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Reflecting on Race and Anti-Black Racism

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Reflecting on Race and Anti-Black Racism
By: George J. Sefa Dei
HISTORIC “BLACK LIVES MATTER” RALLY
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I vividly remember years back someone insisting to me that those of us who speak and write about race and racism are fomenting a problem rather than ensuring peacefully that everyone gets along. This was as if to say the two stances are opposed to each other.


To get to peace and social harmony, we must be frank, speak about our pain, suffering, the violence, and injustices while also not hiding race, racism, and social oppression under the sink. Our silences will not protect us from the injuries of racism and anti-Blackness. In fact, this same person wondered whether this focus on race and anti-racism is what gives some of us our academic jobs.


The sad truth is that within our communities, there has been so much denial around race and structural racism to the extent that people either shy away from matters of race or become very defensive whenever we mention race and structural racism. Once confronted, there is either a push back or denial that we perpetuate these harms. Unfortunately, we can be tempted into the space of cowardice, making excuses for hate and violence. We have not always pursued frank and honest discussions on these matters.


As Black and African peoples, we should never apologize for speaking out about race, racism and anti-Blackness. We must talk about race and racism and fight to address anti-Black racism through concrete action and meaningful practice. Long ago, authors James Scheurich and Michelle Young, in their writings highlighted important aspects of systemic racism which signalled overt and hidden racisms built on ideas and ideologies of the superiority of Western civilization.


Their contributions alluded to institutionalized racism as involving the modus operandi and every­ day functioning of societal structures (schools, courts, media, the criminal justice system, health, and the workforce, etc.) that privilege dominant bodies while disadvantaging Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and racialized communities. Such readings are linked with forms of 'societal racism', the entrenched everyday public conversations and practices that operate on a wider scale to favor White people. We know that structural racism embraces foundational knowledges that herald Western hegemony hiding behind objectivity.


For example, the contestation that our institutions such as courts and legal systems, schools, and workplaces are fair, value-free, and objective; and that within these spaces one can move ahead strictly based on fairness expressed through 'merit', 'excellence' and 'hard work'.

GEORGE J. SEFA DEI
[Nana Adusei Sefa Tweneboah] Professor of Social Justice Education

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education University of Toronto

Westernized objectivity leaves an inherently problematic assumption that we can all agree on what is 'right' and 'wrong' and that such narratives as, 'treating everybody the same' or promoting 'social justice for all' by upholding equal opportunity and colour blindness is the 'right thing' to do. Treating everyone the same can be an ideal of our society that we should all aspire to achieve. How­ ever, we know this to be impossible and that history and context complicate matters for us all.

The privilege of history places us in different positions and locations, implying that we should look carefully at existing historic inequities and target responses to those most disadvantaged to level playing fields. I have always insisted on a need to acknowledge the severity of issues for certain bodies in our communities, and that history and context matter in everything. Furthermore, there are always competing claims to know, having access to power and privilege, and our every social interaction and practice reveal relations of domination and subordination.

A discussion of structural racism necessarily entails working with the underpinnings of race. It is racism that makes race real. In recent years, globally, we are all conscious of race and racism. This is relevant and good even if we ask why now? Resistance to the denial of race and racism has always been liminal, a space in which we have been silenced, but also, expected to speak out. Recent events, particularly, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020, and the oppressive policing practices of communities, including shootings of unarmed Black men and women have been a rallying cry for action.

Black lives should matter to everyone. To us, as Black and African peoples, we have to continually insist on the very decent idea that 'Black lives matter' [BLM] no more, no less! Why do we have to? It is a humane or moral thing to do and appreciate and therefore, we should not have to protest that our lives matter.

So, to those who insist on the anti-Black statement, 'all lives matter', let us get it straight. Of course, the truth is all lives matter. But not all lives have really mattered, and Black lives have not been understood to fall under "all lives". So, until Black lives matter, we cannot in good faith and con­ science be crying 'all lives matter'. When we juxta­ pose 'all lives matter' with 'Black lives matter' it is a denial that speaks to anti-Black racism. For Black lives to matter, we as Black and African peoples in our daily conversations and practices must conjoin structural racism, anti-racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Blackness, and anti-African racism from our diverse perspectives.

We recognize the Land on which we protest, speak our pain, and suffering acknowledging our ancestors and Elders who have fought this battle before us. As it is said in Mozambique, Angola, and Zimbabwe - every classroom is a space where people [our ancestors] had to fight to liberate. We must always fight to liberate our spaces from violence, hatred, injustice, and suppression. We must not forget the role of Black and African activists in history, advocating for good education, health, environmental justice, economic justice, and working in solidarity with Indigenous communities for Indigenous sovereignty and other oppressed peoples for human dignity.

Today, BLM has made us more aware of the global fights for Black life, the treatment of Blackness in global communities, erasures and slippages in Black experiences, racial criminalization of Black bodies, and the bio-politics of Blackness that release a repulsion, undesirability of Black citizens and bodies in our communities, as well as the disciplining and social control of Black bodies and perceived Black transgressions.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

George J. Sefa Dei
George J. Sefa Dei [Nana Adusei Sefa Tweneboah] Professor of Social Justice Education
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education University of Toronto

Email: george.dei@utoronto.ca

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