of Manitoba. He tells me, agitatedly, that he cannot take another immigrant or person of colour whining about racism on his Facebook feed. I look at him, trying to remember why, three years ago — staring at a red field with a white square and a red maple leaf, beautifully printed on my study permit — I had not anticipated agony of this kind.
It is just another day at the university.
Meanwhile, he proceeds to tell me that the apparently self-proclaimed victims of racism are given the most breaks and those who do not advance up the social and economic ladder; it is because they are not “tough enough.” This is a typical example of modern racists whose unconscious racism allows them the privilege to believe that racism is a horrendous thing of the past.

Alicia Garza has been a major leader in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Credit: Personal Democracy
Alicia Garza has been a major leader in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Credit: Personal Democracy

When we affirm #BlackLivesMatter, it is our resistance against this kind of ignorance, abuse, and debasement of black people’s lived experiences. It is our fight for the humanity of black folks and our desire to heal our wounds while we recognize the necessity of our human rights. We affirm black lives because our sanity depends on it, our lives depend on it, and nowhere did the oppressed become liberated by chance. But wait, what is all this talk?
The air is hot and humid at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and the atmosphere is not yet engulfed with the smells of the foods that should not be deep-fried. It is about 9:15 am. Some of the midway game concessions are up in the air. My white co-worker and I are just putting awnings up when her boyfriend scurries in like a policeman would after a criminal.
“If you ever talk to my girlfriend like that [regarding events of the previous night, when we fought over customers because we are paid commission], I will f****** send you back to your monkey ass country,” he barks with the confidence of having delivered a blow that had the power to hurt. My troubled feelings are left abandoned in the back of my throat as he leaves just as quickly as he had come.
Except, it is just another day at the carnival.
This example reveals another case of racism against black immigrants in Canada. I take note of the uncomfortable chuckles every time I say, “white people.” It is as if our pain from the micro-aggressions that daily assaults us will somehow disappear if we would just not talk about them, risking making some people uncomfortable.
Since July 2013 and the years following the acquittal of George Zimmerman — a white policeman who fatally shot black, unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin — more people have taken the #BlackLivesMatter demand into the streets across the United States and Canada. What began as a Twitter trend, created by activist Alicia Garza and others to protest police brutality and institutionalized racism, has become a movement for transformative social change. As Garza explains,
“Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression” (thefeministwire.com/2014/10/blacklivesmatter-2).
While racism in Canada today may not be delivered with a gun, the exploitation which daily assaults the bodies and spirits of African Americans in the United States assaults black people here, too.
Catherine Kayumba B. is a Christian student at St. John's College. She comes from Rwanda and studies Global Political Economy.
Catherine Kayumba B. is a Christian student at St. John’s College. She comes from Rwanda and studies Global Political Economy.

When we affirm that #BlackLivesMatters, it is important not to replace “Black Lives” with “All Lives,” as some have been wont to do. Yes, all lives do matter, but to homogenize our different experiences is to perpetuate the same white privilege that continues to wound and to kill. It is our experiences of marginalization and white privilege which necessitate that we affirm, every day, that we matter. We do not need diluted unity, but unwavering solidarity and defence of the human rights and dignity of black folks. It is only then that our fight may constitute an act of love, opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of racist domination and violence.


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