Polic­ing Black Lives ex­poses Canada’s his­tory of state vi­o­lence

Author Robyn May­nard vis­its Hal­i­fax this week to speak about her new book on Black ac­tivism and racial in­jus­tice.


Polic­ing Black Lives: State Vi­o­lence in Canada from Slav­ery to the Present A talk with author Robyn May­nard Hal­i­fax North Me­mo­rial Li­brary 2285 Got­tin­gen Street Thurs­day, De­cem­ber 7, 7pm

As so­cial me­dia de­fies ge­o­graphic bor­ders, many Cana­di­ans scrolling through their time­lines are flogged with anti-Black sen­ti­ments com­ing out of the United States. But be­fore bask­ing in the cen­turies-old false­hood that Canada is nowhere near as racist as the US, you may want to read Mon­treal ac­tivist and author Robyn May­nard’s de­but book, Polic­ing Black Lives: State Vi­o­lence in Canada from Slav­ery to the Present.

May­nard pro­vides read­ers with an un­der­stand­ing of Canada’s own trou­bling his­tory of anti-Black­ness, racism, state vi­o­lence and seg­re­ga­tion; a fact that is sel­dom dis­cussed, fur­ther per­pet­u­at­ing those events to­day.

Prior to vis­it­ing Hal­i­fax for her book’s launch, May­nard spoke with The Coast about the writ­ing chal­lenges she faced, as well as her take on Canada’s cur­rent racial cli­mate. Her an­swers have been edited for style, clar­ity and length.

What was the most dif­fi­cult thing about writ­ing Polic­ing Black Lives?

I think what was most dif­fi­cult was re­ally just the vi­o­lence. Con­stantly re­view­ing the vi­o­lence that Black men, Black women and even Black chil­dren have ex­pe­ri­enced across cen­turies and just sit­ting with that ev­ery day, while also try­ing to write those sto­ries in a way that con­veyed Black hu­man­ity.

What was it like to be a Black girl grow­ing up and si­mul­ta­ne­ously ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the era­sure of your own Black Iden­tity?

I think that to a cer­tain ex­tent I al­most feel like I wrote this book for that young Black girl. I feel like I look back and so much of what I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing was un­in­tel­li­gi­ble to me.

For ex­am­ple, be­ing sub­ject to in­tense scru­tiny and height­ened dis­ci­pline at school is some­thing that hap­pened to me and to a lot of other Black girls, I later learned. But that wasn’t clear to me, be­ing one of the only Black stu­dents in my class. So, I think that it took ac­tu­ally look­ing at doc­u­men­ta­tion that showed me that it was the ex­pe­ri­ences of not just my­self, but of other young Black girls across Canada. I am an ex­am­ple of how it’s im­por­tant that we know that of­ten our ex­pe­ri­ences of racism are in­val­i­dated by a so­ci­ety that tells us that there isn’t racism here. It’s re­ally im­por­tant to push back against that.

This week the On­tario Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion came out call­ing for seven years worth of data in or­der to ex­am­ine in­stances of dis­crim­i­na­tion against the Black com­mu­nity. How do you feel about that?

I think that shows us that the work of ac­tivists in Toronto for the last 20 years is pay­ing off. We need to see that, not as like a gift that the gov­ern­ment is giv­ing us, but ac­tu­ally as a gift that came from the hard work of the Black so­cial move­ments that have ac­tu­ally put their bod­ies on the line in or­der to force this into be­ing rec­og­nized as an is­sue. For ex­am­ple, stag­ing the teach­ers’ walk­outs and ac­tu­ally get­ting po­lice out of school. This is a prod­uct of long­stand­ing or­ga­niz­ing that has taken a sig­nif­i­cant amount of labour of all kinds of peo­ple. Not just in terms of Black Lives Mat­ter, but in terms of Black par­ents and Black ed­u­ca­tors as well. So I think we have to thank the com­mu­nity for that. And I think that this in­quiry stands to be a re­ally im­por­tant in­ves­ti­ga­tion. So we have to re­mem­ber that it was fought for.

Since the begin­ning of Canada’s colonial his­tory, Black per­sons have been chal­leng­ing pre­vail­ing nar­ra­tives that Canada is a mul­ti­cul­tural haven. How has that his­tory in­flu­enced your writ­ing?

Look­ing back at the his­tory of Black ac­tivism in Mon­treal in the late 1980s and ’90s, to the work of Rocky Jones in Nova Sco­tia, to the Black Ac­tion De­fense Com­mit­tee in Toronto and now to the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment—I think we re­ally have inspiring mod­els of lead­er­ship in terms of con­test­ing a so­ci­ety that is still so pro­foundly based in racial in­jus­tice. I think of when Black Lives Mat­ter Toronto spent two weeks camped out­side po­lice head­quar­ters af­ter the killing of An­drew Loku to bring at­ten­tion to the is­sues of po­lice killings of Black peo­ple. I think that was some­thing that changed the na­tional frame­work for talk­ing about race in a way that re­ally forced it into the main­stream. There are, in fact, Black com­mu­ni­ties across Canada right now who are re­ally chal­leng­ing the prac­tice of card­ing and racial profiling more broadly, and say­ing that it’s truly an in­jus­tice. I think that is some­thing that is def­i­nitely mak­ing in­roads and en­croach­ing on the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive. That’s some­thing that I find re­ally inspiring, and I hope my work is to be in con­ver­sa­tion with the move­ments that we’re see­ing to­day.


Montreal au­thor Robyn May­nard will be speak­ing about her new book, Polic­ing Black Lives, at the North Me­mo­rial Li­brary on De­cem­ber 7.

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