By MURPHY BROWNE
On March 21, 1960, a group of Africans in Sharpeville, South Africa were peacefully demonstrating against the White supremacist apartheid “pass laws” when they were murdered by White police.
The Sharpeville Massacre, where 69 Africans were killed and almost 300 wounded (shot in the back as they fled police gunfire) led to worldwide condemnation of the White minority who had seized power in the African nation. The government in South Africa at the time was in power because Africans were denied the vote in their own country.
In the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre where the White minority government declared a state of emergency and arrested more than 18,000 people even the very conservative United Nations (UN) was forced to take a stand and condemn the action of the state-sanctioned massacre of peacefully protesting Africans.
In 1966, the General Assembly of the UN proclaimed March 21 the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The UN called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. The Canadian government and various institutions in Canada including Carleton University and the University of Toronto, colluded with the White supremacist apartheid government of South Africa by refusing to divest and continuing to trade with the government and South African companies.
In 1985, Glen Babb, the South African Ambassador to Canada, was invited to speak at both Carleton University and the University of Toronto. In spite of massive student protests Babb spoke at both universities. As late as 1985 (25 years after the Sharpeville Massacre) Canada was still doing business with the apartheid government as then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and External Affairs Minister Joe Clark flip flopped on the issue of sanctions against South Africa: http://archives.cbc.ca/politics/international_politics/clips/4123/
Grass roots organizing, protests and demonstrations eventually forced the Mulroney government and institutions like Carleton University and the University of Toronto to halt their support of the apartheid system by divesting and ceasing trade with South Africa.
In 1989, the Department of Canadian Heritage launched an annual March 21 Campaign Against Racism. In 1996, another government-sanctioned initiative, the Racism. Stop It! National Video Competition, was launched.
This competition is open to youth between the ages of 12 and 20, where they are encouraged to create videos about their thoughts on eliminating racism. Each year 10 videos are chosen and shown on national television. The youth creators of the chosen videos receive an all expenses paid trip to an awards ceremony in Ottawa hosted by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.
The videos (which can be viewed at: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/multiculturalism/march21/video/2009-eng.asp) chosen from the 2009 competition illustrate that the youth involved have not been educated about racism.
Racism does not result because people lack information about each other’s culture. Racism is a result of one group of people having power and privilege because of the colour of their skin and their unwillingness to share that power and privilege.
Anti-African racism in Canada manifests itself in the racial profiling of African Canadians regardless of their age or place of birth being stopped and searched by police in so-called random checks. African Canadians whose families have been living in this country since the 1600s are as Canadian as any White Canadian so the whole argument about not knowing very much about the person’s culture or religion is false.
There is a history of White supremacist behaviour in this country since Europeans settled here and began a systematic destruction of the First Nations people and their culture, from stealing their land to scooping up their children who were then imprisoned in residential schools where they were stripped of their language and culture and suffered physical and sexual abuse.
The Canadian government apologized to the community on June 11, 2008. Other racialized communities also suffered, including the Japanese, many of whom were born in this country but incarcerated in concentration camps beginning in December 1941. Then Prime Minister Mulroney apologized to the Japanese on September 22, 1988 and they received compensation.
On June 22, 2006, in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology to Chinese Canadians for the head tax that was charged to members of the community between 1885 and 1923. Compensation was paid beginning in October 2006.
On February 24, 2010 Peter Kelly, the Mayor of Halifax, Nova Scotia apologized to the African Canadian community for the city government’s destruction of the African Canadian community of Africville. The historic community which had been established by African Canadians in the 1800s was bulldozed out of existence by the city of Halifax in the 1960s. The members of the community, forced to relocate, were scattered and their land became Seaview Park.
The Premier of Nova Scotia is thinking about granting Viola Desmond a pardon for her arrest and conviction of sitting in the White section of a cinema on November 8, 1946. The Canadian government has not yet apologized to Africans for the centuries-long enslavement (1628-1834) of Africans in this country. Systemic racism continues into the 21st Century because there is a refusal to acknowledge its existence even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
The many studies done and books written (including Racial Profiling in Canada: Challenging the Myth of “a Few Bad Apples”, by Carol Tator and Frances Henry; Canada’s Economic Apartheid: The Social Exclusion of Racialized Groups in the New Century by Grace-Edward Galabuzi; Discourses of Domination: Racial Bias in the Canadian English-Language Press, by Frances Henry and Carol Tator; Reconstructing ‘Dropout': A Critical Ethnography of the Dynamics of Black Students’ Disengagement from School, by George Sefa Dei) prove that White supremacy manifests itself in the education system, policing, the media etc.
March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, is a day on which we can renew our efforts to continue the fight against racism and remember those who have been on the front lines fighting racism locally and internationally.