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What Canadians Have All Wrong About Black Lives Matter Toronto

The group has been criticized for its tactics, so we asked them to address their critics.

by Sierra Bein
Jul 22 2016, 4:22pm


BLMTO at Toronto's 2016 Pride parade. Photo by Mark Blinch/CP

If you've read anything on your phone recently, you know that Black Lives Matter has been in the spotlight as of late. In the past three years, BLM has come to be one of the loudest, most visible, and most unforgiving movements in North America. During last month's Pride Parade in Toronto, the local chapter of the group received considerable heat after staging a protest in the middle of the party—one of the biggest Pride parties in the world. While some in attendance were angry and/or confused, the Pride protest provided the flashpoint for many other discussions and opinions surrounding BLM in Toronto and across the country, particularly amid the ongoing tensions in the US.

BLM has had to answer to a lot of accusations, and haters but have continued to push in their fight for black liberation. VICE spoke to a few of the co-founders of BLMTO about some of the most common (and most annoying) misconceptions that people think of when it comes to the group.


Photo via Facebook

Janaya Khan, Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter Toronto

VICE: What's one of the most common misconceptions about BLM that you've heard?
Janaya Khan: I think that one of the major misconceptions is that we're only fighting for black liberation. This is true of Black Lives Matters in general but especially in Canada, the idea that we could only fight for that in this context is absurd. Especially with Black Lives Matter on Indigenous land. The relationships that we built with some of the community there were so transformational that we ended up being in solidarity with their occupy INAC action.

How are these misconceptions pulling away from the truth of the issue?
That genuine misconception is, "Oh, you only care about black lives." Which is why you see something like #AllLivesMatter in response. Three years in, we understand that people who continue and persist in saying #AllLivesMatter are viciously trying to silence an entire population of people and their allies. It's a racist rant and it's a derailment. At this point in time we know that people who say #AllLivesMatter are not saying it out of confusion or ignorance. But they're saying it because they genuinely do not agree that black lives have inherent value, has inherent meaning, and that us fighting for the acknowledgement that black lives matter is akin to terrorism.

Have you seen an increase of people making a comparison to something like terrorism in the past year or so?
Oh, absolutely. When you are using language about a sit-in at Pride... For people to use language like we "kept Pride hostage," we "hijacked Pride"... I think when we're seeing those types of narratives particularly when we have people who are Muslim-identified on our team, and when we have been building solidarity with Muslim populations, and we've been shutting down Islamophobia. I think the implications are really clear. And you know it's fascinating if you're looking at it across the border. There's a White House petition. A genuine petition in the White House to have the White House label BLM as a terrorist group. It has about 180,000 signatures.

How do you deal with people who think these things and have these misconceptions?
I don't really put a lot of stock of energy into [racist people] anymore. However, I do think it is a role of our allies in this. To really interrupt those narratives and to challenge them because I'll tell you something. I remember when I was in London when Paris was burning... Shortly there after, a man pushed—right at the station I was using to get around—a man had pushed a Muslim woman into an oncoming train.

Yeah, I remember that.
Right? So for me it's this: Nobody just gets to that place. Nobody just gets to the place where they push a Muslim woman into a train. They said things before. They've articulated Islamophobic or racist remarks to their friends and they've cut a Muslim woman or Muslim person off in conversation or in a line. These types actions uninterrupted without intervention eventually lead to someone pushing a Muslim woman into an oncoming train and we all have a responsibility to interrupt that.


Photo via Facebook

Sandy Hudson, Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter Toronto

VICE: What is the most common or annoying misconception that people have about BLM?
Sandy Hudson: I think it's that the only we that we work on are issues of police brutality. I get frustrated when I hear BLM both internationally and locally portrayed that way. That's obviously something that we're working on that's very, very visible... and that's because it's still very urgent, it's about death.

Do you think that people referring to police brutality so quickly is because of some of the recent events that have taken place? And just a lot of events that have happened in the past year? That have gotten more media attention, I should say.
Yeah, I think so. I think that's maybe because the media is very interested in conflict. It's not that we haven't put out press releases on other things, it's that this is what always gets the media attention. For whatever reason, people are not so interested when we're talking about education or experience in school and so on, we have to do a little bit more pulling of teeth to get the media to pay attention to that.

How is this misconception damaging to the truth of the message that BLM is trying to convey?
I don't know that it's necessarily damaging. But I do think that people use it in an attempt to say that we are short-sighted or do not consider other issues. Even if we were only focusing on that—as if we only focused on one particular issue, means that we don't understand the way that the forces of oppression interlock, intersect people with black identities.

Is there another mistake that's maybe commonly made about the organization?
I think that during Pride it was very obvious that people think of us as only able to have one identity. Which was really painful and frustrating. The idea that because we're black, we can't be queer, or have a concern for other marginalized identities that we might hold. And that is really painful and, I don't know... it just seemed silly and destructive to really position the idea of black liberation as outside of any other type of organizing. What a way to marginalize people. I expect more from society and I was really disappointed that was something that wasn't obvious.

Speaking of misconceptions, that reporter (CTV's John Musselman) who made the Santa Clause parade comment post-Pride in that interview...
I think that certain elements of the media don't think of us as savvy, like think we don't know how to interact with the media, so are more comfortable showing weird biases and lack of ethical consideration within their journalism. I went up to talk to him directly and wanted to know what his name was, I wanted to know who he was representing when he said that. And so I asked him, "Who are you?" and he at first refused to tell me what media outlet he was from and what his name was. And that, as a journalist, is a huge lack of integrity and ethics. My goodness.

Why do you think some of these misconceptions have become so popular? In both the media and among people.
Quite frankly, Black Lives Matter has no position to be held accountable to the public in any way. We're a group of people who are like, "stuff is wrong in our society" and we should be able to live and make mistakes... but our politicians have real accountability to us and it seems as as though people want to talk about and the media wants to talk about us as an organization, the same way they should want to talk about politicians. It just doesn't make any sense.

Photo by CP/Mark Blinch

Alexandria Williams, Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter Toronto

VICE: What is, in your opinion, the most common or annoying misconception that people have about BLM?
Alexandria Williams: The militarism one. The one being that there's always this conversation around even when we talk about our tactics, it's the look of our tactics. And when we think of black revolution it's always been this very uniformed, very concise, very well organized front. And I think people are so afraid of what that means when you have a community that's actively organizing... that it has to take on this notion that it's a militarized group, a militant group. When literally it's just—we're stylish. Especially the liberation of blacks, there's always been some sort of beauty or artistic organization into the way that we organize.

Is there any misconception that you see Canadians making that you don't see in America?
I think the one thing that we always seem to get hit with is this notion that police killing black folk out here aren't the same as the States. And I think the reason for that is because we don't have the statistical data that we need to prove to the mass public of what's going on... compared to the States where you can have access to the videos, you can have access to the officers names, you can have access to the autopsy if you want to. We only have the fact that we know these people personally, and we see this, and this is a reality of being black in Toronto.

I've seen a lot of accusations saying that BLM doesn't address black on black violence or crime. Can you talk a bit on that?
There've been people in the community that have been doing work in communities way before the inception of BLMTO. There are so many ways that that question is so complex and how it minimizes not only the work that BLM is doing but the work that our community has been doing, and our elders have been doing way before us.

You've been criticized by some in the black community for being too academic and not a part of the community, do you think that's fair?
This is something I've heard about more recently and I feel like when people say not a part of the community because of academia it's a distraction almost. When we look at the work of BLMTO a lot of our stuff has been direct action, a lot of it has been outside of academia, a lot of it has been community-based in consultation.

I think there's something to be said about critical analysis and shallow critique. I'm also not about using standards of whiteness to understand where we sit in communities. Saying that... academia is a very white system, and to use that as a way to hold us to some sort of standard is not something I want to subscribe to. The work that we've done for communities speaks for itself.

Since we're talking about misconceptions, do you mind talking a bit about the reporter who made that Santa Claus parade comment to you? I think he had some fairly obvious misconceptions.
Even look who's saying that... we have this white cis man, who is comparing Pride to the Santa Clause parade. That in itself is showing a complete ignorance and unwillingness to give an actual fuck about the communities that they're reporting. we have this man in his cis privilege, in his white privilege, come in and say to a group of queer, black, trans and women folk, "First off let's compare this parade that means something to a group, to something that's completely fictional."

Why do you think that some of the issues and misconceptions that we covered have become so common in the past year?
As the movement grows, and reaches more people, so will the counter movement. If what you're hearing for the first time is new to you, and informs you of privileges and bringing things out like classism and talking about anti-blackness, it can definitely make you feel uncomfortable. So if it makes you feel uncomfortable you're going to go search for something that makes you feel more included. And I think that's lack of education and lack of knowledge but it's also this need to feel a part of something. And that's the same thing that we're trying to do by exclaiming that our lives matter.

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