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Not Another Black Life

May 31, 2020

#NotAnotherBlackLife Yes. Another and another and another…

What did it feel like to be a part of that mass of thousands yesterday? As the Black bodies pile up.  Angry, devastated; sad and just a bit hopeful. I was wishing there were more who looked more or less like me in that crowd of 8,000 or so. Who understood that this was not just about a family grieving the ‘police-involved’ death of their daughter—though it was that. Not just—though it was—a community of black people who got together to call for justice for Regis.

Not just—though it was—a gathering in solidarity with the families of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

Or as a rebuke to Amy Cooper who used her white-woman power to call in the police to ‘slam down’ a Black man who had the nerve to ask her to leash her dog.  Echoes of Emmett Till.  Of Dick Rowland. But a call-out to the world.  Enough is enough. 

Music & Dance

Some brought percussion instruments, some tambourines and shekeres, some small djembes. Three showed up as a brass band, one trumpet, two sax. Otherwise, it was mostly the sound of clapping hands that accompanied the chants of ‘No peace, no justice; no racist police’; and ‘One, two, three, four:  this is a fucking class war; five, six, seven, eight:  overthrow the racist state’; and ‘Justice for Regis’ and ‘Tell me, what does democracy look like? THIS is what democracy looks like.’

The anger was pure, long overdue exposed, filling four kilometres, blocks upon blocks of downtown Toronto, adding our jangle to the clash of sounds echoing around the world.

WHY ARE YOU SO MAD? asks one picket, ANSWERING: BECAUSE WHAT YOU SEE IN THE MEDIA IS A SMALL FRACTION OF ALL OF THE INJUSTICE THAT HAPPENS IN THE COMMUNITIES.

I CAN’T BREATHE. ‘MAMA!! THEY’RE GONNA KILL ME. I CAN’T BREATHE!

IF YOU ARE MORE BOTHERED BY THE WAY PEOPLE REACT TO THE INJUSTICE THAN YOU ARE BY THE INJUSTICE, YOU ARE INVESTED IN OPPRESSION.

Bleach Bucket Window

IF YOU’RE NOT ANGRY, YOU’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION.

And many Dear White People letters: YOUR VOICE IS AS LOUD AS YOUR SILENCE. TURN YOUR SILENCE INTO COMPASSION. TO BE COMPASSIONATE IS TO SUFFER WITH. BLACK PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING.

Anger and compassion.  Both/and.

An occupant of a third-floor apartment along Bloor Street opened up the window and dumped a bucket of bleach through the screen, drenching a couple of people below on the sidewalk. All eyes turned to that window, a roar arose, as did middle fingers. In an instant, the occupant of that apartment became the sharp point of the street’s rage.

Cities are burning all over the United States. What would it take for Toronto to burn; we are not immune to the virus of racism, as many signs reminded us.

HEY, CANADA! YOU THINK YOU’RE NOT RACIST? THINK AGAIN. 

This is a great revealing, a pulling back of the veil on the lived experience of Black and Brown bodies. As African-American poet, Adrienne Maree Brown, writes: ‘Things are not getting worse: they are being UNCOVERED. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.’

So, dear White people:  What will it take for us to own the fact of white supremacy—which orders the universe in ways visible and invisible to benefit people who look like you and me? whose privileges we harvest unthinkingly every day of our lives?

What will it take for us to own the conditioning of our unmerited privilege—and the harm it effects in the lives of racialised human beings?  to become conscious of our complicity in, our creation of (as one poster screamed) racism?

Check my privilege: If he were white, would this have happened?

Whiteness is the water in which we all swim, largely uninterrogated.

We are not bystanders; we are certainly not innocent. Know that your silence, as a Black friend and colleague wrote, in the face of the systemic and unending racism that Black folks experience daily is, in itself, an act of the knee to the neck.

He continues:

I can’t breathe, when you leave it to me to name the racism that is in your face yet you keep silent…

When you take the system as a given, and don’t question assumptions or the way things are, and are silent…you leave me gasping and fighting for air…

I can’t breathe when you want me to represent and you do not ask why there are so few people like me around…and you keep silent

I can’t breathe when you dismiss me, by not seeing colour…your silence is a knee to the neck

I can’t breathe when you see pictures of the institutions you are a part of that only show white people…and you stay silent and don’t ask why…

I can’t breathe when you tell me we all have red blood, and diminish my experience

if you are serious about taking steps to name anti-black racism and racial violence (not just the physical) then your starting point is a commitment to stay silent no more…

If you are more bothered