By LENNOX FARRELL
If George Santayana, the Spanish novelist and philosopher (1863-1952), could see the official decision on “Police Carding of Black youth”, and its injurious impact on the peace and security of Toronto’s Black community, he might have some salient advice for us. And why not? Among other well-known sayings of his is: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
However, before giving us the benefit of his experience learned from the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), he would have to know more about us here and now. For example, what might our effective level of communal organization be? How proactive/reactive are we on fundamental issues affecting our rights as humans? Or to what extent are our carriers of status out-front active, or wait-and-see passive?
The latter could include our appointed and elected officials. Surely, as other elected and appointed officials, Mayor Tory and Police Chief Blair might have considered the sentiments of their Black counterparts. No one can imagine any of them endorsing the Carding of Black males. Also, other carriers of status, for example, the leadership of a community organization like the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA), have not only been openly opposed to Carding, but have also courageously taken leadership, convening several public meetings on the matter.
In this, the JCA has also provided a location where community-based activist organizations like the iconic Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) can further make the case against Carding to the community and to Toronto at large. These are stellar examples to the possible participating of other Island-based cultural organizations: Caribbean and others.
Other status-bearers, for example, our writers, have been consistently opposed, and up-front. Among many others, these would include Arnold A. Auguste, Publisher and Senior Editor of Share and Royson James, Toronto Star columnist. There are others, for sure, also involved. For lack of info most apt yet unavailable, my apologies are hereby offered.
So, if Santayana had to give a letter grade (‘A’/ Excellent; ‘F’/ Failed) on “performance under pressure of our Carriers of Status” what would it be? An ‘A’ grade? Or a ‘D’?
Now to flesh out the details of the question, is there a Black community? Or communities of Black people?
In the past, that is those days when if you saw another Black person across the street, either they or you would cross to make eager acquaintance – times when every White person assumed every Black person they knew, also knew you – there were attempts to see beyond our Islandisms (small-island/big-island…cr*p) and Tribalisms (who was real African in ancestry, or who was slave only…even more cr*p). There were meetings galore, and urgent efforts at forming National Black organizations. All of which met with beggarly deaths; deaths much mourned ever after.
But all was not lost. There were other occasions and issues which served to bring us together in spirit, if not in equivalent degrees of public activism. For example, I remember, with some remorse, a Black professor speaking with me on the grounds of Queen’s Park Parliament after an anti-Apartheid rally. Both of us, standing under the amazing dome of Toronto’s azure summer skies, and with no one else nearby but the trees blooming, she whispered, “I want you to know you have my support”. Thanks!
Another of these galvanizing issues was the deporting of Black women. Given the fact that this still continues; shamelessly with some Black mothers forced to rear children in detention centres, one would conclude that deporting Black mothers is no longer a matter of urgency to the rest of us, Black folk. That we have become so E Pluribus Unum Canadian that we, too, now look askance at them as others once looked on the rest of us: rank outsiders (but now with credit).
Santayana could see features similar to some he would have known while a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy in America. He would have known of the lynching of “negroes” – between 1862 and 1968 an average of one per day (on record). He would have realized that all lynchings were not merely anti-negro; that many were to facilitate a land-grab scheme by Whites: between 1915 and 1970, after a lynching, vast numbers of terrorized “negroes” – more than six million – left the South for cities across the Northeast, Midwest and West. Without protection from “officials” who were oft the instigators of these crimes, they’d fled North, leaving fallow, lands they’d purchased as churches etc; lands then grabbed by Whites.
Santayana would, in addition see some similarities between today’s Police shootings and the Jim Crow past. Then as now, White men “fearing the sexuality of Black men around White women”, saw this “fear”, seasoning the theme of Hollywood’s first blockbuster: Birth Of a Nation. Hollywood never looked back, making racist films that reinforced the insecurities inherent in this racist myth. Then, too, Blacks were also accused of being “violent”; of being so much feared that law-enforcement officers could, in self-protection, readily kill them. Santayana would also find familiar, the efforts successful at pacifying Black communities: ensuring that a Black mother would dutifully “forgive those who killed my son”, before any trial was begun.
He would also find that White society thrives ever on required systems of perennial double standards. That – racist or not – White society accepts as its God-given right, the benefits of White privilege. Thereby, is White society justified in opposing ‘equal rights’, since enacting this would mean eroding the uneven heights of White privilege into the even plains of human equality. And earned meritocracy.
Above all, Santayana would need to enquire as to what extent is today’s Black community empowered? Or disempowered? And by whom; by what? So, do you spend your hard-earned dollars into supporting and building Black-owned businesses? Do these businesses pride themselves on serving their clients? Also, by comparison with other communities, what businesses do we control, apart from some barbershops, restaurants, mechanic shops…? How much of your dollars is turned around more than once among ourselves? Surely, if we so distrust and despise each other, what else can we expect from others? In short, do you assist in setting the fires which torch the future of our children?
Put another way, Santayana would need to know what is there about us which could qualify us as being a “nation”. Yes, “a nation”; and premised on areas we own – not where we merely congregate – in the same way, for example, that Italians own a “Little Italy”, Greeks “own the Danforth” and “Sikhs own a Brampton”. Summarized, “Nationhood is a shared myth of collective origins, and a shared myth of a collective mission.”
He would congratulate us on owning Black History month. This would be the first part of what he would define as our “status of nationhood”: “our shared myths (or narratives) of collective memory”. The second – and here is where we have failed and will continue to unless we address it head-on – is “our collective sense of mission; our collective sense of purpose; our collective will to power”. During enslavement, to survive, the M.O. cultivated by our ancestors was a “will to be dependent”. That we have not yet changed.
Therefore, in 2015, apart from Centres of Detention, Public Housing, and “our annual copulatin’ in public during our City-stolen carnival on the Lakeshore”, what else do we own, or control? And it gets worse. In a future, one already upon us of humanized robots simultaneously deepening existing pools of unemployment as they further concentrate vast oceans of wealth, if Santayana’s definition of nationhood; this “sense of a collective mission or purpose”; this “will to power” remains unanswered, given the hardships they will face, future generations will rise up and curse our memories.
Can it be that after all is said and done, Mayor John Tory and Police Chief Bill Blair might unwittingly be reminding us of Santayana’s prophecy: “that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it”? Unfortunately and unfairly, it is our offspring who will reap the bitter fruits of our failure, of our disunity. It is they who will be ensnared into futures of unrelenting dystopia; all because we are mightily resolved to remain dependent, disorganized and powerless.
To be continued.