By PATRICK HUNTER
“This is what Canada looks like.”
“Because it’s 2015.”
– PM Justin Trudeau
Dear Prime Minister:
First, congratulations and the very best wishes on your new role as prime minister of Canada. I fully realize that you have a heavy task ahead of you to undo some of the damage done over the past few years by your predecessor. And, like many other Canadians, I am relieved that period is over.
I watched the swearing-in ceremony and was very pleased with the first fulfillment of a promise, the diverse membership of your ministry. Not only was the goal of equal membership of men and women met, your appointments included Indigenous peoples and Canadians of South Asian descent. You also have a good mix of – shall we say – experienced and new and young parliamentarians. Bravo!
Of course, being a Canadian of African descent, I was a bit disappointed that none was included. Nevertheless, I was willing to let it pass, at least for the time being. After all, you had over 180 members to choose from and I can appreciate that making the selection, in some cases, was not easy.
There was, however, a deflating moment for us as Black folks – and I suspect that you may have picked that up on the social media. In speaking to the media with the assembled cabinet members in the background you said: “This is what Canada looks like.” This was bothersome.
I’ll hasten to add that later, in the exchange with the media, you did qualify the remark somewhat by saying “some”. Nevertheless, I still feel compelled to comment and, hopefully, steer you clear to avoid what I will accept, for now, as a small faux pas.
I will also add that although I have not seen any similar reaction from East Asians (especially the Chinese and Japanese-Canadians), some of my commentary here probably reflects their reaction.
The fact is, Prime Minister, it may appear to be a simple dismissible matter for the majority, but for us, it is not. Historically, for the last couple of hundred years or so, we have been struggling to assert ourselves as humans. We also like to believe that we are Canadians, but there are times when people who should, and whom we expect to, know better set us back on our heels by ignoring, passing over and otherwise denying our existence.
Because it’s 2015, we believe we should not be fighting the battles against invisibility and dehumanizing experiences that we are still.
Because it’s 2015, we believe that we should not have to constantly reproduce a list of our peoples’ contributions to Canada.
I can only imagine how the Chinese and Japanese Canadians probably felt given their tremendous sacrifices in building Canada. And they have received apologies and compensation for those past wrongs – indeed, ironically, by the Conservatives in the first instance, and the Progressive Conservatives in the second. Blacks have not.
To be sure, I suspect that there will be a shuffling of cabinet at some point in the future, if only to give others an opportunity to be in cabinet. That is a time-honoured activity in which political leaders have to engage to reassure caucus members that their works have not been missed. Indeed, it is quite possible that given the work and repair that must be done, the need to expand cabinet may be forced on you. So, an opportunity to amend this “oversight” may well present itself.
Please be assured, Prime Minister, that your victory, your attitude and sense of “real change” has brought considerable goodwill. There is a genuine sense that the Black experience over the next couple of years will improve under your leadership. We are a hopeful people. That is the one thing that we all have in common – hope – that things will change for the better.
We are concerned about how our kids will fare in a society that sees them as Black first, rather than their potential. We are concerned as well for the harsh treatment Blacks receive within the justice system; the severe conditions under which Blacks are treated within the prison system, as reported on previously by the Correctional Investigator. Within that spectrum there are considerable challenges, in all categories, plus unabashed racism and racial discrimination.
No, we are not expecting that all our problems will go away under your watch. But we do hope that there will be considerably more empathy to our concerns. It is for this reason that I bring this oversight in “what Canada looks like” to your attention. As I noted before, it may seem insignificant, and I will give you the benefit of the doubt, given the eventful day, that it was a poor choice of words – or something like that. To us, Black people, it is not insignificant and thus our optimism will be tempered with caution.
We wish you well, sir.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org /Twitter: @pghntr