President’s Statement On Racial Injustice

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Dear fellow members of the uOttawa Community,

Over the past week, we have watched and stood together as the world once again  watched  another one of our brothers be senselessly murdered in an act of racial violence.I have taken my time to gather my thoughts and reflect on this situation not only as a black man, but also as President of the UOSU, and as a leader, a black leader. To my peers in the black community, I want you to know that I hear you and I feel the same pain you feel.

As we witnessed the deaths of Oscar Grant, Travyon Martin, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and so, so many more in the US, in Canada, we’ve also seen the deaths of Michael Eglion, Sammy Yatim, Andrew Loku, d’Andre Campbell, Abdirahman Abdi, Regis Korchinski Paquet, Chantel Moore, the beating of Dafonte Miller, and again so many more.These are BIPOC people who were given a death sentence for being born as they were.

I sat tormented by my own silence, as I watched the Premiers Ford of Ontario and Legault of Québec denying the institutional racism that so many individuals have suffered throughout their entire lives. Dear Premier Legault, Premier Ford. When our names are enough to get our job application denied, when our skin tone means we get incarcerated at a higher rate, when our mothers warn us to ‘behave’, not because they worry about us, because what they might do to us, is this not racism to you?. From the hundreds of years of cultural genocide towards Indigenous people, the overrepresentation of BIPOC among the victims of police brutality, to the excessive use of force on the Wet’suwet’en land defenders recently, it is clear that Canada has a history of discrimination.

I was further horrified as I sat for 21 seconds, watching the prime minister standing speechless, refusing to call our Southern neighbours out for their violent response to demands of racial equality. The words of our leaders come out hollow without concrete action. Inaction is complicity.

As I think of those of our community who die at the hands of police brutality, I could not help but thinking of my brother. What if this were him? What would I do? How would I react? How could I protect him? How would I fight for him, and what would I say? I thought of George Floyd who had called for his mother, as his life was being taken from him. My mother could never go through something like this. I thought of my father, who, after suffering through a stroke, has aphasia and would not be able to communicate with the officers. What would they do to him? I thought of my little sister, who can be a hothead sometimes but has a beautiful heart. As horrible as those thoughts were, they reflect a reality I had grown to learn. From childhood, we are made to be aware of our blackness. The more I experience, the more I realize that the first thing people will always see is my skin colour.

I am a man ‘of colour’ and my life will always be different because of this. I will always have to try harder in school and be on my best behaviour. I will be followed in stores, I will encounter the police a few times in my life, and I should always be careful, listen and comply. I was also raised to be proud of who I am, and what my roots were. I am the descendant of Almamy Samory Touré, a man who actively fought colonialism . Yet, I could not resign myself to a reality where even though I tried my best and behaved like a model citizen, I could still be murdered for the colour of my skin. As a black person, I deserve to live a life with dignity and to live without the fear of oppression, or to be beaten, mistreated, or killed by the very person trained to protect me.

Considering the year our University has had when it comes to the racial profiling and carding incidents on our campus, having it be referred to as a “good crisis”, the recent finding of the Human Rights Office, we have yet to see definite actions from the administration. We need a more diverse faculty, culturally sensitive staff and counselors, raced-based data on violent incidents and arrests on campus. We need to have real dialogue, real conversations, where we face our truths and challenge white supremacy.

I want to take a moment to recognize and highlight the work of the Black Student Leader’s Association (BSLA) and their continuous efforts towards making this campus safer and more welcoming for Black students. I also want to recognize the allies who have recognized and used their privilege to support and advocate alongside the black community. Thousands came out on Friday’s march in Ottawa, which was truly a sight to see, and a hopeful sign for things to come. Though I am black, I recognize that my experience may not be universal and is limited to my experience as a black heterosexual man, and I commit to educating myself about ways to further support my Black community.

As President of the UOSU, I have the unique opportunity to use my platform to vocalize the challenges faced by the black community and advocate to eradicate racism and discrimination from our campus. We will dedicate funds to fight  anti-black racism as well as organizing a virtual event for black students to come together. The UOSU is collaborating with Equity Roundtable and recognized student governments (RSGs) across campus to launch a comprehensive database of resources and supports for marginalized students and allies. We live in a time of crisis and students are looking not only for leadership, but also for a community and solidarity

When we say Black Lives Matter, we mean black lives deserve more dignity than to be left on the floor for five hours as Regis Korchinski Paquet’s body was. When we chant Black Lives Matter, we mean a black person should not be 20 times more likely than a white person to be injured or killed by the Toronto Police Service[1]. When we shout black lives matter, we mean our house is burning and in it our people are suffocating, they’re being killed and those who care are not those we need to convince to change. We can’t live like this anymore. Our children will not grow up in a world like this. This is an ongoing fight which does not end after this media cycle, and I call on everyone, especially our leaders, to actively participate and proceed with the reinvention of our institutions.