By LENNOX FARRELL
There are more wealthy Black people in Ontario today than ever before. There are more Black professionals – lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers, writers, etc. There are more technicians and semi-professionals who are self-employed and who employ others. There are more Black people in elected office, in the civil service and who sit on boards in both the public and private sectors. More Black people have surely ‘arrived’, having kept our eyes on the prize.
The same claim can be made for African-Americans. Regarding their economic power alone, they carry much leverage. According to a recent survey conducted by Black-owned AmericaWeb.com, the buying power of African-Americans is now estimated at $913 billion and is projected to increase to $1.2 trillion by 2013.
Even more than that, African-Americans – with the vast support of other communities – were able to elect the first Black President of the United States of America, something that is probably unfathomable in other White-dominated countries and societies such as Canada. But ask yourself this: though the election of President Barack Obama may have been more exciting for African-Canadians than our own elections, has it benefitted or provided leverage for the African-American community?
When taking into account such major indicators of community dysfunction as imprisonment, the answer is probably not. Based on current rates of first incarceration, an estimated 28 per cent of African-American males will enter state or federal prison during their lifetime, compared to 16 per cent of Hispanic males and 4.4 per cent of White males.
Given current incarceration rates, more than one-in-four African-American males will go to prison during his lifetime, while the chances of Hispanic or White males serving time are one-in-six and one-in-23, respectively.
Despite the significant professional, political and other advances African-Canadians have achieved at such great cost, how do our conditions compare with those of our neighbours to the south?
In Canada, as in the U.S., there are more Black people per capita, primarily youth, who are in prison, on probation or on parole. In fact, since 2002, the proportion of Black inmates in federal prisons has risen by 50 per cent, a change so rapid and so alarming that Canada’s independent prisons ombudsman has launched an inquiry. Why are African Canadians, who comprise 2.5 per cent of the population, make up 20 per cent of the federal prison population?
In my opinion, the greatest failure of our generation has been our inability to create, nurture and establish national, provincial and regional African-Canadian organizations that would seek the interests of Black Canadians. Had we been able to accomplish this during the 70s, 80s and 90s, I have no doubt we would have ensured the effective leveraging possible only through communal governance.
There have been many attempts to establish African-Canadian organizations, many of which are most memorable because of the promises made and not kept. But we have no other wholesome option to face a future of social advancement and employment that is based less and less on the public sector, as more on private or communal sector opportunities.
The first responsibility we all have towards such organizing is to be the sounding trumpet that will rally together the many organizations and individuals who are already in service, preferably – though not exclusively – as volunteers to the community.
It is understandable that those among us who have felt the humiliating sting of defeat, and who readily recall the host of obstacles and egos we have at times met and overcome, will ask: “Why try again”?
It is urgent and necessary, however, that we consider on one hand the iniquities already destroying our youth, and on the other, the possibilities for change in our communities.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of Stephen Lewis’ report to the Premier on race in Ontario, we all ought to realize that the historic trajectory towards a more just and equitable Canada is obtainable, if we only ask “Why not?”