Black leaders have been historically and systematically miniaturized in Canada, leading to a leadership crisis that has wreaked untold havoc and damage on the Black community, says educator and researcher Dr. Lorne Foster.
“Leadership is crucial to the motivation, mobilization and the establishment of priorities and prerogatives for a community,” Foster said last week at a Black History Month forum hosted by the Black Ontario Public Service Employees Network. “Canadian collective consciousness does not allow a stake for Black Canadian leaders which is responsible for, I believe, devaluating and trivializing the entire community as fringe players in history and in society as it exists today.
“This is why, for instance, when I am talking in a classroom and I mention that Viola Desmond is Canada’s Rosa Parks and Hugh Barnett is Canada’s Martin Luther King Jr., I get nothing but blank stares. The truth of the matter is really that I or anybody has to invoke American counterparts to Desmond and Barnett is itself an indication that there is no place in Canadian collective consciousness for Black leadership here. It just does not compute. In the collective consciousness in Canada, Black leaders are always invariably American.”
The theme of the forum was Many Hills and Rivers Crossed: Where Do We Go From Here?
Ryerson University associate professor Dr. Grace-Edward Galabuzzi said Blacks have lost ground in the last two decades, noting they are barley represented in the federal, provincial and municipal governments.
“We are almost not there anymore,” he said. “The unfortunate thing is when we use the frame of diversity, other racialized group members have taken our place. We have become the frame of reference and when they talk about representation, they say we do have minority representation.”
Zanana Akande, the first Black woman elected to the Ontario legislature and Canada’s first female Cabinet minister, lamented that far too many Canadians are unaware of the significant contributions of Blacks to this city and the country.
She also challenged Blacks to determine that they will not knock each other down even though they may not always walk on common ground.
“I see some Blacks doing things that I am not fond of,” she said. “I think it’s not great for the race, it certainly isn’t a great attitude, it’s perpetuating negative stereotypes and I may take them aside and suggest to them that it’s not great…If we spent less time knocking each other down, we would have more success individually and collectively.”
Other panellists were Ontario Human Rights Commission senior policy analyst Dr. Remi Warner, organizational change specialist Arlene Terry and policy advisor Leslie Asante-Asare.