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Black Lives Matter. Tweets don't.

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On April 5, Jerry Agar, a conservative talk radio host on CFRB "found" a Tweet from Black Lives Matter TO (BLMT) co-founder, Yusra Khogali from February 9 in which she asked Allah for strength "to not cuss/kill these men and white folks out here today."

Subsequently, BLMT co-founder Sandy Hudson appeared on the breaking news channel CP24 refusing to respond to Khogali's tweet. Other media outlets in Toronto, such as City News, also posed the question, "Black lives matter...but the lives of 'men and white folks' do not?"

As a Black woman living in Toronto, and as a scholar and writer of Black Canadian history, I am compelled to confront what I see as an agenda to turn a tweet into the "aha" moment when white folk (men in particular) in Toronto are supposed to come to the realization that BLMT doesn't matter.

First, any comment made on social media taken out of its historical context needs to be questioned. Was it right for Khogali to espouse an intent to act violent against white folks or men? Of course not. But, is it appropriate for a media professional to take her comments out of context and not ask questions of what happened on this particular day to Khogali? That is, do we know if an act of violence was inflicted upon her by white folk and perhaps her response, while incendiary and ill-thought, was purely reactionary?

We do not have answers to these questions. All we have is a media frenzy to delegitimize the BLMT movement based on the "findings" from one radio talk show host.

Who mentioned police?

It is no coincidence that Mr. Agar felt compelled to release this nugget of information when he did. His revelation came just one day after BLMT moved its protest from outside Toronto police headquarters to the doorsteps of Queen's Park, and Premier Kathleen Wynne.

On April 4, Wynne left her office and held an impromptu meeting with BLMT demonstrators outside Queen's Park. In many ways, we have to applaud her for at a minimum engaging, not ignoring, the movement (unlike police Chief Mark Saunders, who is also Black, whose silence has been deafening).

Furthermore, when she, at the urging of protesters, said publicly that there is anti-Black racism in Ontario society, many, myself included, felt relieved that finally a public official dared to admit to an empirical fact. She made no specific reference to Toronto Police.

And yet, just one day later, the president of the Toronto Police Association, Mike McCormack, spoke publicly that he was upset at Wynne's statement. According to McCormack, she was talking about policing, and inferring that Toronto police have anti-Black policies. "We're very troubled by that," McCormack is quoted.

Given that BLMT had made their presence irrefutably known on the steps of police headquarters for over two weeks, it is very perplexing that when public comments by an elected official appeared to besmirch the reputation of Toronto police, only then did McCormack feel "troubled." His amnesia to the fact of anti-Black racism is what is truly troubling.

Second, it is vitally important that racialized people confront accusations of Black racism. In addition to "stumbling" on Khogali's tweet, Agar also referred to it as "racist." Are her comments offensive? Absolutely. Are they racist? Absolutely not.

Racism is about power. Khogali is not to be applauded for her comments because the truth is, there are white people who are aligned with BLMT, who agree that anti-black racism is a problem and want to be part of the solution, not the problem.

But, to suggest that her comments reflect, on her part, an ability to systematically and institutionally, overtly or covertly, assert power over or discriminate against white people is outrageous at best. At worst, it is a reflection of how the new racism works -- by aggrandizing the comments of one racialized person, we avoid real issues of racial discrimination and shut down any attempts to confront, and call out widespread social inequality.

The numbers don't lie

For the past eight years, the Toronto Star has consistently reported on empirical evidence that anti-Black racism exists in Ontario's institutions.

In 2008, the Star reported that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Canada's largest school board, had a 40 per cent dropout rate among Black students. In 2013, the Star also reported that Black students in the TDSB were three times more likely to be suspended than white students. Further, Black students make up only about 12 per cent of high school students in the Toronto public board -- about 32,000 -- yet account for more than 31 per cent of all suspensions.

In the realm of social justice, the numbers are equally as disproportionate. 

A Star analysis of Ontario jail data, obtained by University of Toronto doctoral candidate Akwasi Owusu-Bempah through freedom of information requests in 2013 found several alarming results, namely that Black (and Indigenous) inmates disproportionately fill Ontario jails. The investigation found that in Ontario, there are, proportionally, four times more Black boys, aged 12 to 17, in the young male jail population than what they represent in the general young male population. But for white boys and boys of other ethnicities, there is no such overrepresentation.

As such, when media personalities and police spokesmen want to deny anti-Black racism, they need to provide answers to the above. Or are we to entertain turn-of-the-twentieth-century discussions about the supposed "inherent" criminality of blacks versus whites?

Although the principles of eugenics and social Darwinism have long been refuted, we need to question and push back against persons in positions of power at our institutions who want to turn a spotlight on tweets (however in appropriate we may find them) and turn a blind eye to systemic and institutional anti-Black practices that exist -- the numbers are unequivocal.

Should BLMT have removed the tweet and refused to address it? No. They should have addressed it not with emotion or victimization but with thought and evidence. We must confront the media and police with facts, not prose. But it is imperative that we do so with love, not hate.

As Frantz Fanon once said, "Hate is not inborn; it has to be constantly cultivated, to be brought into being ...hate demands existence, and he who hates has to show his hate in appropriate actions and behavior; in a sense, he has to become hate."

We need BLMT, but we cannot hate others (or ourselves) and love our community. In the end, that is the ultimate form of self-destruction. For the movement to continue to make the great strides that it has already made, it must respond to claims of racism not ignore them.

In order to dismantle the master's house -- racism -- one must acquire the master's tools and, most importantly, know how to use them.


Cheryl Thompson has a PhD from McGill University. She is the 2015-2016 Recipient of the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship which she holds at the University of Toronto. She also teaches courses on Black Canadian Studies, Visual Culture, Media and Identity, and Transnational Feminism. She can be found on Twitter @DrCherylT.

Photo: David Coombs

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