An open letter to the Canadian Black Caucus:
Dear members of the Canadian Black Caucus, we are the women of the Black Women’s Caucus of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape (TRCC/MWAR).
We are a community of women that commune together based on our shared oppressions that we have and currently experience throughout our lives, in the workplace, within society and in our homes. We are built (and continue to build) on a foundation of shared understandings of our own realities that include (but are not limited to); the fact that globally, Black women have and continue to cruelly suffer as a result of us being Black and female and that these realities are compounded due to sexism, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism and other forms of personal, political and cultural persecutions. We also acknowledge the limited and careless attention that has been placed on examining the transgenerational damages that have been inflicted onto our bodies, onto our minds and onto our communities. We seek to build spaces where this type of self-reflection, healing and mobilization can safely occur.
To the members of the Canadian Black caucus, firstly allow us to salute you.
For being a pioneer path-creator for us young Black and African peoples who crave for ways to exercise our political citizenship. For your political will and practice of unapologetically taking up political space even when representing a community that is very often seen as apolitical and for the ways in which you have made it a priority to highlight issues that affect us as Black people living in Canada.
In spite of this, grounded in a love for the people who live and have built this land; and an equal love for speaking our nuanced distinctive truths as Black people living in Canada, we must not only honour your work but it would be remiss of us to not also hold you accountable. Particularly, in light of the public pulpit that you have placed yourself upon (perhaps unintentionally) but that does carry with it an assumed representative role.
The Canadian Black Caucus’ decision to publically endorse Toronto mayoral candidate, John Tory, has brought tremendous pause within us, particularly given his most recent comments on how White privilege does not exist. We will not present the numerous evidence-based bodies of literature that speak to the very real existence of White privilege/supremacy because we are sure that as fellow Black bodies living in a predominantly White space, that is arguably unnecessary. What we seek through this communication is to show you that there are implications to endorsing a candidate – more so a White male candidate who significantly benefits from White privilege – who can publically declare this. Implications that will not only ripple through to the broader White community, but that will also have significant implications to peoples of colour and other racialized groups in the city of Toronto and in Canada.
The city of Toronto is on unceded traditional Mississauga territory. For a potential Mayor of Toronto to pretend that White privilege does not exist is to dismiss the colonial and White supremacist history and realities of Toronto. It is also to laugh in the faces of the many Indigenous peoples and allies who continue to fight for their basic rights to land, social services, education and political and civic equalities. Tory’s statement is akin to when Stephen Harper denied Canada’s colonial past.
We are a collective of educated and experienced women from all walks of life. We are not blind to the nuances of the political landscape, especially given the tumultuous Mayoral race that this city is witnessing with the erasure of candidates such as D!onne Renée – a Black woman who is also running for the position of Mayor but has been left out of mainstream coverage and debate participation. We understand that in the political game there are alliances that must be formed, that are contextual, binding and that at times, require that secretive deals be made. We do not want to give you the impression that we are naïve to this, however, endorsing a man right after he states clearly that he does not believe in White privilege – without even offering a public critique of this statement – is a move that further acts as an oppressive silencer within our community.
What also was troubling were the ways in which you silenced dissent on the group’s Facebook page. Many Black Canadians and Blacks living in Canada expressed their outrage and disappointment to the Caucus’ endorsement of John Tory. Instead of engaging in a productive discussion or at least listening to what members of the constituency group which you claim to represent had to say, you instead opted to be condescending, silencing and erased the voices that did not agree with your stance. Statements such as, “You all are not to blame because the fact is when you DON’T have information, then all you can go by is the little that you know,” in no way encourages a healthy and respectful discussion. You also assumed that if one were not in support of John Tory, that they would automatically be in favour of Olivia Chow which is not only presumptuous but is also an interesting indication of how you perceive this municipal elections and the juxtaposition of the candidates. In many ways, you’ve helped to show why we must push back against candidates like John Tory who benefit from White privilege and supremacy yet are quick to deny its existence whereas Olivia Chow, who although also experiences her own forms of privilege, as a racialized woman has experienced the scars of White privilege and supremacy. So even within your analytical narrative, you have placed these two candidates on opposing ends of the spectrum based on race; therefore based on White privilege. With all of that said, it is important to stress that this is not an endorsement of Olivia Chow and her political platform.
It is also important to note that financial contributions do not necessarily, and in many ways never indicate one’s commitment to dismantling the very systems of power and privilege that allow them to always be the givers and us, the receivers of charity. In fact, their ability to “donate” helps to ensure that those locations of power and privilege remain concrete.
It must be stated clearly and inarguably that as Black women we continue to resist structural systems of oppression. Part of this struggle requires us to ensure that the experiences of Black and racialized peoples here in Toronto are seen and taken seriously. Within our Caucus we remain resolute about the fact that race is still the primary determinant of opportunity and experience, particularly now when there is so much evidence to back this school of thought and to validate what we have been feeling and experiencing for years. Consequently, we seek to dismantle the idea that White people can continue to use unearned privilege to remain ignorant and thus make irresponsible comments such as those made by Tory. Tory’s endorsement of White privilege and your subsequent endorsement of him work to silence us and further delegitimize our truths and experiences.
We would like to encourage you as “The Canadian Black Caucus” to work against this “colour blind mentality” asserted by Tory and the mainstream society. Of course you are free to endorse who you choose, but to do so while claiming to represent a significant portion of the population and by choosing not to apply a critical lens carries significant implications, which dramatically and forcefully counter the work that we and so many before us have worked so hard to achieve.
In the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “if you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
The Black Women’s Caucus at the Toronto Rape and Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape.