By LENNOX FARRELL
A columnist for Share newspaper, Patrick Hunter, recently wrote an article in which he described, and I paraphrase, “carding as a possible distraction away from the many other issues which face Black Toronto”. He’s correct. I’d myself expected by this early summer to begin a series on “Africa in the Bible”. If I’d dare to qualify his views, it would be that “carding is only the most recent in an ongoing series of distractions which continue to plague Black communities here and elsewhere”. To me, the nursing-mother of distractions affecting Black individuals and Communities is anti-Black racism.
The energy expended to confront this is enormous and oft ineffectual. Who in their right mind doesn’t anticipate long weekends on which to be with family and socialize with folk? Who doesn’t want to go fishing…if only to cut bait? Who’d prefer having as family advisors, lawyers more skilled in “bailing-out clients”; than accountants skilled in raising capital, issuing securities, and trading stocks? Who would prefer living in a society where to a large an extent, money morphs both into the measure of morality and the nursing-nipple of power? That while money cannot be eaten as food, worn as clothing, nor be housed in, yet without it, none of these is available?
Yes, we have known distractions, personally and communally. In Canada and elsewhere we’ve had in this 21st century to remind our fellow sapiens that “Black Lives Matter”. Following on from these have been the other distractions: colonialism and neo-colonialism; of leaderships compromised beyond hope, and communities despairing in the face, now of racism coming not only from Whites but also from other non-Blacks.
It’s as if the siren-call of White centrality openly beckons us to confines where courage by the powerless in the stoic face of power is met with a silence that is stony-hearted, confidently compromised and multicultural. There is much about carding that is distracting, and timely.
For example, after living as I have for seven decades, the world in which I’ve lived, moved, and had my being has been one in which regardless of how incidental the opinions and decisions of White western culture might be, these continue to have overarching impacts on the life of Black peoples, period. Thus did someone come up with the idea of carding. Dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s so that after carding, to get the info collected, you must apply at/to police headquarters for a “Freedom of Information” form; provide two pieces of official identification, pay $5 and wait 30 days for results.
Some quick math calculations would show that in addition to a police budget of one billion dollars, carding on average at $370,000 per year can potentially subtract from the community approximately two million dollars. If you’d been carded 50 times, it’d cost you $250.
Some distractions have been more predictable: Europe again at war! For example, among some of our parents’ relations have been those drafted into World War II. Dad would subsequently not attend any Armistice, or Remembrance Day event. Why? Because of what Great Britain did to, and didn’t do for, Black soldiers returned from the European war effort.
In Morvant, the village where we grew, was an old Black man who we, as children, taunted.
Regardless of the time of day or night, he’d be “drunk”; or so appear, staggering about, gaunt, under-nourished, ill-clad and “vacant”. Today’s PTSD? The only soul who cared for him was an elderly Black woman. Behind her back she was, “Big-breas’ Enid”. She went about with a rope dragging a heifer by one hand, and with the other, hauling this stumbling old man along.
We’d yell, “Old Soljah”.
Standing at attention, he’d reply, “Nevah die! Nevah die!”
Reflecting on him and his faithful guardian, one can now be moved emotionally, not only because of our insensitivity towards them, but also for the care she showed to this man, many years her senior. One is also moved by the knowledge, acquired too late about people like him. He’d probably served in Italy or North Africa during the campaigns against the German General, that “Desert-fox” Rommel. But it was the American General, Douglas McArthur, who had coined the iconic line: “Old soldiers never die”.
Among the tasks performed by West Indian soldiers like “Old Soljah”, was transporting prisoners from Italy to Cairo. Dangerous tasks included clearing German mines in the Suez Canal. Also performed were tasks coyly dubbed, “general duties behind the front lines”. These were the digging and cleaning of outhouses and latrines. This old Black man’s life – and those of many others had been “distracted” by a war between Europeans which eventually engulfed all humanity: World War II. It was these experiences and memories which, unawares, we, as youngsters had mimicked him and the history he bore; stumbling from abject neglect.
What our father re-told us about that war is that after the Black West Indians: Trinidadians and others from Guyana, Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica, etc., had returned from the “War to end all wars”, they’d formed anti-colonial organizations like the “Double V”: an acronym for “‘V’ictory against Fascism at home and ‘V’ictory against Fascism abroad”.
In short, to assist in freeing Europeans from German colonization, and fighting in a war the origins of which harked back in the 15th century with Europe’s initial enslavement of Africans, these Black West Indians had returned to the Caribbean uncared for. They then had to fight against Britain for Independence, and for Universal Adult Suffrage, or the right to vote. In addition, on their return on British troop ships, armed British frigates had stood alongside to deter any possible idea by these Black soldiers of revolt. Prevented from landing with their arms, they were also denied relief: housing, medical and pension.
These Black West Indians weren’t the only colonial troops so treated. Among others were African troops, Ghanaians who had also served in the “Allied war effort” against the Japanese in Burma. Both Britain and America had set up shop in Accram, Ghana. Thus, “in July 1942, the US Army activated the Air Transport Command in Cairo (These headquarters were) later moved to Accra and organized the Africa-Middle East Wing”. This was an expanding network of transportation reaching from the United States, via Africa, to the China-Burma-India theater of operations (to ensure) the movement of men and matériel through Senegal, Ghana and Chad.
After the war ended, these “Ghanaian veterans engaged in widespread political activities”. They established “the Gold Coast Ex-Servicemen’s Union to improve economic conditions and employment for veterans”. Wearing their uniforms in a march in February 1948 on the British High Commission, several of them were wounded and two killed. The Ghanaians had seemingly been distracted serving in Burma and returning home to attend to anti-colonial business, there they were killed. Their sacrifices, however, strengthened the Independence movement. Where these servicemen died, stands a monument dedicated to Ghanaian valour and British “appreciation”.
In Toronto, though some think otherwise, our efforts are less dramatic. These also involved the deaths of Black Torontonians. These also ensured the distracting consequences enjoined on the others who’d demonstrated against these killings. Our activism created the Special Investigative Unit. Has it been “colonized”? And carding a victory lap of sorts? And what of the dense silence from the carriers of status in Black Toronto: the anointed, and the appointed; the elected and the selected? Is the communal silence the sound you’d hear if only one of the two hands of the community – the activist’s – is clapping?
Could we still talk loudly by carrying a button soon made available: Black at the base and lining the circumference; with a yellow “C” in the middle? Let’s engage others into supporting Toronto the Good as also being Toronto the Just.
To be continued.