Histories of anti-Blackness in Canada and today's social movements

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Histories of anti-Blackness in Canada and today's social movements

Robyn Maynard is a Black feminist writer and long-time anti-authoritarian organizer who has been active in movements around racial profiling, police violence, migrant justice, sex worker rights, and harm reduction, mostly in Montreal. Since the publication of her book Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present (Fernwood Publishing, 2017), she has been doing launch events and speaking engagements in communities across the country. Scott Neigh interviews Maynard about the book, and about what she has learned via conversation with activists and organizers in the course of her touring about the book's uptake in movement contexts and about the state of Black struggles in Canada today.

Since its release in 2017, Policing Black Lives has been reviewed favourably, read widely, and discussed extensively. Its positive reception has spanned the range from glowing coverage in many of Canada's mainstream newspapers to praise as "meticulously-researched and compelling" by legendary African American feminist scholar and activist Angela Davis, and it has been a Canada-wide bestseller.

As the title promises, the book traces the long history of how Black people have been surveilled, policed, and subjected to state violence in Canada. One of its central tasks is linking the many ways and contexts in which anti-Blackness is experienced in this country today to their roots in slavery and other features of anti-Black oppression that were integral to society in what is now Canada in earlier centuries. Not only does it blow apart the myth that such things don't happen here, but it makes it clear that anti-Blackness is no latter-day import from the U.S. but homegrown and deeply-rooted in Canada.

The book looks not only at the more commonly recognized sites and impacts of anti-Black state violence, such as targeting by the criminal justice system, but also other institutional sites where Black lives are policed and Black people are subjected to harm, like schools, the immigration system, and the child welfare system. It explicitly pays attention to the ways in which state violence is experienced by Black women, Black trans and gender non-conforming people, Black queer people, Black people with disabilities, and various other intersections with Blackness. It does all of this by building on the work of generations of Black scholars and writers – work largely excluded from mainstream narratives of this country – and by drawing from the many research reports done over the years in Canada on Black experience and anti-Black racism that have been commissioned, released, and then studiously ignored by officials.

As a result of the enthusiastic reception that Policing Black Lives has received, Maynard has been engaged in what amounts to a non-stop book tour since it was released, and has done speaking engagements and book launch events in communities across Canada. The book itself is not focused on questions of resistance and struggle (though of course it acknowledge how crucial resistance is), but one of the key features of this last year for Maynard has been the opportunity that this has provided for her to meet and talk with activists and organizers, particularly Black activists and organizers, from across the country. Sometimes they have presented along side her, and almost always there has been engagement and dialogue that have allowed her to learn about local struggles and develop a grounded sense of how this moment of resurgent Black struggle is playing out across Canada. It has also been an opportunity to engage in dialogue about the ideas in the book with activists and organizers who ground their grassroots political work in a wide range of movements.

Image: The image modified for use in this post was produced by Stacy Lee Photography and is used with the permission of Robyn Maynard.


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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