Dear Black students in Canada,
Between you and the world of your fellow Canadian classmates and teachers, there will be an ever unasked question, unasked by some through feelings of polite discomfort, by others through the difficulty of finding the right words to frame their question, not wanting to offend or sound racist. All of them, nevertheless, flutter around the question. Folks will approach you in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye you curiously or maybe compassionately, wanting to ask you the question or create the opportunity to proffer their own answer.
How do you feel about Black Lives Matter?
Because of their callous indifference towards your own sense of individuality or privacy, or simply because of their cultural incompetence or outright anti-Black racist sentiments, your professors, teaching assistants and classmates will intentionally or unintentionally force you into uncomfortable, non-consensual situations and conversations. You will feel forced to speak for or defend the tactics or “trouble” that has become Blacks Lives Matter in Canada.
You will hear otherwise respectable, genuinely likeable and highly intelligent teachers and professors discard their cloak of credibility and descend into unsolicited diatribes, excoriating Black Lives Matter as irrelevant to our multicultural history and haven, the Great White North.
You will be forced to sit unsettled and silent across from teaching assistants who volunteer unrequested commentary and critique on the Black Lives Matter movement.
You will find yourself sitting beside classmates who passive-aggressively goad you and anyone else they suspect is a Black Lives Matter sympathizer into a debate that isn’t a debate but rather an excuse to announce and impose their perspective on current actions to resist anti-Blackness in Canada.
“Was it right for Black Lives Matter to hijack the Pride Parade?”
“Isn’t the Black Lives Matter movement irrelevant to Canada because there are fewer police killings in here than in the United States?”
“Don’t you think there are better ways to advocate for Black people than always being loud, angry and appearing violent on TV, as if Canada is the American South?”
My dear Black students, please know that you don’t owe your teacher, professor, teaching assistant, classmates or anyone else an answer to these or similarly slippery questions meant to ensnare you. And please know that you most especially do not owe answers to those who ask them for the purpose of settling their social insecurities. You also don’t owe an answer to those who ask you these kinds of questions as a veiled attempt to shame or silence you while reasserting the dominance of their white supremacist anti-Black racist sentiments to reinforce their sense of psychological safety in the classroom.
Black students, you are free. It is your prerogative to take it upon yourself to think deeply and critically about your experience of being Black in Canada and come to your own fully informed and factually founded position on your experience of Blackness in Canada. This is your right as a proud and emancipated Black learner. This right does not come with the corollary entitlement of those around you to know your opinion on the ways that Black people are shaping humanity and resistance in Canada today.
My dear Black students, you are free to share your thoughts on these issues, if you want to. That means you are entitled to do so on your own terms, when you’re ready, when you’re willing, to serve the ends of your own control, choosing and desire.
Despite this truth, the threadbare anti-Blackness you will experience this academic year will be frustrating, embarrassing and gratuitous.
You will be most shocked and horrified to hear where the anti-Blackness comes from. Indeed, it will not only be your well-liked and polite professors, teaching assistants or classmates who will confront you with a violent affirmation that “all lives matter.” You will be dumbfounded to find that this confusion of consciousness will also fall from the lips or flow from the syllabus of those who share your experience of Blackness.
Regardless of the skin colour or personal politics of those who will expose themselves as apologists for anti-Black policing and state violence, you will almost certainly be confused, frustrated, angered, saddened and disappointed. But dear Black student, don’t be distracted. Don’t be disheartened. Don’t be deterred.
Stand firm and free in your Blackness.
The sum and sanctity of your Blackness is beyond the people and perspectives you’ll experience in school. While there will be times when you feel that your psychological and emotional safety, or ability to even stay in the class — and maybe in school — will depend on you speaking up and speaking out against anti-Blackness in the classroom, this is not your responsibility.
Dear student, know that your responsibility to defend, explain and understand Blackness in Canada is a responsibility you owe to yourself alone, and only if you decide you want to accept it.
The unfortunate reality is that most of your classmates, along with those who lead classes and control your curriculum have little to no genuine investment or interest in grappling with the histories or contemporary realities of being Black in Canada. This explains why Black Lives Matter and any meaningful discussion about Black experiences will not form part of your core curriculum; they will be engaged only through your elective course selections or the happenstance of an impromptu comment or tokenized article that appears in your syllabus.
Don’t be fooled. No matter how polite the smiles, or impassioned the expressions of commitment to anti-oppressive education or an inclusive classroom, Black lives don’t matter to the overwhelming majority of schools, programs and educators in Canada.
Self-care, self-preservation and achievement of the goals that you have set for yourself and your academic career means recognizing that your value, your worth, your humanity are inherent. You do not need to justify them. To anyone.
Regardless of your stance, you’re entitled to learn in an environment that doesn’t expect, force or provoke you to announce your position as if you are an appointed representative of all Black people in Canada. Whether you choose to share your thoughts or keep them to yourself is up to you. If others, Black or non-Black, want to share their experiences, know that it is no more representative of all Black peoples than your own.
My dear Black students in Canada: you have nothing to profess, prove or defend to those who have no true and demonstrated interest in you or the experiences of being Black in Canada.
So what do you think about Black Lives Matter? Whatever you want to. That’s for you to know and others to hear if you choose to share.