montreal activist’s powerful book ‘policing black lives’ gives the history of canada they don’t teach in schools

December 5, 2017
631 Picks
By jesse chase, AFROPUNK Contributor

Montreal activist and Black Lives Matter organizer Robyn Maynard has written a major work called Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada From Slavery To The Present (Fernwood Publishing). It’s the kind of book I wish I had grown up with.  Maynard follows “the traditions of Black feminist activist-intellectuals such as Angela Davis (1998), Joy James (1996), Beth Richie (2012), Andrea Ritchie (2006), [and] Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2007)”, to name a few of the multitude of scholars and activists referenced.

Part of the importance of this book is its value as a reference to other crucial research being done. Maynard acknowledges the battles of everyday struggles and the work of Indigenous scholars and activists such as Sarah Hunt, Cindy Blackstock, Colleen Cardinal, Bridget Tolley, Lee Maracle, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Pamela Palmater, Eve Tuck, Naomi Sayers, Emma LaRocque, Chelsea Vowel, Bonita Lawrence, Arthur Manuel, Audra Simpson, Howard Adams and Lina Sunseri.

The book shakes off images that the Canadian government has continually projected of itself to the world, images of being a pinnacle of democracy and equality.

But the Canadian brand of multi-culturalism has been used as a form of erasure and violence against Black and Indigenous lives since the country’s conception.  Since the beginning of colonisation, there was slavery in Canada. “After slavery’s abolition in 1834, though, anti-Black racism in Canada has been continually reconfigured to adhere to national myths of racial tolerance.” Canada often tries to make-believe that racism is only an American issue. “For instance, in 2016, shortly following the above-mentioned police killing of Abdirahman Abdi, Matt Skof, the president of the Ottawa Police Association, told the press that it was ‘unfortunate’ and that he was ‘worried’ that Canadians would assume race could play a factor in Canadian policing, arguing that those issues were only pertinent in United States (Nease 2016).”

Maynard has provided her readers with a compact encyclopedia of facts and work towards reformulating an accurate Canadian history that the government doesn’t want to teach.

Education has always been used as a form of violence against Black people. Whether it be through the school to prison pipeline or through the miseducation and virtual non-education of Blacks in Canada, as Black youth are often told they aren’t even capable of learning. “The history of nearly a hundred years of separate and unequal schooling in many provinces (separating Black from white students), which lasted until 1983,” has been left out of textbooks that “bore little allusion to any Black presence in Canada, erased two centuries of slavery, [and] included no mention of segregated schools.”

Governmental anti-blackness is a global oppression. “In 2016, to little media fanfare, the United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (cescr) confirmed that anti-Black racism in Canada is systemic. The committee highlighted enormous racial inequities with respect to income, housing, child welfare rates, access to quality education and healthcare and the application of drug laws (U.N. cescr 2016).”

Part of what makes this book so unique is that Maynard compiles attention to children in the welfare system, gender, sexual violence and immigration as a form of state sanctioned violence in Canada.

“All Black people are not demonized equally or identically. Gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, mental health and place of birth also mediate the way that anti-Blackness is experienced.”

“Many poor Black mothers, for example, have experienced child welfare agents entering and searching their homes with neither warrant nor warning — in some instances seizing their children — as a result of an anonymous phone call,” she writes. “Black children and youth are vastly overrepresented in state and foster care.”

“In settler colonies like Canada and the United States, Black and Indigenous oppression are historically and currently connected. Indeed, recent writings by Black and Indigenous studies scholar Tiffany King (2013, 2014) argue that we cannot truly understand the conditions of Black life in settler societies without examining the relationship of anti-Blackness and slavery to settler colonialism and genocide. These were not, she argues, isolated historical processes. Instead, there was a relationship between the genocidal settlement project that tried to annihilate Indigenous peoples and take their land and the brutal logics of enslavement that attempted to reduce Black men, women and children into non-human things (King 2013; Sium 2013).”

There are really too many important facts and data provided in the book to talk about for this review, such as that there are more about 10,000 klansmen gathering today, or that some enslaved Black peoples actually escaped pre-Confederation Canada to seek freedom in the Northern states in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in a migration that has been called the “reverse Underground Railroad.”

I recommend this book to anyone and everyone, both Canadian and abroad.

It provides a grounding for the fight against anti-Black racism around the world, and gives a much needed representation of the roles of gender, sexuality and Indigenous solidarity in the struggle against racism. The book is in defense of all Black lives.