October 2020 / Toronto
“Because Black women were among the most marginalized people in this country, their political struggles brought them into direct conflict with the intertwined malignancies of capitalism- racism, sexism and poverty. Thus the women of the C.R.C. (Combahee River Collective) believed that if Black women were successful in their struggles and movements, they would have an impact far beyond their immediate demands. As they put it, ‘If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be fee since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.’”
The New Yorker (July 2020)
There is a sense of resignation setting in as we head into the fall season and what is fast becoming a peaking second wave of COVID-19 infections. The numbers are alarming, although the health impact on the vast majority of those who are showing up positive - the under forties - isn’t as severe as it was for seniors at the beginning of the pandemic. We are awaiting the release of data from the cities that have begun the collection of disaggregated race and other demographic information. The province has also committed to collecting this data. It is expected that the story of this wave will be a mirror to the first in terms of the communities and young people most affected - poor, Black, Indigenous, racialized, women and people living with varying abilities.
The numbers have been telling the story of the second pandemic - racism. Anti-Black racism in particular. I think it is accurate to say that not since the height of the civil rights and African liberation movements of the sixties and seventies here in North America have there been such public discussions and actions - some bold like the defund the police and prison abolition movements. Others necessary and practical like public policy changes to ensure more workers (primarily women, racialized, immigrant/refugee and young) can access employment insurance and other income security programs, development of new programs and services to respond to emerging community needs including the rise in violence against women and most important, resources - funding to support these programs and the ecosystem of community supports.
This heightened awareness of anti-Black and other racisms is especially present in the non-profit, For-Public-Benefit sectors. In the days following the public murder of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis, the still unexplained fatal fall of Regis Korchinski-Paquet from her family’s apartment in the city of Toronto, and the still fresh loss of Breonna Taylor, killed by the Louisville, Kentucky police while sleeping in her bed, in her home, my inbox was flooded with requests for workshops on anti-racism and invitations to speak on panels, and the Council’s various social media accounts were tagged in posted statements professing various organizations’ stance against anti-Black and other racisms. Some were performative. Most were well-meaning.
Throughout those weeks I was numb with grief and anger; resented what felt like an intrusion into my mourning and resisting with my people. Resented that my non-Black colleagues and friends and acquaintances wouldn’t know that accumulating murders of Black people in North America by state agents particularly would be traumatizing for us, and as such we were not about to speak with white and other non-Black folx about our pain for their education. As we sat in grief, we were being asked to teach and offer solutions to having the metaphoric boot removed from our collective Black necks.
But while some of the public statements of solidarity were clearly performative, there was and is a real shift happening on the ground in the discussions and actions taking place. There is organizing happening at various levels on cross cutting issues with overlapping and solidarity building strategies. A broad-based intersectional anti-racism, anti-colonial, open borders movement is being built from coast to coast to coast and the non-profit sector has an important role to play.
Many organizations have taken pause and are beginning the work of looking within. They’re hearing the words of those committed to the liberation of African peoples and the building of a decolonized Canada. They’re hearing and acknowledging that solidarity statements are not enough and that actions must be taken to create organizations whose governance and executive decision-making levels are racially and otherwise diverse without being tokenistic.
This means reviewing and changing how we do business. It means educating hiring committees and being explicit in human resources policies about employment equity practices. It means making language of equity hiring, retention and promotion a priority during bargaining of Collective Agreements. It means putting into action, workers’ solidarity. It means bringing alive the mission and mandate of ‘for public good’ organizations and agencies. It means acknowledging that anti-racism- anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racisms are ‘public goods’.
Statements of solidarity to Black, Indigenous and racialized communities are important but not enough if our shared goals are to dismantle existing systems and co-create ways of living together that are grounded in equity of opportunity and outcomes; to develop systems that move us to liberation and freedom. To joy.
As non-profits and especially as associations and umbrella organizations, we must strengthen our policy advocacy, amplifying our collective rage at systems that create vulnerabilities and marginalizations. We must use our privileged locations within civil society and in relation to government to speak out against systems that enable and uphold those who do violence to those most in need of protection. We must advocate for public policies that create floors and not ceilings. We must take responsibility for building a non-profit and NGO sector that is proactively antiracist and anti-colonial.
I am hopeful in this political moment, despite the glaring inequities that the pandemic continues to shine light on, that we are building a movement locally, nationally and globally, that will remake this world into one where freedom is the watchword.