By Georgie Alford
Founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi in the United States in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has sparked activism around the globe. The hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) was initiated after the murder of African-American teen Trayvon Martin and has since proliferated through all social media channels. In August 2014, the murder of Michael Brown, another African-American teen, by the police gave the BLM movement a particular focus on anti-Black racism within the police force and has thus called for the defunding of the police. In Canada, the first chapter of BLM was established in Toronto in 2014 by Sandy Hudson and Janaya Khan.
The Aims of BLM
Broadly speaking, the movement aims to end anti-Black racism and white-supremacy, liberating Black people and communities. White supremacy is the belief that white people are the superior race. Some scholars argue that white supremacy goes beyond a world-view as it has become embedded within institutional systems such as the government, the police-force, and the medical profession. White supremacy produces white privilege, which is now so entrenched into the structures of ‘Western’ life that it has been rendered invisible to those who benefit from it. Reaping the advantages of privilege allows a lived experience which is all-encompassing, normal, neutral, and universal. One academic, Penny McIntosh, lists twenty-six examples of white privileges, such as being sure that her children would “be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race” (1990: 2). As such, anti-Black racism occurs at numerous levels and to varying degrees. Another focal point of the Black Lives Matter movement in Canada is addressing issues, racism and other injustices faced by Indigenous Canadians.
The Successes of BLM
The BLM movement has rapidly grown in popularity since 2019. In 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw an unprecedented number of people take to the streets after the murder of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and D’Andre Campbell in Canada and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in the United States. In Canada, BLM has successfully encouraged the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to acknowledge anti-Black racism and classism within the School Board and throughout classrooms in Toronto. BLM also successfully campaigned to remove uniformed “school resource officers” from TDSB schools. You can learn more about this from our interview with Chris Moise, TDSB school trustee.
What still needs to be done?
There is still a long way to go until the goals of BLM will be complete. While the movement has done a lot to shed light on the often hidden structures which support white privilege, more must be done at an institutional and individual level to support Black people and communities. Residents of St. James Town can learn more about the BLM movement on their website, where you can find links to sign petitions, donate, and educate yourself.
Today, we must actively question what perspectives have been absent or ignored, then seek out these perspectives from their respective sources. This may mean hiring a BIPOC teacher or consultant, or adding readings by BIPOC writers to the curriculum, or simply by listening to the story of a newly immigrated classmate. We must continuously search for “the other side” to the narratives we have long been taught. Though uncovering these stories may illuminate further tragedies and disrupt Canada’s comfortable reputation as the “nice” country, it is the first step we can take in our attempt to honor the past. In rectifying this, it is the only way we can move towards the future.
As Nelson Mandela often said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”