The end of 2014 was a contradictory mishmash of feelings: anger, frustration, optimism and hope. All feelings shared by many around me whom I know and even more folks whom I do not know. From Lagos to New York; from Toronto to Johannesburg we heard the shouts of ‘Black Lives Matter' as Africans in the diaspora bore the brunt of violence against their (primarily) male bodies and bore witness to the callous disregard shown to Black lives by the responses of the systems – legal, political, economic and social.
In Canadian cities like Toronto, it is the Black and Brown bodies that continue to be over-policed, to be harassed, to be killed. It is the bodies of those challenged by mental health issues that we cry over too often. In the West of our country particularly, it is the bodies of indigenous women- First Nations, Metis, Inuit that we mourn while not forgetting that indigenous men are also incarcerated, abused and harassed at unconscionable rates. It is the bodies of the poor, sleeping on the street men and women who we must ask for forgiveness because there is no excuse for anyone to die on our streets from lack of adequate shelter and care.
The news to begin the year wasn't what we wanted to hear either: Increasing tensions as the world watched the tragic murders of women and men in France and the massacre of hundreds in northern Nigeria all in the name of a perverted claim to Islam. We watched the world rally around the European deaths – ‘Je suis Charlie' signs and invocations everywhere (without any critical thought to the oftentimes racist content of the magazine; an analysis that is needed in times like this while we rightly condemn the actions of those who pulled the trigger), while voices (for the most part) were silent about the African deaths. ‘Black lives matter'.
The killing of two members of our Canadian security forces in 2014 has increased security concerns here in Canada as well, and we are witnessing the arrests of young men thought to have been ‘radicalized'. While I want to be safe as the next person we must ask what is it that leads our young Canadian women and men to disassociate themselves from this identity of Canadian? What is lacking or absent in their lives that they do not identify with ‘us' and the values of democracy, religious freedom, equality that we claim to espouse?
These and other important questions have all been placed on the public agenda: How do we balance national security with our civil liberties? How do we remain vigilant so that our laws and policies- immigration, criminal justice, etc.,- are not made so restrictive and invasive that we imprison ourselves by our fears of the perceived Other? How do we have civil and productive conversations about Race, Class, Religion/Faith and Gender and their various convergences, so that we move to solutions that are systemic and result in spaces where equity is the default position?
There are reasons to be hopeful. New, young, politically articulate, creative leadership has emerged and continues to emerge. From ‘Idle No More' to ‘Black Lives Matter', marginalized communities and nations are seeing their political, economic and social agenda advanced by young women and men committed to social justice. Their articulation of the Cause may look, sound and feel different from the protest movements of decades ago but they are determined. And they are effective. They have captured the imagination of their peers and their elders and there is a renewed sense of political activism grounded in the belief that equity, and the dignity of all lives are worth fighting for.
2015 may well be the year that ‘All Lives Matter'. The road ahead is anything but even and smooth. There are complex social, economic and political issues to grapple with. We are experiencing a seismic cultural shift in Canada, a new articulation of who we are as a country and nation. A new relationship with first peoples, increasing reliance on immigrants with the source increasingly from the global south, a claiming of country and nation by second, third, fourth generations of racialized Canadians expecting to see themselves in the vision of Canada; all point to change. Change is on the way and the question for all of us remains, which side of his/herstory will you be on?