My activism is better than yours

The – Opinion/Contributors – ‘No one has the right to determine how Black people in Canada should approach their activism,’ writes Karen Carter.
Feb. 27, 2018.   By

I remember being in a meeting/war-room with my fellow students at university as we were planning a sit-in at the president’s office in response to a university security guard’s assault of a fellow Black student. The security guard had beaten up a Black student we knew, and we were not getting any appropriate action from the administration.

I remember the people who were able to help organize the sit-in, but chose not to participate due to managing parental pressures. One student spoke about how hard his single mother had to work to pay his tuition, so he could not risk being expelled. We were weighing all the possible outcomes of our actions. I had left home at 18 so I did not have to worry about anything. I was in for the whole thing, come what may.

I was a history major and I remember the following year being in an African American history class, when we were studying the tensions between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King’s different approaches to civil rights in the United States.

I remember coming away from those classes very conscious of the need for all these different approaches to help the movement. The older I get, and the more I know about the world, the more I am constantly reminded of the need for many hands, many layers, and many approaches to detangle the complex web that is systemic racism in the western world.

When the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter began to shut down our streets, I remember the conversations over brunch with my overachieving crew of sisters and our exchanges largely in support of their activism. We all knew we were not marching-in-the-streets people, but we were cheering from the sidelines for those who were.

As time progressed and individual activist’s identities were revealed, we had names to go with the faces and gained a better sense of the group’s local goals. As time passed, we did not always agree with all their movements, but we were glad they existed since the fight for Black liberation and advancement has always run the spectrum from Malcolm to Martin, from Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali. We have always needed to tackle the struggle from different fronts since we did not all come to the struggle from the same vantage points.

So as I watch the formation of the Federation of Black Canadians, and one of the federation’s leaders, Justice Donald McLeod, being openly attacked for his approach to social change on social media, seemingly led by Desmond Cole, it disturbed me enough to feel the need to remind us all that no one has the right to determine how Black people in Canada should approach their activism.

If one wants to roll into police services meetings, or use one’s writing skills to critique the systems that have been built largely to reinforce oppression, then that is your right. For those of us who are using our professional networks to try to move the needle to a better world in our respective corners that, too, is our right. We should not begrudge the others’ approach.

No one has the right to tell Justice McLeod or any another Black person how they should go about their community work. It does all of us a disservice to see people who claim to care about bettering Black communities resorting to personally attacking a member of the community.

The federation may be an ineffective pipe dream, or it may be a real game-changer. It is a really ambitious move to try to think nationally in a country as big and regionally diverse as Canada.

I can understand the skepticism, but should we not be happy when one of our people chooses to use their skills to try and move us all forward? Even when we don’t always agree with those movements, or if we are not sure if they are even sincere about helping the collective, and not just trying to bring profile to him or herself. Surely it should not be too much to ask that we can find a way to disagree graciously.

I am from the “don’t put your family business on the street” school, but I also believe that silence is consent. I cannot consent to any Black person deciding that their way is the only way toward the social change that is needed to make this country a better place for my nieces and nephews to grow up.

Karen Carter is the former executive director of Heritage Toronto.

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