National Post (Latest Edition)
How do I legalize my Blackness?
My name is Dahabo Ahmed-omer and I am a Canadian. I am also a granddaughter, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a colleague and proudly, a Black Muslim woman.
I carry countless identities that make my person whole. Every facet of my being is something that I am utterly and completely honoured by. But on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, my voice was silenced, my values diminished, my humanity stolen, and my person criminalized. I thought I was in a nightmare. I had seen these images before — a Black person stopped, interrogated, and dehumanized by a white person. I’ve seen those images and always thought, “What would I do in that situation?” I never ever thought that could happen to me. But it did. On Aug. 7.
A day I will remember forever. The day my Blackness was criminalized and shattered. The day I was arbitrarily questioned by two strangers who gave themselves the right to interrogate, attack and dehumanize my person. This world can be a difficult place for people like us, with racism and discrimination dwelling in every nook and cranny, where our human rights and civil liberties are robbed from us.
I was sitting in my car, parked across from a family member’s home, taking a phone call. I was approached by a middle-aged white man who wanted to know if the car I was sitting in was my car (Black Mustang). He then proceeded to ask me why I was parked on the side of the road. I was perplexed by the line of questioning. I blurted out, “Why are you asking me all these questions?” He pointed to his driveway across the street, and said he owned a Mustang, too. I replied, “I’m happy for you!” I knew what this was; I knew this was prejudicial. But I was alone, Black, a woman, with a hijab. I needed to keep my mouth shut and let it be. He proceeded to ask me again why I had been parked there for several minutes. Then I remembered my father, a warrior who had taught me to stand up in moments of injustice. Nervously, I roared, “It’s none of your business.” He was upset and told me to leave. Suffice it to say, I did not leave.
A few minutes went by, and by this time I was on the phone with a colleague. A middle-aged white woman knocked on my car window and proceeded to ask me why I was parked there. I could not believe my ears. Was this happening to me, again? She explained that her neighbour had called her to warn her that I was idling in my car across from her home. I explained it was none her business. This was a public street. Parking was allowed. With no time limit. I didn’t understand why she, and the neighbour, felt the need to question my presence. I heard myself explaining my existence to a stranger. I apologized to my colleague and explained that I needed to call her back. All I wanted to do was record the interaction. I knew that as a 6-foot-1 Black Muslim woman interacting with an older, frail, white woman, not very many would believe me.
She yelled, “If you don’t leave, I will call the police.” My heart sunk. Many beautiful faces came to mind. Abdirahman Abdi, Chantel Moore, Ejaz Ahmed Choudry, the Afzaal family, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor ... the list goes on and on.
Researchers at York University looked at 81,902 traffic stops in Ottawa between 2013 and 2015 where officers were asked to approximate the driver’s race, sex and age, as well the reason for the traffic stop and the outcome. The data revealed that drivers perceived to be Middle Eastern accounted for 12.3 per cent of the stops, about 3.3 times what you would expect based on their proportion of Ottawa’s population. Those thought to be Black accounted for 8.8 per cent of the stops, roughly 2.3 times higher than anticipated based on population size.
The massive data pool, which was the first of its kind in Canada, was collected in response to a human rights complaint about the Ottawa police stemming from a 2005 traffic stop. The Ontario Human Rights Commission said the findings challenged all law enforcement organizations to acknowledge “the systemic nature of racial profiling.”
The relationship between the Black community and police has been well-documented.
THIS WOMAN CONSCIOUSLY WEAPONIZED THE POLICE AGAINST ME.
If you are a person of colour in Canada, you experience a severely different, and at many times dangerous, relationship with law enforcement.
This woman consciously weaponized the police against me. She criminalized my person.
I rolled up my window and waited for her to leave as she was on her phone. I knew the police were coming. I needed to prepare myself. I decided to move my car in case this escalated into an altercation. I was scared. I was not OK. The toll of racial trauma and stress is not limited to psychological outcomes. The negative effect of racism also affects physical health. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. “Dahabo, you have done nothing wrong!” I could hear my brain tell my heart. But all those faces came back to me, and I knew I had a reason to be scared. In Canada, just as in the U.S., anti-black racism and systemic discrimination are deeply rooted in history, culture and politics, with very real and painful current-day implications.
Anti-black racism is insidious; the experience of it steadily penetrates a person’s well-being. Black Canadians often deal with daily scrutiny in the workplace, schools and public places. This triggers distress, which results in the need to practise extra vigilance to safeguard ourselves.
I shakenly moved my car and parked on the other side of the street. Trying to strike a balance between exercising my civil liberties and protecting my well-being, I took out my phone and pushed “record” in case anything else happened. And it did.
The woman came back out, looking for me. She walked out of her home, crossed the street, turned the corner, and saw me. I started to record — my only form of protection.
The next 15 minutes were spent on camera, with the woman asking more questions. Justifying her behaviour and not understanding why it was a foundational issue that she believed it was her right to question a stranger.
“I just asked what you were doing here, and you were rude.”
“I don’t know who you are!”
“Why did you park and idle?”
“Why are you saying that this is racism?”
“Why can’t you understand?”
“You are being overdramatic!”
“You don’t live here!” “Why were you on the street?”
All of this while she cried profusely on camera. I tried to use this opportunity as a teachable moment. It did not work. It ended with her jumping into my car to try to steal my phone.
I’m tired and I don’t know how to legalize my Blackness.