#LivingWhileBlack: High stakes on basketball court, school campus, or Parliament Hill

OTTAWA—There is a virulent strain of anti-Black racism spreading through the “I don’t see colour” racial Canadian landscape. Anti-Black racism is distinct and stubborn and it flares up every so often—only the Canadian response is a half-assed topical treatment, rather than a cure.

On June 13, the Toronto Raptors ended a 26-year drought by bringing home the NBA championship to a city—and a country—that hasn’t seen a championship come north of the border since the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in1992 and 1993.

While professional sports have a special sort of racist undertone, the Raptors celebration was marred by anti-Black racism before it even began. As he was stepping onto the court in the Oakland, Ca., arena to celebrate with his team, a deputy of the Alameda County Sheriff got into an altercation with Raptors president Masai Ujiri. Ujiri, who could be facing misdemeanor charges for assaulting a (white) police officer, was confronted by an officer as he made his way and asked for his papers, er, credentials, even though video footage from right before and right after the incident shows him carrying his credentials in his hand.

Even when following the rules, #winningwhileblack is prohibited.

But that’s the United States, you may say; Canada is much more tolerant and open to people of different ethnicities, look at how multicultural Toronto is. But the truth is these experiences in America don’t disappear once you cross the border.

Just hours before the Raptors claimed victory, another Black man was being racially profiled right here in Ottawa, in the shadow of the Parliament Buildings. Jamal Boyce, a University of Ottawa student and student leader, was forced by campus security to produce his ID while on his way to class, because he dared ride a skateboard on campus property. Apparently not having his wallet with him was some great offence warranting police intervention, as he was handcuffed and detained by police while classmates and colleagues looked on. Boyce called the experience “humiliating” and “demeaning”; the police said they were “teaching him a lesson about the law.”

What has followed are other Black and racialized students, professors, and researchers sharing their accounts of having been carded on campus. Here’s hoping all involved get a real lesson in the law when Boyce inevitably sues for both discrimination and the wrongful detention.

Meanwhile, just days before the incident at the University of Ottawa, two Black graduate students were racially profiled and targeted at the University of British Columbia by their peers, who demanded to see their registration numbers for the 88th annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, a conference that brings together 8,000 academics. More accounts followed about racial profiling at the event (#blackatcongress), in academic spaces, and on the UBC campus. Turns out #learningwhileblack is prohibited, too.

And it’s not just on campuses either. Or we have all forgotten that fateful day during Black History Month this past February when a delegation attending—ironically enough—an event called Black Voices on the Hill, were profiled by both a Hill staffer and a Parliamentary Protective Service officer for, god forbid, #politikingwhileblack?

No matter how successful, how educated, how connected a Black person may be, there is no escaping the fact that race is one of the principle ways our society is ordered, and gatekeepers are always there to remind you of that, whether you are on your way to earning your PhD or your place in Parliament.

These encounters are not minor, and they’re not isolated. They rob you of your value. Each instance, however small, builds up to undermine your sense of self worth, something white people never have to consider. Too often, Black people are told it is simply “imposter syndrome,” that with some confidence you can get past the feeling as though you don’t belong.

Enough with the gaslighting already. When Black people perceive racism it’s because there is racism. There is an acute awareness of the need to centre white comfort, which is why perceptions are the eggshells upon which Black people walk, oscillating between pacifying white fear (which could end in violence against Black bodies) or white guilt. They are viewed as threatening, no matter the level of income.

There is not enough money and confidence in the world to end the racism directed at Black people, which by design is intended to keep boardrooms, universities, and places of power quite white.

Forget the capitalist handbook to ending racism. You cannot “transcend race,” no matter how rich and famous you are—just ask Oprah, who was denied the purchase of a handbag in Switzerland because the store clerk thought it was too expensive for a Black woman like her.

Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek are co-hosts of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

The Hill Times