By Michael Lashley
While I do not claim to have all the answers to the challenges faced by the Black community, I am confident that I know many of the relevant questions. I begin with two questions.
Are there any advantages to being Black?
Are there opportunities that are open to all, but which are not being maximized by Black persons?
Perhaps some more practical questions might make the issues even clearer.
In such central areas of our lives as education, government services, politics, and law and order, whom do we choose as our allies and whom do we treat as obstacles in our way? Do we choose the police service’s outreach programs or do we approach Black Lives Toronto?
When do we act individually and when do we act collectively?
Should we rely on advocacy and interest groups or should we become active members of such groups?
Let us consider some possible answers, or at least some directions in which to find solutions.
“Black is beautiful”. Yes.
But what is it about our Blackness that calypsonian The Mighty Duke was trying to get us to understand? The answer can be found in the following extract taken from the chorus of his song bearing that title:
“Black is beautiful
Ah say to sing it aloud
Black is beautiful
Say i’m black and proud
It’s high time that we get rid of that old slave mentality.”
Reggae’s Bob Marley was equally assertive in making the same point in his famous “Redemption Song”:
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds.”
From both sources, the message is clear: our biggest challenge is our need to ensure that we do not allow others to continue to define us.
In our specific case as Blacks, the consequence of having been defined by centuries of Euro-centric thinking and values is that we have been defined as inferior and therefore as subordinate; we have been defined as less entitled and as limited in our potential.
As we break free from those mental chains of self-subordination and self-limitation, we take confidence in the fact that there are numerous examples of black persons who have proven themselves in every field of endeavour.
Our next step is to assert our right to equitable treatment in all facets of national life. This is an ongoing and uphill struggle that is very much worth the effort.
It requires us to exercise keen judgment. In each case, we ask ourselves the same strategic questions. How do we choose our battles carefully? When and how do we push the envelope forward. How forcefully and how far do we push the envelope forward?
Instead of simply relying on others, including the more militant members of our community, we have valuable inputs to make in the quest for positive change. We empower ourselves and strengthen the effectiveness of our advocates when we contribute our views on the issues, our ideas for progress, and our personal presence in the meetings.
In that regard, let us look at the field of education. In what ways can the learning materials, the teaching staff, the learning environment and the methodology be made to be more relevant to our Black children?
In the promotion and protection of children, how can the systems and institutions be adjusted to cater with greater sensitivity for the needs of Black families? Or should we move towards creating new institutions that do?
But there is a third area in which we are doing ourselves a grave injustice by our low level of involvement, namely politics. I am disappointed in the Black community’s under-representation in electoral politics.
How can we hope to see transformational change in the quality of Canada’s politics, in the caliber and policy ethics of the politicians, in the political process, in the triumph of the public interest, if we are not prepared to enter to fray ourselves?
I make no apologies for these comments. Even as a person who is averse to seeking to occupy political office, I feel strongly about the policy choices and the political strategies that are open to us.
I consider myself to be heavily interested and engaged in politics at the non-party level. All of my writing and my public speaking is political, just not in the political party and partisan sense.
In fact, I hold the view that our Black community’s interests will never get equitable attention at the political table if we are not there to stand up for ourselves.
Do the politicians take us for granted? If they do, is it because our voting numbers are not significant at the provincial and federal levels. Or is it because too few of us are political office-holders or candidates for political office?
In either case, we have no one but ourselves to blame.
Black is beautiful. And so are the other colours.
We are not any more beautiful or talented than other groups. But neither is any one of the other groups more beautiful or talented than we are.
We are only lacking in the fact that we should be far more pro-active in the promotion of our interests.
My point is that it is up to us to play the major role in advancing for our Black community’s interests, both as individuals and acting together with other members of our community.