Kenny Edwards was only trying to buy a few tins of chewing tobacco at an Oklahoma store, but within seconds he could see that he was unnerving the clerks behind the counter. It was around 1946 in a state still in the grip of segregationist Jim Crow laws. Hospitals, lunch counters and drinking fountains were…
Thank you to those who responded to the poll regarding interest in a free download from amazon.com/amazon.ca/amazon.co.uk of my debut e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens, taking place over a two-day period – this Saturday, Dec 14 and Sunday, Dec. 15.
Also on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 3:30 p.m., I’ll be interviewed by Diasporic Music host Otis Richmond on Uhuru Radio. http://uhurunews.com/radio/?tzoffminutes=300
What is In Through A Coloured Lens about?
A young man searches for his identity. Young Black men lose their lives to the stories created about them that they then buy into. A mysterious bus driver documents an apocalyptic tale of our contemporary lives as it relates to the Book of Revelations. A woman speaks in the Council Chamber at Toronto City Hall to tell about how her life went from normal to the desperation of depression and homelessness and recovery. A northern city become known for it’s annual Caribbean carnival rivalling many similar celebrations around the globe. A little girl skips along a sidewalk, bringing memories of long forgotten childhoods.
In Through a Coloured Lens is a compilation of timely and timeless columns selected from the hundreds by Toronto writer and columnist Pat Watson that have appeared over the past ten years in Share newspaper – “Canada’s largest ethnic newspaper”. Here are words on the lives of African Canadians and the issues that affect them even beyond Canada’s borders. With Watson’s particular insights colouring each view, themes range from family relations to race relations, politics to humour, mental health and poverty, and even spirituality.
For added dimension, there are illustrations by M.W. Santerre
Black males being traumatized by police stops in Toronto
Here is the lead-in from my October 3 opinion column in Share newspaper:
The Toronto Star has been reporting again on the actions of Toronto police officers regarding the over documenting of Black males in this city. This is a grievous issue, and there does not appear to be any intention on the part of the police to put a stop to it.
The best the Toronto Police Service (TPS) has been able to offer so far is that they will give a receipt to those men that they stop. Not sure what that is supposed to do. This is at best an empty gesture.
The news media do a particular effective job of regularly reminding everyone about what terrible lives Black people live. And, if someone didn’t know any Black people, just their portrayal in the mainstream media alone would make readers wary about getting to know any.
Thankfully, the very core of Share’s purpose is to counter the narrow presentation of the lives of Black people that permeates the mainstream.
Frankly, I do not know any Black people who have committed the kinds of serious crimes that are presented with regularity in the mainstream media. I do not know any individuals who are members of gangs. I do know a lot of hard working, God-fearing Black people who go about each day trying their best to live respectful lives. I know a lot of Black people who would like to spend more time away from being preoccupied with how they are maligned in the public mind.
Share is Canada’s largest ethnic newspaper and is now in its 36th year of publication.
Toronto writer and columnist Pat Watson is the author of In Through A Coloured Lens, available for Kindle, tablet or PC at Amazon.com
This is an audio version of “About Social and Economic Class in The Black Community” read by the author.
Race and class. It’s an interesting mix. Years ago while working at a job with a predominantly White staff, one of them who was wrestling with her own feelings about the Black/White issue proffered that the misunderstanding and mistrust between these two Canadian communities could be attributed not so much to race as it could be to class distinctions. She suggested that fear and mistrust between the two communities were related to the fact that Black people generally belong to a culture dictated by their low incomes which the White, generally middle-class, Toronto populace cannot relate to. She did not make the connection between Black poverty and systemic racism – as if Black people are just naturally inclined to poverty.
In trying to find the root cause of a Black community in crisis, everyone is looking for explanations. Or looking for someone to blame. It’s race hate, some say. Others are convinced it’s the school system along with its recent ‘zero tolerance’ policy. It’s the parents. It’s the police and their disrespectful and aggressive treatment of youth. It’s because Black youth are not living a godly life. It’s the failure of middle-class Black people to reach out and support or give a helping hand to those still languishing in the despair of poverty.
Last week, on a radio call-in program, a caller who identified herself as Black, voiced objection to a high profile pastor’s reference to the problems in “our community”. The caller went to great lengths to distance herself, and her sons, from the criminal and violent actions of youth in low-income areas. “They are not my community,” she said with restrained anger.
The caller stated further that she and her husband raised two sons, one still a teen, the other in his 20s, who have no inclination to participate in the gang lifestyle. When questioned about what she was doing for the Black community she said she was doing her part by supporting a recently arrived Jamaican family trying to adjust to life in Canada.
Anyone who lived in the Caribbean during the 20th Century knows the insistent role of class status there. While arguably less rigid than the British colonial social system upon which it modeled itself — and progressively less so as the century wound down — there were clear distinctions of class. Those distinctions closely paralleled colour discrimination. In fact, there was clear distancing between the various socioeconomic strata in Caribbean society. Those who pulled themselves out of the slave class were anxious to identify with symbols of success. That anxiety to look away from remnants of life in the underclass gave ambition to many and those who didn’t have a gift for making money to buy their way into the upper strata of society saw education — as we do today —as the gateway out of the slums. Once removed, they refused to look back. Consequently, they left behind those who found neither financial nor educational gain. And so it continues.
Here in Canada, Toronto in particular, similar to the culture of (sometimes) subtle, understated racism, distinctions between social and economic classes tend also to be less obvious. But they exist nonetheless. Hence that voice on the radio show, no doubt representative of the many others nodding in agreement that what is happening in low-income housing project neighbourhoods is not their problem, but that of the denizens of those locales.
It raises the question: Am I my brother’s keeper? Many in the Black middle-class do not feel connected to what is making the news these days regarding gang violence, but does it absolve them of responsibility to contribute to solutions in this crisis?
As with many demanding issues in life that are not of one’s making, it is still left to us to deal with them. Assigning blame is useful for knowing the cause or source of the problem, but that is never in and of itself a solution. The problem of Black youth violence, their crippled self-image and the crushing despair that leads them to give life — theirs and ours — so little value is everyone’s problem.