One Perspective of the Moment

17 June 2020

By Edgar

Category:

Elizabeth Birdsall

As an Edgar employee from the US, with a close view of what’s happening there, I was asked if I’d be willing to write a blog post with my perspective on recent events. After some thought, I agreed. That said, I want to make it very clear that this is just my individual perspective. I’m not speaking for anybody else at Edgar, let alone the entire company.

As a white person, I feel strongly that my voice is not a voice that needs to be heard right now; my role is to lift up other voices, to make spaces for Black people and other people of colour to be heard and ensure that they are heeded. But it’s also true that I could be said to have a unique perspective in our company right now.

Except the thing is... my perspective is not actually all that unique.

It’s true that the United States has a very different history than Canada in many ways, and different demographics as well. And, of course, those demographics vary enormously by region in both countries. But it’s also true that our nations’ histories run in parallel in many ways—including the shameful ones. From chattel slavery to selective policing, and from residential schools to redlining, both our countries rest on centuries of structural oppression that continues to shape the lives, and deaths, of all their inhabitants.

If the United States has exploded into #BlackLivesMatter protests nationwide, so has Canada. As I’ve seen protests in Boston from close up, I’ve watched others in Montréal, Québec City and beyond, protesting in outrage and solidarity against homegrown racism and facing violent police crackdowns in response. COVID‑19 has been part of the pressure cooker frustration: marginalized communities have often been hardest hit, and the service workers whose jobs often went from low-status to “essential” without getting any increases in pay or sick leave along the way are disproportionately likely to belong to marginalized minorities. COVID‑19 has also been inextricably part of the risk calculations of protesting in May and June 2020. Overwhelming numbers of people have weighed the risks, donned masks and pocketed hand sanitizer and taken to the streets anyway.

None of this is new, of course. Police brutality did not begin in 2020. Officers didn’t suddenly stop facing consequences for it, either. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Regis Korchinski‑Paquet are recent additions to a shamefully long list of names. Structural racism, unequal policing, the school-to-prison pipeline, police militarization, tolerance of some people’s crimes and violent brutality for others—none of that is new. Efforts to fight it are not new either. Activists, mostly from the same marginalized communities who are most hurt by this, have been doing this work for generations. Protests have been happening, and have been violently suppressed, for generations too.

Black lives matter. They have always mattered. And the laws and civic institutions of the US and Canada—not to mention wide swathes of their populations—have never lived up to that fundamental ethical truth.

This groundswell of public outcry and change may feel sudden to those who have been lucky enough to be insulated from the worst of the problems. Others have been aware of the problem for years, to one extent or another. And to many Black people—not to mention Indigenous people and other people of colour—there has never been a time in their lives when they had the luxury of innocence about systemic, state-enabled oppression and bigotry. The only change—and it’s long past due—is in how widely mainstream that outcry has become.

To my fellow white people, I would say: look local. Educate yourselves on what’s been going on in your community, in the community next door, in the one next door to that. Your neighbourhood, your city, your province or state. Listen to the people who’ve been living this struggle for years, and see what they say about what they need, what they want, what needs to change, what you can do to help. And then speak out to add your voice to support theirs.

Readers who aren’t my fellow white people: for so many reasons, it’s not my place to give you a challenge here. You face enough challenges from white people on a daily basis, and you know what you need a whole lot better than I do.

And finally, a challenge for my fellow translators (myself very much included).

Words are our business, and our passion. So let’s try to be mindful about what we read and watch. Let’s spend more of our free time listening to Black voices and supporting Black creators, who are all too often overlooked or silenced.

Decolonizing our minds, like decolonizing our societies, is both an urgent necessity and a lifelong process. Some of that work is political, some of it requires action, and some of it can be done in the privacy of your own home, with just you and the printed word.

Plus, for those of us who aren’t Black, reading published works is not just a great way to open ourselves to hearing more Black voices. It’s also a way to do that without putting the onus on Black friends to add “educating my non-Black friends on a personally painful and exhausting subject, and hoping they won’t say anything accidentally racist or weird” to their already jam‑packed schedules.

If you’re already doing that—if you’ve been working on this a lot longer than I have—then awesome! Keep it up. And... got any recommendations?

My to-read list is long, but here are a few selections from it:

Books

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Black Writers Matter, ed. Whitney French (an anthology published recently by the University of Regina)

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Counting Descent: Poems by Clint Smith

Faulkner, Mississippi by Édouard Glissant

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Reading Lists

5 Black Canadian Authors You Should Be Reading Right Now (CanCulture, 2019)

10 écrivains afro-québécois qui nous font craquer (Les libraires)

14 must-read works of fiction by black Canadian authors (CBC, 2018)

5 écrivaines noires canadiennes à suivre (Urbania.ca, 2018)

La Littérature afro-québécoise par-delà Dany Laferrière (Le Devoir, 2019)

Lemonade Syllabus: A Collection of Works Celebrating Black Womanhood (Candice Benbow, 2016)

Educate Yourself resources (blacklivesmatters.carrd.co, 2020/ongoing)

That’s some of what’s on my list—what’s on yours?