Letter from a Toronto Suburb
On Saturday, August 9th, another innocent, young black man fell dead in the streets with his hands in the air, fired upon by a Caucasian police officer. Upon hearing the news, I was struck by the same sickening feeling I had when I heard that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin who was suspiciously wearing a hoodie on a cool February evening; or when I read about the black woman beaten by a state trooper on the side of a California highway because she was talking to herself; or when I saw the news about John Crawford III who was shot and killed in a Walmart armed with nothing but a toy gun; or when I learned about the shooting of Relisha McBride whose only crime was needing help when her car broke down. Too many stories of black men and women being brutalized and killed for things that white people can do without fear. And each time it happens, our hearts cry, “Not again!” But it has been happening again and again.
Yes, slavery was abolished hundreds of years ago. Segregation ended decades ago. And yet, the systematic devaluation of black life—the implication that we are inferior and worthy of fear and distrust, this deeply ingrained belief that our work, our time, our contributions to society, our very lives are worth that much less than that of our pale-skinned cohorts—has not changed. And the anger that comes out of this has been boiling over the past few years, and it is coming to a head. People are no longer willing to take this sitting down. They are marching in the streets and standing in solidarity across America and even up here in the great white north. We are tired of being oppressed.
In 1963, while sitting in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr. penned an open letterdefending non-violent protests for civil rights. Passages of this letter are so relevant to the current racial situation in America that it would be easy to believe they were written yesterday. One passage was particularly striking:
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained…If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so.
And that is precisely what has been happening in Ferguson and across North America. The yearning for freedom, and I might add, the desire to be valued, has manifested itself. We are marching, we are chanting, we are ranting on social media. And no, that may not bring about immediate or grand change, but it is still important. It is important to say that we will not be silenced. We will not be shut out, shut down or shut up. And when they fire rubber bullets at protestors, and attack them with tear gas, and villainize them in the media, but they still continue to show up, it sends a strong message. We, the descendants of those who were ripped from the motherland and set down here to slave for your citizens all those centuries ago, will no longer take your shit in the very country our ancestors built. We have been taught that we are not powerful and that our voices don't count. But here I am, telling you that they do, so we must not stand in silence anymore. At the very least, speak up.
You will find those who might try to trivialize or dismiss the action that some of us take. Prime example: Donald Glover, rapper better known as Childish Gambino, took to Twitter to declare that “Twitter activism is wack” and “marches don’t work.” Much like I was infuriated when naysayers said the anger expressed on Twitter towards the Trayvon Martin verdict was pretend activism and fake caring, I was completely pissed off by Glover’s statement. People are doing what they can. They are fighting the battle in the ways they know how. They are voicing their dissatisfaction with a system that devalues us, showing their solidarity with those who want better, and standing up for what they believe in. Don’t be discouraged by those who will tell you that your action does not matter, or that it is not your problem, or that your method of protest is wack. Your action, your simple decision to say you are not okay with what is happening to black people in America, is a valuable contribution to the cause. It is very much your problem that men and women that could just as easily be you or your loved ones are being beaten and killed far too often. And if someone dares to tell you that your method of fighting back is wack or ineffective, make sure you look them dead in the face and ask them for an alternative solution. And if someone should ever dare to tell you that violence and protest are not the answer, kindly remind them that white folks have rioted in the streets over sporting events with little consequence. We are reacting to the persistent murder and mistreatment of an entire people. I think our anger is justified.
RIP Michael Brown
Every single time a black man or woman dies an unjust death or suffers because of the colour of their skin, it touches us all, no matter our race. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail). So even if you somehow manage to exist in this world as a person of colour untouched by overt racism and injustice, do you want to bring your children into a world where they might not be so lucky? If you are white, do you wish to always have to explain to your children why their black friends get in trouble for things they don’t even think twice about or help your teenage son mourn the loss of a friend at the hands of police brutality? It may not be affecting you now, but when social injustice goes unchecked, it does not heal itself; it spreads like a dirty deadly disease, consuming lives. If that’s not the type of world you want to live in, do what you can, however small, to change it. Do what you can to stop the cry of “Not again!”
to enact Federal laws that would protect citizens against police brutality in the US.