On June 17th, 2015, a white man entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, United States and killed 9 people. This was a targeted terrorist attack meant to strike fear into the black community. His choice of church was highly symbolic. The AME church in general is a famous denomination, but this church in particular is also steeped in civil rights history. It was here that community organizing took place dating back to before abolition. This church had been previously burned down by white supremacists, attacked and raided.
This choice of location was a reminder that even 150 years after slavery was abolished black people are still not welcome in the USA and are still treated as less than human.
Before he murdered these 9 people, the terrorist defended his actions in the name of protecting white women from the criminal advances of black men. The murder of black people in the name of protecting white women’s purity is an excuse that has a long racist history, and as a white woman I would like to join with others in saying #notinmyname.
Whenever events like this happen and Canadians share the news, there is always this vague feeling of superiority about how the news is shared.
This suggestion that these events would never happen in Canada. That we’re better than that. Sometimes, if the discussion comes up, there is the round of Canadians patting ourselves on the back about how we never had slavery here, and a reminder that Canada was one of the final destination points for the Underground Railroad. The implication always seems to be that racism is an American problem.
This is a great list out there for what you can do to be a good white ally in the face of the AME Massacre, but I would like to add one more specifically for Canadians: Take this opportunity to discuss racism in our own country. Canada’s policies on guns makes it less likely that racism will look like shooting deaths, but even so we have our own legacy of racism. This includes both a historical legacy and a present one.
At a time like this, it is important to remember that racism doesn’t stop at the border. As Canadians, most of the media we consume is American and our own media is just as complicit in how they handle these stories. As a result, our reaction adds to the zeitgeist, but even more importantly it informs the people of colour in our own community as to whether or not they can count on our support.
This is no time to feel superior but rather it is a time to fight back against these same systems in our communities. Pay attention to new policies that directly target or are meant to target communities of people of colour, including the newly passed C-51 and the law that now makes it possible for people holding multiple citizenships to lose their Canadian one if accused of terrorism, not to mention any laws that restrict voting. Pay attention to systemic injustice within our own legal systems. It is not so long ago that Toronto was implicated in a racial discrimination scandal in their police force. Many large Canadian cities also have seen incidents involving police violence being more severe or more targeted at people of colour, including in some cases driving Native people outside the borders of the city and leaving them there, often resulting in the person freezing to death.
Canada was recently the subject of an Amnesty International action over the lives of hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women.
The systemic racism that informs the biases in the US are just as pervasive here and can be just as harmful to every person of colour in Canada. And every time we pretend otherwise, we allow that racism to take hold a little deeper. We turn our backs on the very people of colour we mean to support.
We are not better and we need to make sure that #blacklivesmatter in Canada too.