By LENNOX FARRELL
What is worse than being in a war? Not knowing you’re in one. Or pretending that while others and their children might be in one, you and yours sure ain’t!
And there is always the enticing lure of ironically keeping one’s head down while simultaneously sitting on the fence. After all, only ‘activists’ foolishly attract unwanted attention.
Right? Also, there is the possibility that others will take the heat, thus allowing ‘a one’ to take the meat.
Ever optimistic, I nonetheless pen this piece with apprehension. Why? The “anti-crime” bill recently passed into law by the Harper Conservatives was aptly described by opposing politicians as being not “anti-crime”, but “pro-prison”.
If I am right, African-Canadians a generation from ours, sometime in the 2030s, will contemplate our generation, and do so not with commendation or appreciation.
Before going forward, let me go back a bit, and to repeat that no previous generation of Black Canadians has been as wealthy and well-heeled as is ours; as well-educated and well-connected as we are. None was as familiar with the MO of the status quo than is ours.
This is not to say that we do not continue to face challenges which are not faced by any other Canadian community.
Our generation has nonetheless been the beneficiaries of the sterling and costly efforts of our ancestors in their opposition to enslavement, colonization, and against the historic limitations imposed by law, expectation and custom on them. Each of us has our stories from them of defeats they experienced, but defeats which didn’t define them.
For example, my grandmother, Augusta Wilhelmina Bubique, born in Rosseau, Dominica, was unlettered and unlearned. She, two generations removed from slavery, knew her grandmother, DearDear, emancipated, and who had cut and bagged limes to be shipped out on British frigates for British seamen combatting the scourges of scurvy. This illness was caused from a lack of vitamin C in one’s diet, a condition common then to sailors at sea for months without fresh fruit.
Ma, as we fondly called and remember her, was a force of nature then. And, though deceased for more than five decades, still remains so in our lives. This is because she was essentially a woman of courage; and in the sense that courage is the antithesis of selfishness. She told us of tales, or what we then considered tales, but stories of how women in Dominica had marched against the ‘Shame of the Congo’.
They had opposed the atrocities being committed by the Europeans in the Belgian Congo who would cut off the limbs of native Africans to force them out into the jungle to harvest caoutchouc, a naturally occurring latex-like sap used in the process of vulcanizing rubber.
These women in Dominica marched when the Belgians began to cut off the breasts of the women.
Ours is the generation of Black peoples most blessed by the efforts of our ancestors. They guaranteed us such elemental rights as those of universal adult suffrage to vote, to be educated, to be gainfully employed and employ; in short, for us to be able to enjoy without let or hindrance the rights of carpe diem, or the right to seize our day, unequivocally.
In Canada, we have also benefitted from the efforts of African-Canadians who had earlier defied Canada’s officially racist immigration policy to “Keep Canada White”. Now, what does it matter to us that there was a time when an immigration officer could earn a bonus of $11 for every Black person refused entry to the country?
This immoral practice was stopped by the leadership of selfless African-Canadians, many of whom paid a social price for courage.
We benefit, too, from having rights as civilians if or when injured by a police officer. These rights guarantee us today to have a civilian agency, instead of another police force, review the facts thereto. Ironically, the man who walked point on this struggle, Dudley Laws, was most able not while alive to speak for ‘respectable’ Black people, but when he lay a-mouldering in his grave.
I am not insensitive to our communities which, unlike others, despite our advances, continue to face what is a perennial, anti-racist war: sometimes full-blown; sometimes smouldering skirmishes, keeping us never in a state of peace, but at best in yet another armistice.
Yes, this is war, and it is exhausting. It denies us the elemental right of living as others do, in peace, enjoying without apology and to the full, the fruits of our efforts. Yes, we still find, scripted in our neighbourhoods, racist graffiti. Yes, even ‘non-White’ individuals now impose on us and on our ‘ghetto youth’ resistance, opposition and denials against earned advancement simply because we are Black people. Yes, and conversely, too many of our children, instead of meeting these obstacles as challenges to surpass, use them instead as excuses to be mediocre.
We, the adults in their lives, because of the stalwarts who went before us, have done reasonably well for ourselves and for our own. However, have we fully kept faith with our community’s perennially urgent needs? Yes, we have kept individual and personal faith with family, places of worship, and of recreation. But the social challenges that confront our offspring generally, and now specifically in this “anti-crime bill”, must be addressed first, foremost and to the utmost by us.
Meanwhile, our youth daily experience a world quite apart from ours. They will, moreover, also be the ones more than others to face the consequences and the unmitigated iniquity of this bill to privatize Canada’s prisons; a bill to back an industry that to rack up profits will artificially create the “detention” conditions necessary for “housing” the criminal occupants, racially ordained.
Our response must not be supine and passive. The only other communities to be chosen as ours, the First Nations peoples, have actively challenged the government. They have met with officials, including the Prime Minister, over their concerns of what this bill will definitely do to further decimate First Nations reserves and communities.
We lack even the resources of land rights and historical precedents won by them through hard struggle. However, we have other resources. From our ancestors, people like my grandmother, we learn that where courage is required but the means are lacking; where danger threatens but treachery reigns, victory is measured not by winning but by not acquiescing to iniquity.
If we do not actively educate ourselves; if we do not relentlessly agitate against, and oppose the provisions of this new pro-prison legislation, generations hence, then aged where we now are, unlike having the reasons we have to bless those who went before us, will rise up against our memory, and curse us!