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BLM-TO's Action at Pride Criticized Using... Inclusivity Rhetoric?!
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Black Lives Matter Toronto marches at Pride as 2016's Honoured Group on Sunday July 3rd. Photo: Fatin Chowdhury
Black Lives Matter Toronto's demands of Pride Toronto. Signed by Pride's executive director on July 3, 2016, when BLM-TO stopped the Pride parade to raise concerns about Pride.
The backlash to Black Lives Matter Toronto's action at the Pride parade points to two intertwined characteristics dogging Canada.
One is liberalism. Liberalism is the philosophical basis of inclusion, the concept many have used denounce BLM-TO, a queer and trans led group, from seeking to "exclude" police.
Exclusion in this case, to be clear, refers to BLM-TO's demand that police won't ride armed and in uniform on floats at Pride. They can still attend out of uniform, and many will be employed in armed uniform guiding the protest.
This, some say, goes against the dominant narrative that we are an inclusive place here in Canada. This belief in inclusion currently goes beyond a "we should be" and sits more in "we are" territory. We have overcome all oppressions and everything is totally fair, the belief goes. All we have to do is play by the rules. Any time established rules (eg laws) or decisions (eg job applications, court decisions) go against a specific demographic (like when Black and Indigenous are sent to jail in disproportionately high numbers), that is seen an aberration. Those are hiccups in an otherwise fair society with equal opportunities, the story goes. History is not relevant in liberalism because things are fair now, even if they weren't in some distant-seeming past. It is ahistorical, and is only concerned with including everyone in the fair, level playing-field present.
The other concept is white supremacy. It is the erroneous belief that white people are superior to others. It is also the founding principle of the British and French colonies in Canada, of continued land dispossession from Indigenous peoples, of slavery (ongoing in parts of the world), of dispossessing Black populations in Canada and moving them to marginal lands, of environmental racism, of residential schools, of sweatshop labour, of precarious migrant labour, of corporations headquartered in Canada pillaging other parts of the world. Et cetera.
Canadian society was set up as a white supremacist system. The institutions, the government, the media, the police, the immigration policies, the whole shebang. Much of the white supremacist structures and culture still stands, and is propagated onto new generations. This often happens unwittingly and with minor transformations to disguise it (eg the shift from chattel slavery to indentured servitude). These histories, for example of how wealth accumulated along racial divides, is relevant to how the world works today. It contributes to white privilege.
Okay, so these two concepts - liberalism and white supremacy - seem to be irreconcilable. White supremacy is obviously unfair, but liberalism claims to be totally fair. Thing is, they can co-exist easily if people believe white supremacist structures and attitudes have been eradicated.
Which it is not the case.
This has serious implications for liberalism. Those who follow liberal thinking must pretend white supremacy is not a serious force anymore, is negligible, in order for liberalism to have legitimacy. This necessary ignorance of turning a blind eye actually acts to reinforce the status quo, which is a white supremacist one.
So, liberalism is a lie.
But it is a lie that is strongly held in Canada, and reinforced by basically all media, including the gold standards for the WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) upper classes: the Globe and Mail and the CBC.
So where's the relevance to Black Lives Matter Toronto's Pride action? BLM-TO, as a reminder, acted to fight for a Pride that supports the most marginalized members of Toronto's queer community.
Okay, what strikes me is how the backlash has used the language of liberalism. It is veiled anti-black / white supremacist rhetoric, but many people seem to honestly believe they are upholding good (liberal) values.
(I give the benefit of the doubt here in saying hat many are well-intentioned because it must be noted that the backlash has also looked like overt white supremacism, with BLM-TO having racist slurs thrown at them, which is a scary reality that deserves attention too.)
So if liberalism and white supremacy are fused, as they are currently, media outlets can re-inforce white supremacy by simply pumping out liberal worldview as a critique to people confronting white supremacy.
Case-in-point was Rosemary Barton of CBC's Power and Politics interviewing Rodney Diverlus of BLM-TO on Monday. Barton was quite adamant about the idea of inclusion, telling the queer Black person she was interviewing to, "put aside your problems for a minute" and that "[the Toronto Police] are inclusive and want to be viewed well by the gay community." Barton, reaching peak liberalism, argued that queer Black activists shouldn't exclude police from things, out of principle. This is like scolding someone for not inviting an armed group that severely bullies them to the party they started.
But there it is. The police, wanting to be seen as inclusive, are deemed inclusive by Barton. With no actual work required other than a gesture at inclusivity (rainbow cars!), they are the good institution. They have passed liberalism's bar.
Remember though, this is also a white supremacist bar.
To break out the combined grip of liberalism and white supremacy, a rejection is necessary. The current lie of liberalism needs to be exposed. But people are going to hold onto it strongly, well-meaning white people especially. This has been hyper-visible in the days since the action. People far outside of the Toronto queer community have hurled liberalism-based criticism at BLM-TO. Straight white people have been appalled that a group would upsetting the liberal status quo somewhere, anywhere.
It is going to take a lot of work before we are able to see beyond the veil of liberalism to see the white supremacist reality of Canada. The Pride backlash proved it. The path to freedom, where those who have been most marginalized get what they need, where the beautiful dream in which we can honestly say "all lives matter" is realized, is going to take a lot more than "you can sit with us" slogans if backed only by empty inclusion rhetoric.
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