By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
Since 1966 the United Nations has designated March 21 the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The date was chosen to commemorate the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960 when a gathering of Africans peacefully protesting the infamous “pass laws” of the White supremacist apartheid government of South Africa were brutally murdered as members of the White police force opened fire without warning.
The majority of the African men, women and children fleeing the attack were shot in the back.
Documentation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, Vol. 3, Chapter 6, from October 1998 states: “The Commission finds that the police deliberately opened fire on an unarmed crowd that had gathered peacefully at Sharpville on 21 March 1960 to protest against the pass laws. The Commission finds further that the SAP (South African Police) failed to give the crowd an order to disperse before they began firing and that they continued to fire upon the fleeing crowd, resulting in hundreds of people being shot in the back.
“As a result of the excessive force used, 69 people were killed and more than 300 injured. The Commission finds further that the police failed to facilitate access to medical and/or other assistance to those who were wounded immediately after the march.”
The morning of March 21, 1960 approximately 300 extra police and five (Saracen) armoured vehicles arrived at the local police station in Sharpeville as the marchers approached the police station. This show of force did not deter the Africans who for decades had been victimized by the White settler community who considered the Africans less than human. It is therefore not surprising that these White police had no compunction in opening a barrage of murderous gunfire on helpless, unarmed fleeing African men, women and children, shooting them in the back as they fled. The apartheid system that the White interlopers of Azania (South Africa) put in place to disenfranchise Africans in their own land was very blatantly a White supremacist system, a duplication of a Canadian system which victimized Canada’s Native people.
Governor of Upper Canada, Francis Bond Head, is considered the architect of Canada’s apartheid system (which victimized Native Canadians) upon which the White settler regime of South Africa modelled its apartheid system.
In the minds of many people, racism is the very blatant apartheid system to which the White settler group of South Africa subjected the Africans or the Ku Klux Klan riding through the neighbourhood in white sheets and burning a cross on some racialized person’s lawn. The institutionalized/systemic racism that is better described as White supremacist culture/White skin privilege is prevalent in every area of the lived reality of racialized people including the education system, housing, the prison industrial complex and policing.
Although Canada has an official policy of multiculturalism, a White supremacist culture prevails. When White people in Canada chastise immigrants for their perceived lack of enthusiasm in embracing Canadian culture, they are not referring to Aboriginal culture. The so called Canadian culture is a White Eurocentric culture that was imposed on the indigenous people and other racialized people.
A White supremacist culture (institutionalized/systemic racism) continues to negatively affect racialized people in Canada. On September 13, 2007, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada was one of four nations (including The United States of America, Australia and New Zealand) that voted against the Declaration; 143 other nations voted in favour.
This decision by the Canadian government was made in spite of the October 2004 Amnesty International report “Stolen Sisters” which condemned “the terror and suffering that has been inflicted on Indigenous or Aboriginal women and their families across Canada” and urged the Canadian government to address the issue.
The report cited the disproportionate number of young Aboriginal women who go missing or are killed every year with little public outcry or action. Professors Carrie Bourassa and Wendee Kubik indict the long legacy of assimilation and colonization (Stolen Sisters and the Legacy of Colonization published in 2006) as crucial contributing factors to Aboriginal women being particularly targeted by these acts of violence committed largely with impunity. Following myriad criticisms and condemnation of their refusal to do so Canada did eventually support the Declaration on November 12, 2010.
Even though there has been an African Presence in Canada since the 1600s with the arrival of Matthieu DaCosta (explorer, interpreter) in 1603 and six-year-old enslaved African child, Olivier Le Jeune, in 1628, African Canadian history is marginalized. Even during February there is reluctance by some educators and educational institutions to teach about the history of Africans in Canada.
African Canadians have contributed to every area of Canadian life – from the blood, sweat and tears of enslaved Africans helping to enrich White enslavers to today where African Canadians are mostly relegated to low paying jobs regardless of their education.
Men and women who are descendants of those who settled in the long-standing African Canadian communities throughout Ontario from the time of the American Revolution (1775 to 1783) as United Empire Loyalists, and throughout the 1800s, do not fare better than those of us who immigrated from Africa, the Caribbean or elsewhere. Individual acts of racism such as the woman who falsely claimed that two masked “Black men” with Jamaican accents invaded her home and caused the death of her daughter on February 19, 2011 are possible because of the criminalizing of African Canadian men. This woman felt that she could claim that “Black men did it” and she would be believed because of the White supremacist culture rampant in the criminal justice system where “Black men” are visible scapegoats.
On Thursday, March 8, 2012 she was charged with manslaughter in her daughter’s death, criminal negligence causing death, failure to provide the necessities of life, obstruct justice, public mischief and two counts of fabricating evidence.
Institutionalized/systemic racism, especially in the police forces, has also been in the news recently with the study done by one of Toronto’s mainstream newspapers http://www.thestar.com/printarticle/1143536.
When this subject is addressed by White people it seems to have more legitimacy than if it is done by a racialized person. In 2005, White University of Toronto professor Scot Wortley’s report on racial profiling by police received more attention than the voices of the African Canadian community who experience and live daily with racial profiling. In 2006 White Canadian professors Frances Henry and Carol Tator published Racial Profiling In Canada: Challenging The Myth Of A Few Bad Apples addressing racial profiling in various Canadian institutions.
Tim Wise, White American author of books on White skin privilege, including Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama 2009 and White Like Me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son 2004 acknowledges his privilege that allows him to speak about racism as a credible source and expert even though he has never experienced racism. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2mjvFNOwmc&feature=related
At the beginning of his talk Wise states: “Almost every single thing that I’m going to say this evening is wisdom that has been shared with me either patiently or sometimes, not so patiently, by people of color who have, in almost every instance, forgotten more about the subjects of racism and white privilege since breakfast yesterday than I will likely ever know. And yet, they will not be asked to give 85 engagements around the country this year or next on the subject. Not because they have not the wisdom to do it, but because privilege, the subject that I’ll deal with tonight, bestows upon me that advantage.”
This is what we need to acknowledge, understand and make clear on March 21 in recognition of how far we need to go to make the slogan Racism. Stop it! mean something beyond empty words.