By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
“Not only does the success of Barack Obama not signify the death of White racism as a personal or institutional phenomenon, if anything, it may well signal the emergence of an altogether new kind of racism. Consider this, for lack of a better term, Racism 2.0, or enlightened exceptionalism; a form that allows for, and even celebrates, the achievements of individual persons of colour, but only because those individuals are generally seen as different from a less appealing, even pathological black or brown rule.”
(From“Between Barack and a hard place: Racism and White denial in the age of Obama” by Tim Wise, published 2009.)
Conventional wisdom is that since the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency of the U.S. we (surprisingly, that includes Canadians even though African-Canadian elected officials are scarce) have entered a post-racial phase where everyone is equal. Perhaps that is why the Canadian government did nothing to recognize the March 21 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; with the exception of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism minister, Jason Kenney, issuing a statement about the Canadian government’s “unwavering commitment to preventing unjust racial discrimination from becoming a deep and systemic problem in Canada”.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government had no qualms in recently passing the Crime Omnibus Bill C-10, the so-called Safe Streets and Communities Act, into law. Bill C-10 is a combination of nine pieces of legislation that had failed to pass in previous sessions of parliament but, with a majority government, the Conservatives seized the opportunity to pass it.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) cautioned that Bill C-10 will “fundamentally change every component of Canada’s criminal justice system.” The CCLA stated that “jail more often, for longer, with more lasting consequences – is a dangerous route that is unsupported by the social science evidence and has already failed in other countries.” The research suggests that longer jail sentences will increase the likelihood of re-offending. So, it is difficult to understand how this Bill will make streets and communities safer. In the CCLA’s view, C-10 will greatly increase the prison population, with a devastating impact on marginalized communities.
This may very well make it easier for police to rationalize the troubling practice of racial profiling. It is no secret that racial profiling, especially of African Canadian male youth, is a practice of the various Canadian police forces, in spite of denial by police. The incidents are numerous, with several cases ending with African Canadian men being killed by police who are rarely held accountable.
In the past two years, the names and the bodies have been piling up: Junior Manon – May 5, 2010, Reyal Jensen Jardine-Douglas – August 29, 2010, Eric Osawe – September 28, 2010, Michael Eligon – February 3, 2012, Frank Anthony Berry – February 20, 2012; all victims of deadly police violence.
The mindset that African-Canadian males are fair game for White male aggression and violence spreads beyond policing. In some instances, like the cases of 20-year-old Guyanese, Howard Joel Munroe – swarmed and murdered (stabbed by White youth) in Kitchener on May 20, 2001, and 20-year-old Congolese, Djo Bwabwa-Kalamba, who was killed after being “pinned to the ground” by a Canadian Tire store security guard on June 26, 2008, the perpetrators were White males who seemed to think they had a right to brutalize Africans.
African-Canadian males are not the only ones at risk. In the U.S. the recent murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has gained international attention with the story published in newspapers as far away as the UK and Guyana. Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, a White man who seemed to have delusions of grandeur. It seems the man thought he was back in the days of slavery when any enslaved African accosted by a White man was compelled to obey instructions to halt and await orders. On February 26, 2012 Martin had left his father’s home to walk to a corner store where he purchased Skittles candy when the White man who had been trailing the teenager demanded that he explain why he was walking in the community. In what some have labelled the supposed crime of “walking while Black”, this young man was shot by a White man who seemed to think just being African-American was reason to suspect Martin of being a criminal.
Several witnesses have said that they heard Martin screaming for help as he was shot by Zimmerman. The man was a neighbourhood watch volunteer in the community acting as if he were a storm trooper in the Nazi “Schutz-Staffel” (SS).
Unlike the slaying of Ramarley Graham which seems to have faded from public memory, Martin’s murder has gained the attention of the highest levels of the American legal system and even President Obama has commented. Several media sources report that President Obama, commenting on Martin’s case in which federal, state and local authorities are involved said: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon, I think (Trayvon’s parents) are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
The case of Ramarley Graham who, on February 2, 2012, in New York was chased by police into the bathroom of his home where they shot him dead, has not received the same kind of attention. There were a few demonstrations locally to bring attention to Graham’s death but no apparent involvement of federal law in that case.
These are not isolated incidents. There is a history of White violence against African-Americans. As in Canada, it is a result of a White supremacist culture where African-Americans and African-Canadians are over policed and racially profiled routinely with excuses made by the authorities and even by ordinary citizens.
There is a denial that racism exists. In Between Barack and a Hard Place, Tim Wise writes: “White Americans were fairly nonchalant about the problems facing persons of colour, choosing in most cases to deny what all their senses (and surely their eyes, fixed on the television as most already were by the early 1960s) had to be telling them: that they were living in an apartheid nation; that theirs was no land of freedom and democracy, but rather a formal White supremacy, a racially fascistic state for millions of people. And so in 1963, roughly two-thirds of Whites told Gallup pollsters that Blacks were treated equally in White communities.”
That delusion is also manifested in Canada today where, in spite of evidence to the contrary, White Canadians believe that because of “multiculturalism” we are all equal. The various studies and reports about inequality in employment, salary, policing etc., do not seem to help. Some of the comments posted as reaction to the recent story in the Toronto Star – “White pride rally in Edmonton lasts only minutes after anti-racists show up”, about the two “White pride” demonstrations in London, Ontario and Edmonton – is enough proof that White Canadians need to educate themselves about the level of inequality for racialized people in this country. It would be comical if it were not so sad that there are people who think there needs to be a White History Month when every month in Canada is White History Month. Our elected politicians can help by facilitating some frank discussions about the inequities in this society because ignoring the problem is not a solution.