The Harmful Effects of “Colourblindness” in Politics

by Channon Oyeniran

“Failing to see race is a failure to see history and how it shapes the present.” – Vicky Mochama

With the Liberal Party in power in Canada and more people of colour (POC) holding Member of Parliament (MP) positions in Canada, the government, with Justin Trudeau as the Prime Minister, started to make positive steps towards healthy representation in government in 2015. In doing so, the government is attempting to showcase to both the country and the world the diversity within Canada and to create a government that reflects the various cultures of this country. Just like in 2015, I believe the current political climate in Canada right now is one of wanting change. However, one thing that has changed and is slowly improving, in the political world at least, is an increased reflection of people of colour and diversity. diversitypic-1Not only are these MPs doing great things for their ridings, they are also are leaving their marks across the country. One MP in particular who has made a big splash since she was elected to represent the Town of Whitby is Celina Caesar-Chavannes. Cesar-Chevannes is a Black woman who has garnered support and attention in recent weeks, following a Twitter spat with white male Conservative MP Maxime Bernier over “colourblindness.” This term is often used when talking about race and racism and is at the crux of a very public debate between Caesar-Chavannes and Bernier. (Michelle has previously written about the danger of colourblindness in a personal context.)Desktop12

It all started on March 2nd when the Somalian-born Honourable Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship for the Government of Canada, Ahmed Hussen, tweeted that the government had set aside $19 million for Black youth mental health programs, something that the Black community across Canada has long been advocating for. While this was seen as a success by many, the announcement by Hussen was also put under scrutiny by many others, who questioned why money had to go towards a certain group of people. One of these critics was the aforementioned Bernier, who tweeted: “I thought the ultimate goal of fighting discrimination was to create a colour-blind society where everyone is treated the same. Not to set some Canadians apart as being “racialized.” What’s the purpose of this awful jargon? To create more division for the Liberals to exploit?”

Retweeted 1.2k times and liked by 2.2k users, Bernier’s tweet obviously struck a chord with many, who most likely agreed with what he said, and who ostensibly don’t understand the need for putting money into groups who have been marginalized for centuries. Caesar-Chavannes then replied to Bernier’s tweet: “@MaximeBernier do some research, or a Google search, as to why stating colour blindness as a defence actually contributes to racism. Please check your privilege and be quiet. Since our gvt’t like research, here is some evidence…” And after that, Canadians were in a frenzy, on both sides. Those who sided with Bernier said of the Liberal MP (Caesar-Chavannes), “How could she, a Member of Parliament, be talking about ‘white privilege’ when she herself is in a position of privilege?” Others were glad she called out yet another example of white privilege.

After many comments and commentaries written about this situation, Celina publicly apologized to Bernier: “@MaximeBernier I am not too big to admit when I am wrong. Limiting discussion on this important issue by telling you to be quiet was not cool. If you are willing, let’s chat when back in Ottawa. We are miles apart on this important issue and it is possible to come a little closer…”.

14345660However, the Conservative MP was less than forgiving in his response: “Thank you for recognizing my right to air an opinion. I don’t think we can find much common ground beyond that however. You and Min Hussen implied I’m a racist because I want to live in a society where everyone is treated equally and not defined by their race. We should certainly do everything possible to redress injustices and give everyone equal opportunities to flourish. And we should recognize that Canada is big enough to contain many identities. As a francophone Quebecer, I can understand this. But that doesn’t mean the gov’t officially defining us on the basis of “intersectional race, gender and sexual identities” and granting different rights and privileges accordingly. This only creates more division and injustice and will balkanise our society.”

“To overcome racism, one must first take race into account.” – Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun

The backlash that Caesar-Chavannes received for her comment was, in my opinion, unfair and uninformed and really took away from the issue at hand: addressing “white privilege” and the racism that is so prevalent in Canadian society. What was so evident to me in this “dialogue” between two opposing party members, by a Liberal and a Conservative, by a Black woman and a white man, was that the Black “voice” continues to be silenced, when the truth needs to be heard. Colourblind ideologies in politics are ultimately unhelpful and lend themselves toward racism rather than away from it. Dr. Monnica T. Williams put it this way:

“Racism? Strong words, yes, but let’s look the issue straight in its partially unseeing eye. In a colorblind society, White people, who are unlikely to experience disadvantages due to race, can effectively ignore racism in American [or Canadian] life, justify the current social order, and feel more comfortable with their relatively privileged standing in society (Fryberg, 2010). Most minorities, however, who regularly encounter difficulties due to race, experience colorblind ideologies quite differently. Colorblindness creates a society that denies their negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives. [Emphasis added.]

Blog-Image-YoungWomenHugThe $19 million that the government has allocated to Black youth and mental health will be spent over five years to research “culturally-appropriate mental health programs for black youth at risk.” Though the government has not decided yet, exactly how the money will be spent , according to MP and chair of the Canadian Caucus of Black Parliamentarians, Greg Fergus, “the $19 million will […] be tailored to meet diverse needs.” Mental health experts across Canada have commented that the funding will help to improve access to treatment for a large section of the population who has been and continues to be marginalized. Bernier said himself that “We should certainly do everything possible to redress injustices and give everyone equal opportunities to flourish.” We cannot do this while ignoring the realities faced by marginalized communities, which are so often different from those faced by white Canadians. In addition to the $19 million, the government has also set aside $23 million over two years, which will help support cross-country consultations concerning the new National Anti-Racism Strategy.


It is vitally important to allocate money to groups of people that have been oppressed for centuries. In Canada, systemic racism and oppression have plagued the Black and Indigenous communities and that legacy continues to this day. That’s why it is so important that employment equity is at the forefront in workplaces across the country. 3500Employment equity encourages workplaces to be free of barriers and conditions of disadvantage and recognizes that marginalized groups have for a long time experienced systemic racism in relation to employment. It’s also important to have people of colour in positions of power and influence, so that people in marginalized groups can see that they are being represented and feel that they have a person(s) in a position of influence to hopefully make things better for their community.

The colourblindness ideology is not an effective solution for addressing and solving the systemic racism that marginalized groups have faced in Canada for centuries. The spat between Caesar-Chavannes and Bernier highlighted the lack of understanding on this issue and showcased the need for further education and enlightenment for those who believe in it.


For more information…

“I’m rooting for everybody black.” The importance of supporting black-owned businesses

So this holiday season, don’t neglect black-owned business. Use your buying power to strengthen communities, create jobs and grow the economy.

by Channon Oyeniran

With Black Friday 2017 coming and going, it hit home for me (more than ever before) how important it is to support black-owned businesses. No, it’s not me discriminating against other people and their businesses or cultures; it’s just about me recognizing that if I do my small part in supporting black businesses, then I in turn help to strengthen the black community and advance us forward in a system that is meant to keep us down. 
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It’s what Issa Rae meant when she said at the Emmys, “I’m rooting for everybody black.” Taryn Finley explains,Black pride isn’t designed to block the progress of others. It is meant to empower and create space for black people to celebrate and honor ourselves in a country that tells us in no uncertain terms that black lives do not matter. It’s a necessary escape when racial tension in the world is too much to bear. It’s a tool for survival in a world that doesn’t want to see you win.”

Not only are there great black-owned business out there, but the quality of the products are top notch, thus dismantling a long time myth and stigma that black-made products are of low quality and are not as “good” as products made from another race. Blogger Lisa-Marie said this, “We don’t like ourselves, so we don’t trust ourselves enough to support one another.” Reshaping this type of thinking is not only important amongst those in the black community, but for all people of different races.

e9af272134d19dca3499a26366bb1c86-pretty-hairstyles-natural-hairstylesI made the decision nearly three years ago to sisterlock my hair, as I have mentioned in a post before. I did this because I love how sisterlocks look, I love that it’s my natural hair and I don’t have to worry about braids, extensions, etc. But most importantly, I decided to do sisterlocks so I could stop contributing to the billion-dollar business that other cultures make on black women’s hair/products on an annual basis. I decided that I would only support black businesses here in the Greater Toronto area that have natural products that are good for natural hair and sisterlocks. Not only am I supporting black-owned businesses here in my local community, but I am doing the three things that I will briefly discuss below, that show the benefits of supporting black-owned businesses.

Strengthening communities:

gettyimages-459685184According to The State of Working America, “Black people spend four percent more money annually than any other race despite the fact that they are the least represented race and the race that lives in poverty at the highest rate.” This is a problem in the black community. It is a fact that black people spend more on the latest electronics, shoes, clothes, etc. and feed into the capitalist society that runs our world. Since black people are spending more than other races, it would be beneficial if it more of that money were spent within the black community at black-owned businesses, thus generating more wealth within the community and a sense of comradery in helping to build up our brothers and sisters. Once we realize that it is a good thing to support one another, rather than feeling threatened or have mistrust, the black community becomes stronger, more powerful and united.

Job creation:

An important point when it comes to supporting black-owned businesses is that it opens up much-needed jobs for those in the black community as well as creates entrepreneurial opportunities. To add some numbers/stats to this, in May 2014, the unemployment rate in the US was 7.8%, while the unemployment rate for black people in the US was double the national average at 13.79%. Another stat shows that in 2013, 12.4% percent of black college graduates in the US between the ages of 22 and 27 were unemployed (Source). article-imageThis demonstrates that black people need jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities within our own communities because often times racism and discrimination comes into play and black people don’t get hired for the job because of their skin colour or the name on their resume. If black-owned businesses are supported and encouraged, then the unemployment rate for black people would not be so high. This article by Black to Business said it best: “The problem is that there aren’t enough black-owned businesses to hire unemployed black people. […] Time is overdue for change, and we must pool our resources and build our own reality.”

The Economy:

“Who you give your money to, is who you give your power to.” – Frederick Douglass

Supporting black-owned businesses, as it is very clear now, supports the economy within the black community. As mentioned above, many black people spend a lot of money on products and business that are not black-owned, thus making the people who own these businesses richer every day. It has always been evident to me that, historically, other communities (Jewish, Asian, Italian, etc.) have operated and supported businesses, thus operating independently, becoming successful and wealthy, because they have the support of those in their communities. 1107_small-business_650x455However, this is not the case for black people, as we have over time been conditioned and taught to hate each other, not support one another and be competitive with one another. I believe once we have changed our mindsets, we as black people can realize that supporting one another doesn’t just benefit that person who has the business, but it benefits that his family, his neighbour’s family, my family, etc. The most successful industries for black business tend to be in the areas of sports, arts, and music, but it is time that we branch off into other industries such as technology and engineering. Once we support black-owned businesses, we strengthen our community and in turn strengthen both the Canadian and American economies globally.

So this holiday season, don’t neglect black-owned business. Use your buying power to strengthen communities, create jobs and grow the economy.

A few black-owned businesses to check out this holiday season…

Or check out these lists…

For more information:

Indigenous People & Canada 150: A Time for Reflection

by Channon Oyeniran

So here we are, five days before Canadians celebrate Canada’s 150th year since Confederation, when the British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were united as one into the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. The Canadian government has spent over 500 million dollars to mark this occasion, and there are numerous events happening across the country. However, this 150th year is not a celebratory time for all, in particular Indigenous people, whose treatment in this country has been, and continues to be, deplorable.

Intro_MapE_aApproximately 12,000  years before Europeans arrived in what we now call Canada, Indigenous people lived on this land. Not only were Indigenous people here before anyone else arrived, but when the Europeans did arrive, they decimated the Indigenous population through violence and disease.

Today, the conditions of Indigenous people are poor, to say the least. The Indigenous population mostly live on reserves that are in poor condition; alcohol use, drug use and suicide run rampant amongst the various Indigenous communities. They are isolated, forgotten and their land continues to be taken and used by others without their permission.

Although Canada 150 is a time to celebrate, it is also a time of learning and a time to look back over the last 150 years and ask ourselves the questions: “What were our mistakes? What can we do better? How can we make amends for our troubling past, so that it doesn’t happen again?” These questions and more need to be addressed, not only for the dark times in Canadian history for the Indigenous people, but also for other marginalized groups in this country such as black people, Japanese people, Chinese, Vietnamese, South Asian peoples, etc. Let’s take a brief look at some of the sensitive, yet hugely important, issues that give Indigenous people pause in celebrating Canada 150.

Treaties:

treaty-8-logo_flipedAccording to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Indigenous treaties in Canada are “constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples”. These agreements often describe exchanges where Indigenous people agree to share some of their ancestral lands in return for different kinds of payments and promises. But more than that, treaties were and are still seen as  sacred agreements between those who view Canada as their ancestral homeland and those whose familial ties lie in other countries (i.e. immigrants to Canada). These treaties are constitutional and moral agreements between Indigenous people and Canada. There are many different treaties across the ten provinces and three territories that make up Canada, however due to broken promises and failure to deliver what was agreed upon when the signing of certain treaties took place, honouring treaties and making up for what was never delivered continues to be a source of tension between Indigenous people and the Government of Canada.

Residential Schools:

Residential Schools in Canada were government sponsored religious schools that were created to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture from the late 1800s. (The last one did close until 1996!) These residential schools attempted to convert Indigenous children to Christianity, educate and integrate them into the European culture that was dominant in Canada at that time. However, many of these schools caused more harm to these youth than good and incited negative long term effects. From about 1880 until 1996, approximately 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children attended residential schools in Canada. 57e6470635e9c2ff2247433da3438f04As some form of acknowledgment for the negative and lasting effects residential schools had, many of the former students fought for recognition and some form of restitution from the government of Canada. In 2007 the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was the largest class action settlement in Canadian history and recognized the damage done by residential schools. A multi-billion dollar fund was created through this settlement to help former students in the recovery process of being students at these schools. Also in 2008, then Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, gave a formal apology to First Nation, Inuit, and Métis peoples who were affected by residential schools.

Imagine being discouraged from speaking your native language or practicing traditions that you grew up with your whole life. Imagine trying to practice these traditions and then being punished for it if you were caught. Imagine being forced away from your family for ten months or sometimes years on end. Imagine not being able to even communicate with your family through letters because all correspondence was written in English or French. Imagine being verbally, emotionally and sexually violated. Imagine not even being able to see your brothers or sisters who were at the same school as you because all activities were segregated by gender. Imagine being a malnourished student and then being used as a guinea pig in a nutritional experiment and the government of Canada knowing about it and not doing anything to stop it. Imagine spending years in these residential schools, returning to your reserve, to your family and feeling like you don’t belong, aren’t able to help your parents, are ashamed of your native heritage and find it hard to function in an urban setting all because you were subjected to years in a residential school that did more harm more than it ever did good. This was the reality for those 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children. Historica Canada’s Heritage Minute on Chanie Wenjack shows a short but important snippet of what living in a residential school was like.

Why Canada 150 is not a celebratory time for Indigenous people:

For many Indigenous people, broken promises, treaties, large scale decimation and centuries of distrust have made this Canada 150 celebration not one worth celebrating. For many Indigenous people, and other marginalized groups as well, Canada’s 150th birthday is a time to be critical of the country’s history and question how our country has dealt with those who have come to make this place home. University of Saskatchewan PhD student Shane Henry, who is Métis, Ukrainian and Cree background, said this about celebrating Canada 150: “I became jaded after realizing the divisive and patronizing way the federal government has dealt with First Nations issues. […] it’s important for those who don’t understand Indigenous perspectives to start challenging the narrative behind Canada’s Confederation”. Across the country people are recognizing that there is not much to celebrate, especially when there are still major issues that are plaguing Indigenous communities. Here are eight major issues, that affect Indigenous communities:

  1. Poorer health
  2. Lower levels of education
  3. Inadequate housing and crowded living conditions
  4. Lower income levels
  5. Higher rates of unemployment
  6. Higher levels of incarceration
  7. Higher death rate amongst children and youth due unintentional injuries
  8. Higher rates of suicide

With all of these issues affecting Indigenous people, and the extensive and often times negative history, it is no wonder that Canada 150 has not been embraced by many and will not be celebrated in five days time.

imagesWhile many are gearing up to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in a variety of ways across the country this Saturday July 1st, 2017, many are also asking important questions and standing up against what they believe is a celebration of colonization. For example students at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, voted to not sanction, participate or endorse any activities relating to Canada 150. The University’s campus was once the site of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, which only closed down in 1970, and knowing what we know now about residential schools in Canada, it wouldn’t be fitting to celebrate at such a location. One Indigenous Algoma University student, Quinn Meawasige, said this about Canada 150: “Those policies at the time of Confederation were designed to eliminate the Indigenous people. What it was founded on was broken treaties, and it was founded on, essentially, the genocide of Indigenous peoples, because they needed to make way for settlement [. . .] I just don’t feel like celebrating that.”

While it is okay to celebrate and be proud that the country where you were born or where you are a citizen is turning 150 years old, it is also okay to ask questions and create dialogue regarding that same country’s history, how it came into being, treatment of specific groups of people and what they could be doing now to rectify past mistakes, thus creating a platform where everyone who calls this land home can feel welcomed, acknowledged and that their voices are being heard.

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For more information:

#BlackHairProblems

As other posts on this blog have discussed time and again, there is deep-rooted systemic racism at play here, even down to the trivial things such as a person’s hair…the hair that they were born with. So no, the issue is not just about hair, but about the continuous racism directed towards black people and the constant effort to try and dehumanize us and make us feel “less than” in every aspect of society and life.

by Channon Oyeniran

afro2#BlackHairProblems – It’s a humorous hashtag on Twitter, but one of the big “problems” with black hair isn’t funny at all. The number of articles, news clips and stories I’ve seen and heard recently concerning black girls’ and women’s natural hair is both surprising and ridiculous. Are we really making such a big issue out of a person’s hair as to ask them to change it or “get it done” or suggest that they are breaking the school dress code…in 2017?! Seriously?! I must admit, the controversy surrounding this topic is puzzling to me in the sense that something so trivial as a person’s hair – the black person’s hair –  is creating such a stir.

Black women can do almost anything with our hair because it is so versatile. We can make it straight, curly, wavy, we can braid it, twist it, put it in a ponytail, cut it and style and so much more! We can also do all of this with our natural hair or with aides such as extensions, weaves, hot combs, curling irons, etc. Desktop6-008Many are now taking issue with black women choosing to wear their hair in its natural state, a trend that is growing in popularity, rather than trying to make it into some idealized view of beauty that the media and white majority have portrayed. For so long black women were told that our hair must be long, straight and flowing for us to be considered beautiful. Whether a woman chooses to go natural or not is not the issue. It is up to each individual and what she wants. The real problem is the pressure put on so many black women, from their workplaces, schools, and society, to “fit in” and conform to mainstream society.

This uproar is not a new phenomenon. Twisted views on beauty have been forced upon black women since they were taken from their homes in Africa more than 400 years ago. womenslaveThe black woman then had the western view beauty thrust upon her, internalized and then carried out among black communities. Black women who were lighter in complexion or of mixed race and had features that resembled white women were seen as “better,” and thus treated differently, than black women whose darker complexion and features were viewed “inferior.” This treatment extended to these women’s hair; in the eyes of the slave traders and owners, having long, straight, flowing hair was beautiful while having curly, short and wool-like hair was considered masculine, and unattractive. From the days of slavery, black people have had their value determined by their appearance and its proximity to whiteness. The more “white” you appeared, the more valuable you were.  This has led to an enduring pressure to conform to the styles, mannerisms and culture of the white majority.

As a black woman who has worn my hair proudly in its natural state for many years (e.g. no relaxers, weaves, or extensions in my hair) and for the past two and half years worn what are called “sisterlocks” in my hair (a trademarked locking technique where the hair is parted in a precise grid, utilizing a special tool that places the hair in a locking pattern: see photo), I have taken pride in being able to just wear my hair as it is and not fill the pockets business owners, many of whom are not black, who profit very well from black people coming into their stores and spending hundreds of dollars at a time on hair care products, weaves, extensions, etc. I, too, like many other black women used to relax, aka “straighten”, my hair so that it was bone straight like white women’s hair or add weave to my hair so that I would have the hair length like a white woman. Desktop6-001But after much money spent, and educating myself more on my history, who I am, where my ancestors came from, I came to the realization that my hair is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide or to change. My hair is beautiful, naturally curly…characteristics that many women wish they had. I also decided to not care what the media portrays to be beautiful or acceptable. The media doesn’t determine who I am or if I am beautiful or not (which I am!). Although this issue doesn’t only affect women, I will focus on three stories, from three different countries, that highlight the discrimination black women, in particular, have faced for wearing traditionally black hairstyles.

USA:

“Twin sisters Deanna and Mya Cook are being punished by Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Boston….[…] because of their hair.”

-Kayla Greaves (HuffPost Canada)

Just this past week, the story broke that fifteen-year-old twins from Boston, Deanna and Mya, have had to serve multiple suspensions since April, could potentially be suspended again for wearing box braids and were banned from school activities. According to Mystic Valley Regional Charter School’s administration, the girls’ box braids violate the school’s dress code because the code prohibits extensions, and says hair cannot be “more than 2 inches in thickness or height.” deanna-mya-cook(This rule would insinuate a black student wearing their hair in an afro style would be in violation of the dress code.) Both girls are intelligent and active in school, so what’s the problem? Well, according to another parent whose daughter also wore the box braid style and was suspended, white children at the school have “coloured hair and you are not supposed to colour your hair, and they walk around like it’s nothing.” Many feel, and I agree, that these facts point to discrimination against black students who cannot simply wear their hair in a style that represents their culture, heritage and identity.

Thankfully, I came across a follow-up article to this story, which reports that the state attorney general sent a letter demanding that the school “[…] immediately stop punishing black and biracial students for wearing hairstyles the school said violate its dress code.” These are rules that the attorney general thinks are both discriminatory and unfairly enforced amongst students at the school. It’s a happy ending to this particular story as the Cook twins are again allowed to participate in their extra-curricular activities, as well as maintain their hairstyles, which represent who they are. However, these stories, which are all too common, continue to occur around the world.

Canada

“Cree Ballah models the hairstyle she was wearing the day she says two managers at the Zara store she works at tried to change her hair in full view of other employees.”

                                                                          -Philip Lee-Shanok (CBC News; Toronto)

Desktop6-002.jpgIn March 2016, in Scarborough, just outside of Toronto, Zara store employee, Cree Ballah, went into work with box braids and was asked by her manager to first take her braids out of the ponytail they were in and then along with another manager tried to fix her hair to fit the so called “professional look” that Zara was trying to maintain. Not only was this experience unprofessional and discriminatory, it was also humiliating for Cree as her managers tried to fix her hair in front of the store in a busy mall and in front of her co-workers. When this happened, Cree said she would likely quit her job as well as file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. This is yet another common example of discrimination against black women and their hair. (See this story from BBC News, ‘Wear a weave at work – your afro hair is unprofessional’.)

South Africa

“High-School Girls in South Africa Are Protesting for the Right to Wear Their Natural Hair”

-Claire Landsbaum (The Cut; NY magazine)

29-pretoria-girls-high-school-protests.w710.h473On August 29th, 2016, students at Pretoria Girls High School in South Africa, protested against the school’s hair policy that many students and parents deemed to be racist. The policy indicates that natural hair is “messy” and suspends students for wearing their hair natural. In response to the school’s policy, a petition with close to 18,000 signatures was signed along with the protest by the students and support pouring in for them via social media. The students even had the support of Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who tweeted, “Schools should not be used as a platform to discourage students from embracing their African identity.” The protest, petition and support appeared to work as the high school suspended the rules about the hair policies a few days after the protest. Another triumph, but a bittersweet one, as these situations expose the deep rooted racism against people of colour across the world.

Why the Double Standard?

Justine-Skye-purple-natural-hair-vs-Katy-Perry-purple-hair.jpgIn another article, written by Elle on Black Girl with Long Hair, the author does a comparison of the inconsistency between black and white women who colour their hair and how it is seen by the general public. It is seen as “hood and ghetto” when black women colour their hair and “creative and cute” when white women do it. This issue, along with black women’s natural hair, goes deeper than just the issue of hair. As other posts on this blog have discussed time and time and time and time again, there is deep-rooted systemic racism at play here, even down to the trivial things such as a person’s hair…the hair that they were born with.

So no, the issue is not just about hair, but about the continuous racism directed towards black people and the constant effort to try and dehumanize us and make us feel “less than” in every aspect of society and life.

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More stories of the “problems” with natural hair:

Positive and uplifting stories:

And a few more great posts on the subject…

 

UPDATED RESOURCES (These are stories, articles, etc. added after publishing.)

Black Panther, black women, and the politics of black hair – Al-Jazeera

When Black Hair Violates the Dress Code – NPR

Black History Month 2017: Reflections

As I reflect back on BHM 2017, I am humbled to see so many people responding positively to what is really another facet of Canadian history and the Canadian experience. I have said it before and I will say it again, BHM is a time to honour the achievements and excellence of a black people who have risen and keeps on rising above the previous and, more importantly, current degradation.

by Channon Oyeniran

“My ultimate dream is that these things — women’s history, black history — are so included in the core curriculum narrative that we no longer need a separate time to celebrate it.” – Denée Benton 

1Slider_blackhistorymonth_2017I know, I know, Black History Month 2017 (BHM as it will be referred to for the remainder of this post) is over…so why is Channon talking about it again?! Well, I just wanted to do a brief recap and take the time out to reflect, think and discuss how BHM 2017 went! For me, BHM 2017 was awesome, one of the best yet! It started off with the Ontario Black History Society’s Annual Kickoff Brunch on January 29th, which is an annual brunch that kicks off BHM in Ontario with performances, awards, a keynote speaker and entertainment. This annual event is significant because it not only kicks off BHM, from an organization that was instrumental in getting BHM celebrated in the city of Toronto, but it’s also a time when black Canadians can come together to acknowledge our history and achievements from those doing great things in the city of Toronto. On February 8th, Historica Canada, celebrated Black Canadian Trailblazers, an evening of storytelling where notable black Canadians in various fields such as media, academia, social justice told their personal stories and those who inspired them. You can see more about that event here and here.

Desktop5Later in the month, I presented at the Burlington Public Library about the different groups of black people that migrated to Canada and at David Bouchard Public School in Oshawa, Ontario where I spoke about pre-European contact and pre-colonial Africa, the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the black presence in Canada. I also attended Afroglobal Television’s Black History Month reception. Afroglobal showcases the best of Africa and its Diaspora through programming that positively and more accurately impact and reflect the experiences and dreams of people of African heritage around the world. Towards the end of the month, I hosted my 2nd annual “Looking Back into the Future” Black History Month Conference. I also had the privilege of watching the brilliantly made and narrated James Baldwin documentary, I Am Not Your Negro. This documentary is so accurately on point about the black experience in America that it’s like James Baldwin is living in 2017 with us! I also attended the Mayor of Toronto’s Black History Month reception that unveiled artifacts from one of the first black churches in Toronto from the 1800s. I also went to Canada’s capital, Ottawa, with 165 students to learn more about BHM in Canada and meet the Honourable Jean Augustine (below in photo), the first black woman elected to Parliament in Canada and who got the motion passed for BHM to be celebrated in Canada in 1995. Such an honour! Whew, that is a lot and there were so many more events, receptions, concerts, etc. to go to in my community and in the city of Toronto that commemorated BHM!! It was a great month of learning, knowledge sharing, commemoration, education, fun and fellowship and was way too short! 

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Although BHM is only officially recognized in four provinces across Canada (this year marking the first year that the province of Alberta is celebrating it), BHM 2017 in these four provinces, as well as the rest of the country, was a busy one, with many different celebrations happening in different towns and cities! From book launches, to festivals, to films, to pop-up shops, to panel discussions, to conferences, to photo, art and information exhibits, workshops669450, plays, seminars, brunches, lunches and dinners, BHM 2017 was jam packed across Canada! It was so exciting to hear about, read and see how many different activities there were to do in my local community and in the city of Toronto. It made it very difficult to decide what to participate in, as the disadvantage of having BHM in February is that, as we all know, it’s the shortest month of the year. However, on the positive side, it is so refreshing to know that there are so many different activities planned for BHM. There is never a lack of things to do during this month.

Reflections:

“Black History Month must be more than just a month of remembrance;  it should be a tribute to our history and reminder of the work that lies in the months and years ahead.” – Marty Meehan

20170228_115821As I reflect back on BHM 2017, I am humbled to see so many people responding positively to what is really another facet of Canadian history and the Canadian experience. I have said it before and I will say it again, BHM is a time to honour the achievements and excellence of a black people who have risen and keeps on rising above the previous and, more importantly, current degradation.

Again, although some people question why a whole month is dedicated to Black history, it is my sincere hope that people will take the time to really learn what BHM is all about, to learn something new and to recognize its importance. It is also with great anticipation that I hope black history will be known as simply just history – a history that includes people that helped shape the world as we know it now.

“That the history of black people is really a part of Canadian history, the contributions that we made to Canadian history, the contributions that we made to Canadian society are part of the contributions we should have made as Canadians in Canadian society. I think that in every aspect of Canadian life you can find someone of African descent, of Caribbean descent, of black… participating and therefore it is essential that, that be recognized by the society.” – Honourable Jean Augustine

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For more information on BHM, what it is and why it still matters, check out these posts from myself and Michelle here and here.

Note from Michelle: One of the coolest things that happened this year was the Black Futures Month project from Huffington Post. Various issues concerning black lives were highlighted, as well as the community leaders working towards a better future.  


 

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Making Multiculturalism Work

“There are practical reasons for keeping the doors open…The economic benefits are also self-evident, especially if full citizenship is the agreed goal. […] Our government repeats it, our statistics confirm it, our own eyes and ears register it: diversity fuels, not undermines, prosperity.” – Charles Foran

 

by Channon Oyeniran

In the post I wrote in November titled “Multiculturalism: A Primer,” I talked about what multiculturalism is, its benefits, and briefly discussed which countries adopted the concept of multiculturalism (Australia, Canada and the UK). Multiculturalism is defined as: “the peaceful coexistence of a culturally diverse or multiethnic populations in a country.” In a time when immigration and migration is ever increasing, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at why multiculturalism works in the Canadian city of Toronto and most other Canadian cities. I recently read an article by Charles Foran titled, “The Canada experiment:  is this the world’s first ‘postnational’ country?,” which you can find in its entirety here. It stated that as 2017 began, “…Canada may be the last immigrant nation left standing. Our government believes in the value of immigration, as does the majority of the population.”

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Why is that? Why have multiculturalism and stable immigration policies worked for Canada? I think it’s important to look at this because this world is constantly changing, revolving and growing, and people are regularly moving and changing their locations (voluntarily or involuntarily) and where they choose to call home. I want to look at why this concept of multiculturalism works in Canada and hopefully show the benefits that can come along with it if other countries adopt it and work towards its main purpose.

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A definition of multiculturalism in Canada’s Multiculturalism Policy specifically states that the “value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation.” Multiculturalism is a concept, introduced as policy in 1971, by then Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau (father of current prime minister Justin Trudeau). This formalized policy states that it will “protect and promote diversity, recognize the rights of Aboriginal peoples, and support the use of Canada’s two official languages.” The policies and an act surrounding multiculturalism in Canada have allowed people from all over the world to come and live in Canada, bringing with them their various cultures and traditions.

Multiculturalism has offered Canada the opportunity to be more diverse in every aspect of its society, whether it’s bringing new skills to a job, new ideas and thoughts to a classroom, or new food to a neighbourhood. Multiculturalism in Canada continues to bring together talented people who bring their innovative and interesting ideas and skills the country, thus allowing it to thrive! Also, because there are so many different people from other countries who have made Canada home, there is no single identity that Canada claims, as stated by current Prime Minister Trudeau. He said that,  “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” Foran’s article states that, “The greater Toronto area is now the most diverse city on the planet, with half its residents born outside the country.” So with half of the people from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), born outside of Canada, there is no defining identity like some other nations that pride themselves on being French or British or American, for example.

Why does multiculturalism work in Canada?

canadian-flag-mosaic-by-tim-van-horn-2010Multiculturalism in Canada works for a variety of reasons, one of which being the stable immigration policies that have helped to shape the very fabric of our nation. Canada has been a well-accepted destination historically for immigration since the early twentieth century. Authors Stephen Castles and Mark Miller in their book, The Age of Migration -International Population Movements in the Modern World, say that: “Canada remains one of the few countries in the world with an active and expansive permanent immigration policy, which aims to admit the equivalent of 1 per cent of its total population of about 30 million each year.” Therefore since a steady and increase wave of immigration started in Canada after World War II, people from around the world, from all different backgrounds have settled in Canada and have called it home.

Benefits of Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism works in Canada because it’s preserved in our laws and the very fabric that makes up this nation. Here is why multiculturalism is a good thing and benefits multiculturalism-2012.pnga country who adopts it: Not only does multiculturalism allow different cultures to experience one another’s native foods, music, clothing, stories, but it allows people to be exposed and learn from different cultures, thus broadening the minds of the citizens who live in multicultural societies. Foran’s article also adds that, “There are practical reasons for keeping the doors open…The economic benefits are also self-evident, especially if full citizenship is the agreed goal.[…] Our government repeats it, our statistics confirm it, our own eyes and ears register it: diversity fuels, not undermines, prosperity.”

How YOU can get involved…

Keep reading, because this is the important bit!! Whether or not you live in a country that fully practices or accepts multiculturalism, there are ways for you to embrace multiculturalism in your own life. 

The trouble arises when we are not spreading love or understanding for people in our own neighborhoods who are different from us. They might be of different backgrounds, identities or faiths. Practicing love and understanding should be a norm for everyone. The dream to travel and see the world starts in our own towns.

Becoming culturally competent, diverse and inclusive involves knowledge, attitudes, and skills that may seem overwhelming for any individual or agency to achieve. It is important to remain aware that cultural groups are not homogeneous in beliefs and practices

  1. Visit an art exhibit or a museum dedicated to other cultures.
  2. Invite a family or people in the neighborhood from another culture or religion to share a meal with you and exchange views on life.
  3. Rent a movie or read a book from another country or religion than your own.
  4. Invite people from a different culture to share your customs.
  5. Read about the great thinkers of other cultures than yours (e.g. Confucius, Socrates, Avicenna, Ibn Khaldun, Aristotle, Ganesh, Rumi).
  6. Go next week-end to visit a place of worship different than yours and participate in the celebration.
  7. Play the “stereotypes game.” Stick a post-it on your forehead with the name of a country. Ask people to tell you stereotypes associated with people from that country. You win if you find out where you are from. 
  8. Learn about traditional celebrations from other cultures; learn more about Hanukkah or Ramadan or about amazing celebrations of New Year’s Eve in Spain or Qingming festival in China.
  9. Spread your own culture around the world through our Facebook page and learn about other cultures.
  10. Explore music of a different culture.

People want to learn, and when they come together to share the experience of knowledge, social divisions often dissolve. When spaces are programmed to celebrate diverse cultures and histories, there is an even greater impact. The power of learning and exploring should not be underemphasized.

Multicultural education is more than celebrating Cinco de Mayo with tacos and piñatas or reading the latest biography of Martin Luther King Jr. It is an educational movement built on basic American values such as freedom, justice, opportunity, and equality.


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Human Trafficking in Ontario

 

by Channon Oyeniran

Hello friends! As we draw nearer to Christmas and the new year, I just wanted to do a quick summary of an article I read the other day in The Globe and Mail. It was titled, “Police find 16 human-trafficking victims in cross-Canada investigation,” and it talks about human trafficking in Canada (Ontario specifically), a country where many people think modern slavery and human trafficking doesn’t happen. This article shows that in fact human trafficking does exist and is a big business here in Canada.

rcmp-logo1In the article, Tavia Grant discusses a cross-Canada human trafficking investigation in which police rescued 16 victims from human trafficking situations. Police also charged 32 people with 78 offenses relating to trafficking in persons and child luring. This human trafficking bust was the fifth time that Canadian police, under the name “Operation Northern Spotlight,” organized an investigation that sought to help vulnerable people in human trafficking and more specifically, the sex trade.

This article gives a lot of informative stats concerning human trafficking in Canada and the province of Ontario as well. One stat that stuck out to me was that the province of Ontario has approximately 65% of the human trafficking cases reported to police in the Canada. That’s more than half of the cases reported amongst 10 provinces and 3 territories! That tells me that Ontario has a lot of work to do concerning fighting human trafficking and modern slavery. Another aspect that the article discusses is that over the next four years, the province of Ontario will be investing $72 million dollars in a new anti-trafficking strategy. This proves to be significant because Ontario is only the 3rd province in Canada to create a plan to fight trafficking.human-trafficking-in-ontario_5541983806fee_w1500

Another thing that this short but informative article does is provide the readers with a definition of human trafficking and some signs to look out for to spot someone who may be a victim of  trafficking. This article also touches on the age range of these victims – the youngest being 13 –  and that majority of them are female. The mention of how lucrative this trafficking business is for perpetrators who exploit more than one girl is also noted in the article. Not only does it give current and up-to-date information about the business of human trafficking, it also provides some solutions on what the city of Toronto, the province Ontario and Canada are doing to fight and hopefully end human trafficking and modern day slavery.

Similar stories/articles:

Below, are some links to similar articles on this topic:

Methods used to help fight human trafficking in Ontario:

There are various methods used in the fight to stop human trafficking. Different organizations such as Free Them and Covenant House in Toronto are fighting human trafficking and modern slavery. Some methods used to help fight human trafficking that these organizations and others use and that are also mentioned in the article are:

  • Education for hotel staff in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba provided by the police
  • Raising awareness about human trafficking and modern slavery 
  • $72 million invested by the Ontario government for an anti-trafficking initiative. (The money will be used to bolster support for culturally appropriate services for indigenous survivors of trafficking, create a provincial anti-trafficking coordination centre and lastly, create a specialized prosecution team for human-trafficking crimes.)

Ways to get involved: