By Cagla Hatun Arslan, Tatiana Clarke, Gabriela Ribeiro-Oliveira
A victim. George Floyd was a victim. There is no “but”. There is no explanation for his murder. There is nothing to doubt about his character. There is no excuse for George Floyd’s death. Stories of victims have been told, and that is not recent. There is nothing recent about something that is rooted in centuries of racial discrimination. We find ourselves in the year 2020, normalizing the death of a Black man by sharing a video of it in social media, and somehow, people still find blame in victims of a system that kills them, instead of finding blame in the system.
On May 25th of 2020, George Floyd was murdered because of police brutality. This isn’t an opinion, this is a reality.
There are many harmful notions surrounding the Black Lives Matter Movement and racism towards BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) that must first be exposed and discredited (due to their complete falsehood) if we wish to understand why, as Angela Davis puts it, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
To start, the name of the current movement is Black Lives Matter (because not all lives can matter until black lives do as well). Not some black lives matter, not non-criminal black lives matter. The point is there is a deep rooted history of discrimination in the policing system (a system which initially served to patrol slaves and discriminated against “free” black citizens1) which makes criminal charges inevitable and unavoidable for many black people and this is no excuse for taking their life. That is simply murder. The excuses (often made by white people) that People of Colour have higher crime rates to explain away police brutality, are ignorant and uncompassionate.
For some perspective; There are many Black people that do not have the privilege of obtaining a good education2 (for reasons such as being a caretaker to younger siblings, having time consuming responsibilities like taking care of elderly family members, not having the funds to get a post secondary education and more) which restrains them from being able to get a good job and limits their options for sources of income.
From birth3, black people and people of colour have less options, means and access to resources that could help them achieve better goals than white people, simply because of the colour of their skin and the centuries of oppression against it, they often have no choice but to get involved in criminal activity to be able to afford the cost of living. For some, it starts off with the old marijuana (an industry that the government makes a lot of money from now that they have legalized marijuana use) charges that mark many young black men’s criminal records and ensures that they will have a harder time for the rest of their lives to get a job.
There are so many systemic hurdles that black and other people of colour face everyday. They are complex and have existed in the justice system and in society in general long before we, and even forest hill, was around. With this in mind, if there is ever to be a change for the better, we must take it upon ourselves to question why we make excuses for injustices against people of colour. Why we make excuses for injustices of any kind! We must call out our own microaggressions and accusatory remarks. That is only the start of understanding the depth of the current (and historically ongoing) movements and struggles for justice and our place in them.
As mentioned previously, an approach to hide racism in the ignorant belief that “Black people are most likely to have the police murdering them because they commit more crimes” we find ourselves scrutinizing statistics and wondering if such ignorant beliefs come from a broken system that does not educate us on the roots of systemic racism. Once we acknowledge the harmful implications of such ignorant beliefs, the question we must ask isn’t “Aren’t Black people committing more crimes?”, but instead it is to reflect on why you think that?
What makes one think that if the majority amount of a racial group commits more crimes this could possibly be an excuse for the highest rates of their murders? What makes one relate the color of a person to criminal activities? In Toronto, Black people made up 61% of cases where police used force that resulted in death. This means Black people are 20 times more likely to be shot by the police.4 This isn’t a moment to blame, it is a moment to question.
If there is an issue in education of making clear the essential blame colonization has on racial discrimination, aren’t we part of the problem? Isn’t Forest Hill part of the problem? How is our education making us think? How is it leading to making us reflect on how the places around us are being occupied? Who are the people around us? What does it mean to resonate more with a certain group of people, not only in school, but in every place we found ourselves in?
Systemic racism starts in the places we occupy. Do you look around your classroom, and realize who is the majority in it? How many classes in Forest Hill are mostly occupied by white people? How many non-white teachers have you had in Forest Hill? Why does that even matter? There is the belief that makes us think recognizing our privilege is hard. However, it isn’t. It takes absolutely no effort to not realize there is a problem when you are part of it. To put it into perspective; there is nothing to be ashamed of about recognizing your privilege. What there is to feel is understanding. To recognize your privilege is to understand people live through experiences that make them feel insignificant for society or that they don’t deserve their achievements because of discrimination. Educating yourself on racial discrimination is a privilege because there are people who have to live through it every day.
Students in Forest Hill need to reflect on every single one of their actions and the effects they can have on others. Because, if there are black students in the school opening up about how they never felt welcome or accepted because of their skin color, that means they aren’t the only ones.
Discrimination is in that girl in Social Justice class making fun of a Latina’s accent. Discrimination is Asian students being made fun of because they are “good at math”. Discrimination is the entire student council being white and representing only one of the groups in the school. If the student council is supposed to put students in positions of leadership, why is there only one group being voted for?
Discrimination is feeling like you are not accepted or represented in the community you live in. Discrimination is holding thoughts because they do not match with the majority. Discrimination is being unincluded. To reverse discrimination we have to unite. We have to give space to those who need to be heard. And it is everybody’s responsibility to do this.
It is clear that the system is failing us, and we see this ship sinking every day. It is just not clear why we choose to ignore it. Why are we not doing something about it? Why are we silent? Sometimes we do not see the solution to the problem, sometimes the solution to the problem is harder than we think, but in this case, the solution is to own the problem. Make the problem yours. Acknowledge it. Actively choose not to be ignorant.
As students, we should demand education about racism towards black people. If school is the place we learn, why don’t we learn about the discrimination that our friends face every day? Racism is not far from us and closing our eyes to it definitely won’t help.
The best thing we can do to learn from our mistakes is to ask about it, to reflect on our actions and recognize how they can affect somebody else. Social Media shouldn’t be our only source to advocate for black people’s rights. Yes, we cannot ignore how social media helps this movement grow and spread awareness but that is not the only way.
Social Media gave us the power to have a voice. We are being heard now. We have accessibility to educate ourselves through a variety of platforms. To be ignorant about racial discrimination right now (or ever) is to not recognize the racism in yourself.
Cineplex is offering a variety of films by black creators for free to stream. The Toronto Public Library website made a list of books related to everything Black Lives Matter stands for written by black creators. This is content for you to learn, and understand ignorance is not an opinion. Direct action isn’t only a black square on instagram.
It isn’t just about educating yourself, signing petitions or donating. It helps immensely, but the roots of the problem are deeper. To truly help it is to apply all of your education and understanding to your everyday life. Advocate for justice every time you see something wrong. Don’t steal the voice from someone else.Recognize when it is your place to speak.
We all have to understand that racism is never a one way thing. Most of us come from backgrounds that have been discriminated against in different ways. It is simply unacceptable to act like racism towards black people is only black people’s problem. We often forget we live in the same society and not in our own bubbles. And that is exactly why it should not be a debate to help discrimination come to an end. We should act on what we have been ignoring. To grow as the human race we must be unified and support one another. Empower each community and show that each of us is here for each other. That is the only way to protect us from ourselves.
Support and amplify the work of Black Creators/Activists:
Watch to Donate:
https://mwasicollectif.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/angela-davis-autobiography.pdf (Angela Davis FREE book pdf)
“Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice” By Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, Ann Hazzard
“The Hanging Of Angelique” by Afua Cooper
“Policing Black Lives” by Robyn Maynard
“Until We Are Free” edited by Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson and Syrus Marcus Ware
“The Skin We’re In” by Desmond Cole
“BlackLife Post-BLM and the Struggle for Freedom” by Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi
“The Hate U Give” By Angie Thomas
“Sleep Deprivation Chamber” by Adam Kennedy
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
“From #blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation” By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning” Book by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
“Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?: Police Violence and Resistance in the United States” Maya Schenwar
https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/best-black-movies-stream/ (A list of 28 Black focused movies to watch)
“When They See Us”
“Sorry To Bother You”
“Da 5 Bloods”
“The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution”
“Dear White People”
“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
3: https://www.crrf-fcrr.ca/images/Clearinghouse/ePubFaShRacScho.pdf (pg.4 does your school pass the test?)