The Black Experience in Multicultural Canada

Ruth Mojeed is a Nigerian-born community organizer, civic innovator and communications strategist. She is the founder of The Inclusion Project, a social innovation network of organizations, communities and institutions engaged in knowledge development and practice to support and further equity, diversity and inclusion. Her work focuses on the intersection of race and gender. She also consults and provides training facilitation for non-profit organizations, INGOs and corporate boards. Douglas asked Ruth to provide her perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement and racism in Canada, as a guest columnist.

In Canada, we do not murder Black people.
In Canada, we do not profile people on the basis their skin colour.
In Canada, we do not wait for people to protest on the streets before we check our own biases.

The list goes on …

Canadians tend to feel insulated from inequality and discrimination because the country is viewed as a peaceful and polite nation that embraces and celebrates a myriad of cultures and people. Which, for the most part, it does. But, as the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States has clearly revealed, systemic racism, socio-economic inequality and discrimination on the basis of race is not just an American problem, it’s a global problem and a Canadian problem, too. The extended resonance of the movement around the world has revealed more than we are probably comfortable knowing or discussing about race, particularly as it relates to Black people in Canada.

It is important to understand that there is no telling the stories of Black people in Canada without acknowledging the multi-faceted challenges faced by Indigenous peoples, every day, in Canada. The Indigenous experience in Canada is the story that pre-dates all other stories of inequity, inequality and injustices that resonates beyond the geographical boundaries of Canada. The Indigenous struggle is our collective struggle, and the very foundation upon which other narratives are hinged. Ours is a collective experience as settlers, immigrants and Indigenous peoples in the mosaic called Canada.

In the wake of the global health pandemic, we are now being forced to come to terms with the stark reality of inequality and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on racial minorities and people of colour. When the numbers do not tell the full story, the videos on camera tell it all. The case of George Floyd, and many others before, has brought an entire nation to its knees with many around the world leaning in to watch and chant along with the sound of solidarity. While there are on-going speculations in the media as to how to properly grieve or cry for justice in the face of police brutality, there also arises the much bigger issue of the everyday reality of the tales that go untold and the stories that are never shared — or caught on camera. This is the sad reality of being Black in a world filled with privileges.

But that is only in America… or is it?

In multicultural Canada, in any given year, there are over a dozen recorded cases of police brutality (and deaths), with the majority of cases being Indigenous or racialized people. Police brutality is often only an outward show of a system that is rigged against Black Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) communities, a sad reality that has taken new appalling turns through the years.

In Canada, too often we hide conveniently behind the veil of politeness to perpetuate cycles of inequality and systemic discrimination in the workplace and the daily conduct of our social activities. In Canada, people are required (or expected) to have Canadian experience to qualify for jobs — a systemic filter for newcomers to Canada with real enthusiasm and prospects for a dignified career. In Canada, where our diversity is our biggest strength, we place more emphasis on the flexibility of the tongue than the quality of the thought. In Canada, we prefer the taste of the samosa to the tales of the sweat-soaked brows that made them. In Canada where our youth is the capstone of our strength, Indigenous and racialized youth lag far behind their white counterparts in accessing economic opportunities or social services.

To bring it home… as a young woman of colour with some measure of privilege — education, language (not forgetting the Nigerian accent) and relative socio-economic comfort — I have also been on the short end of the privilege yardstick. I have had to deal with assumptions and prejudices that are often left unspoken about my capabilities, intellect (or lack thereof) when stereotypes become the true talebearer and unconscious biases are acted upon. I have had to share my perspectives over and over without any recourse to action, until it came in from a more familiar source, often the person with the right accent, local experience, and skin colour. And there is the issue of intersectionality: Black people, like any other group, must deal with layers of issues including religion, age, gender, etc.

This is only a fracture of the multi-faceted issues faced by Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour every day.

The inability to make the job quota even when you (Black person or other People of Colour) very well do qualify. The inability to see representation of your experiences in government and business or community leadership, or the inability to see policies that address the very issues that are a part of your everyday experiences. The everyday Black experience is the number of eyes that trail you in the store as you walk between the aisles, like anyone else, except you are not — you are Black.

And on the issue of colour, upon which this all hinges, it is a disheartening reality when people claim they do not see colour. PLEASE SEE COLOUR. Because colour, in all its beauty and essence, is the histories left unspoken and the unexplored struggles and experiences of generations gone by. I am a product of my experiences and equally a product of the experiences of those who have come before me. To ignore the essence of that is to ignore the struggles (and blessedness) that come with walking in these shoes every day. Please see me for who I am, and when in doubt, ask me who I am, and let me be the one to tell you my story. That is the only way to serve me right or allow me to do right by you; it is in our learning together and sharing together. And that, is how we move past the colour of our skin, together.

I am not a product of your social construct. I am not a product of your imagination or your carefully curtailed assumptions of who I am. I am a person with a different experience; so different, it should exist outside of your imagination (or assumptions). Your story, my story, each deserve a new slate on the platter of experiences. That is what our multicultural mosaic should be. I have often defined Inclusion as, simply, the power to be. It is the power to be who I am without the encumbrances of your assumptions and the weight of your expectations. It is my inherent ability to create and re-create a narrative that is mine and only mine to create. It is the indisputable ability to rise together as a community, groups or peoples (of many races), in solidarity as we march with the most salient roar from our deepest struggles.

This is why Black Lives Matter!