Robyn Maynard’s new book, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, is written for academics and lay people alike. The book weaves in Indigenous experiences in Canada and addresses how racial violence specifically impacted Black women. Self-deception has repeatedly served as a bedrock of cruelty.
It has transformed greed into gallant heroism, where invasion of lands is adventure, displacement of natives is about saving the savages, and theft and self-enrichment is ingenuity.
It has rationalized subjugation as the “natural order” of things. Women — at home; gays — in the closet; natives — in reserves; and Blacks — in farms or in ghettos.
And when there emerges an equal and opposite reaction — resistance that challenges that deception — it is met with denial (Brutal — us? No, we saved you!) and dismissal (You’re not qualified to speak on this) and demand (Can’t we just leave the past behind and get along?).
In this, I include groups around the world that have utilized cruelty to enforce domination.
Settler deception in Canada, however, is unique in the euphemism it employs.
A new, painstakingly researched book debunks the myth of Canadian white benevolence and draws a straight line between past state-sanctioned injustices and current tensions.
The book weaves in Indigenous experiences and addresses how racial violence specifically impacted Black women. It is written for academics and lay people alike.
“One of the things that prompted me to write it is that working in Black communities, growing up Black in Canada, there was so much history of anti-Black racism that even I was not aware of for much of my life,” Maynard told me.
“People would experience anti-Black racism, but it was so negated by non-Black people around them. Their experience was seen as exaggerated or treated with disbelief. A lot of that disbelief stems from the broader disbelief that anti-Black racism has been in place for 400 years.”
Just as “climactic unsuitability” was long used to disguise the racist motivations behind demographic selections, Maynard writes, so was a desire to avoid the “Negro problem” that existed in the United States.
Irony alert! Canadians believed the best way to keep racism out of the country was to keep Black people out altogether.
“It was in the interest of coloured people themselves not to encourage their settlement in this country,” Maynard cites William D. Scott, a superintendent of immigration from 1903 to 1924. In private correspondence, though, he doesn’t hold back. “Africans, no matter where they come from, are not among the races sought.”
This, although slavery was practised in Canada for more than 200 years.
This, although 4,000 enslaved Indigenous and Black people helped build infrastructure and wealth for white settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Scott Gardner/ Torstar News Service Michael Highgate (right) leads the choir in song during Stewart Memorial Church’s Emancipation Day Celebration on August 6, 2017. Emancipation Day is to remember the date of August 1, 1834, when the British government officially abolished slavery in all colonies, including Canada. While the absence of plantations meant there were fewer enslaved Black people, leaving them acutely isolated, white settler society here was not benign. It brutalized them physically and psychologically. Black women would be beaten, sexually abused, used for “breeding” and have their children torn from them.
“The inferiority ascribed to Blackness in this era would affect the treatment of Black persons living in Canada for centuries to come,” Maynard writes.Maynard also exposes the hollowness of the claim that Canada was a sanctuary for runaway slaves from the U.S. and for “Black Loyalists.” Few freed Black people to whom the British promised land and equality if they fought on […]
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