Not only does the success of Barack Obama not signify the death of white racism as a personal or institutional phenomenon, if anything, it may well signal the emergence of an altogether new kind of racism. Consider this, for lack of a better term, Racism 2.0, or enlightened exceptionalism, a form that allows for and even celebrates the achievements of individual persons of color, but only because those individuals are generally seen as different from a less appealing, even pathological black or brown rule.
From “Between Barack and a hard place: Racism and White denial in the age of Obama” by Tim Wise published 2009
Conventional wisdom is that since the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency of the USA we (surprisingly that includes Canadians even though African Canadian elected officials are scarce) have entered a post racial phase where everyone is equal. Perhaps that is why the Canadian government did nothing to recognize the March 21, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Well apart from Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism issuing a statement about the Canadian government’s “unwavering commitment to preventing unjust racial discrimination from becoming a deep and systemic problem in Canada.” Meanwhile the Canadian government had no qualms in recently passing the Crime Omnibus Bill C-10 the so called Safe Streets and Communities Act into law. Bill C-10 is a combination of nine pieces of legislation that had failed to pass in previous sessions of parliament but with a majority government the Conservatives seized the opportunity to pass them. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) cautioned that Bill C-10 will “fundamentally change every component of Canada’s criminal justice system.” The CCLA stated that “jail more often, for longer, with more lasting consequences – is a dangerous route that is unsupported by the social science evidence and has already failed in other countries.” The research suggests that lengthier jail sentences will increase the likelihood of re-offending so it is difficult to understand how this Bill will make streets and communities safer. In the CCLA's view, C-10 will greatly increase the prison population, with a devastating impact on marginalized communities. This may very well make it easier for police to rationalize the troubling practice of racial profiling. It is no secret that racial profiling especially of African Canadian male youth is a practice of the various Canadian police forces in spite of denial by police. The incidents are numerous with several cases ending with African Canadian men killed by police who are never held accountable. In the past two years the names and the bodies have been piling up: Junior Manon May 5, 2010, Reyal Jensen Jardine-Douglas August 29, 2010, Eric Osawe September 28, 2010, Michael Eligon February 3, 2012, Frank Anthony Berry February 20, 2012 all victims of deadly police violence. The mind-set that African Canadian males are fair game for White male aggression and violence is spread beyond policing. In some instances like the cases of 20 year old Guyanese Howard Joel Munroe swarmed and murdered (stabbed by white youth) in Kitchener on May 20, 2001 and 20 year old Congolese Djo Bwabwa-Kalamba who was killed after being “pinned to the ground” by a Canadian Tire store security guard on June 26, 2008, the perpetrators were White males who seemed to think they had a right to brutalize Africans.
African Canadian males are not the only ones at risk; in the USA the recent murder of 17 year old Trayvon Martin has gained international attention with the story published in newspapers as far away as the UK and Guyana. Martin was killed by George Zimmerman a White man who seemed to have delusions of grandeur. It seems the man thought he was back in the days of slavery when any enslaved African accosted by a White man was compelled to obey instructions to halt and await orders or failing to do so would result in the African being subjected to the savagery of the white man which could include brutal beatings or being murdered. On February 26, 2012 the 17 year old Martin had left his father’s protection to walk to a corner store where he purchased Skittles candy when the White man who had been trailing the teenager demanded that he explain why he was walking in the community. In what some have labeled the supposed crime of “walking while Black” this 17 year old was shot several times by a White man who seemed to think just being African American was reason to suspect Martin of being a criminal. Several witnesses have said that they heard Martin screaming for help as he was shot by Zimmerman. The man was a neighbourhood watch volunteer in the community acting as if he was a storm trooper in the Nazi “Schutz-Staffel” (SS.)
Unlike the slaying of Ramarley Graham which seems to have faded from public memory, Martin’s murder has gained the attention of the highest levels of the American legal system and even President Obama has commented. Several media sources report that President Obama commenting on Martin’s case in which federal, state and local authorities are involved said: “If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon, I think [Trayvon's parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened." This is a profoundly historic statement from the President of the United States of America in 2012. At no other time in the history of the United States could a President have empathised with the murder of an African American child. During the 1960s when images of brutalised African American men, women and children were beamed into the homes of Americans including the President, he could not have viewed any of those people as family. This President can see a murdered African American male child as his child. Hopefully this will have some bearing on how justice is served in this case. The case of Ramarley Graham who on February 2, 2012, in New York was chased by police into the bathroom of his home where they shot him dead, has not received the same kind of attention. There were a few demonstrations locally to bring attention to Graham’s death but no apparent involvement of federal law in that case.
These are not isolated incidents there is a history of White violence against African Americans. As in Canada it is a result of a White supremacist culture where African Americans and African Canadians are over policed and racially profiled routinely with excuses made by the authorities and even by ordinary citizens. There is this denial that racism exists. In “Between Barack and a Hard place” Tim Wise writes: “White Americans were fairly nonchalant about the problems facing persons of color, choosing in most cases to deny what all their senses (and surely their eyes, fixed on the television as most already were by the early 1960s) had to be telling them: that they were living in an apartheid nation; that theirs was no land of freedom and democracy, but rather a formal white supremacy, a racially fascistic state for millions of people. And so in 1963, roughly two-thirds of whites told Gallup pollsters that blacks were treated equally in white communities.” That delusion is also manifested in Canada today where in spite of evidence to the contrary White Canadians believe that because of “multiculturalism” we are all equal. The various studies and reports about inequality in employment, salary, policing etc., do not seem to make a difference. Some of the comments posted as reaction to the recent story in the Toronto Star http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1151512--white-pride-rally-in-edmonton-lasts-only-minutes-after-anti-racists-show-up about the two “white pride” demonstrations in London, Ontario and in Edmonton is enough proof that White Canadians need to educate themselves about the level of inequality for racialised people in this country. It would be comical if it were not so sad that there are people who think there needs to be a White History Month when every month in Canada is White History Month. Just a glance at the public school curriculum would be enough proof that our children are daily fed the philosophy that white culture and history are the norm and everything else is other and exotic.
Unfortunately these inequities dog the footsteps and life of Africans in all white dominated societies. Trayvon Martin’s murder and the attitude of the law enforcement staff handling the case is eerily similar to the case of Stephen Lawrence who was murdered by white youth in Britain in 1993. Like the parents of Trayvon Martin, Doreen and Neville Lawrence (Stephen Lawrence’s parents) were forced to wage a battle for justice after a group of white youth violently stabbed and killed their 18 year old son on April 22, 1993 in Eltham, south-east London, UK. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16348304 The tenacious, fighting spirit of the parents of murdered African American teen Trayvon Martin is reminiscent of the parents of Stephen Lawrence. The Lawrence’s were thwarted at every turn by a white supremacist police force and justice system but they never gave up. It took almost two decades for this couple to see partial justice done. In January 2012, two of the five white men who brutally murdered Stephen Lawrence were sentenced. They were sentenced as young offenders (they were both almost 18 when they murdered Lawrence) even though they are now 36 years old. Because of the perseverance of Doreen and Neville Lawrence laws on equality and justice have been changed in Britain; the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/34/contents) and the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/44/part/10) came out of their activism. The Lawrence’s hired private investigators, they led public campaigns. And they are not done yet; Doreen Lawrence has written to the Home Secretary about her concerns that the initial 1993 investigation involved corrupt police. Doreen Lawrence is one of my sheroes. Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin can take courage from the fact that they have widespread support from as high up as the President of the USA. I support this couple in their fight for justice and have signed a few petitions including http://mashable.com/2012/03/28/trayvon-martin-petition-change-org/ and http://act.colorofchange.org/sign/Trayvon/. Hopefully it will not take almost two decades for the family of Trayvon Martin to get justice for their murdered child.
A congressional hearing was held in Washington D.C on Tuesday, March 27 to discuss issues of racial profiling and hate crimes. Our elected politicians in Canada can follow that example by facilitating some frank discussions about the inequities in this society because ignoring the problem is not a solution.