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'We have to believe': Youth can fight anti-Black racism in Canada

'We have to believe': Youth can fight anti-Black racism in Canada

This op-ed was originally published on on June 3, 2021

Co-written by Katherine Allen & Glenesha Grant

 As Black youth growing up in Canada, anti-Black systemic racism is something that we’ve often become so desensitized to that we don’t even realize we’re experiencing it. As empathetic individuals, we often give others the benefit of the doubt, thinking to ourselves, “Maybe they didn’t know what they said was offensive” or “Maybe I’m overthinking it.”

To the young Black children navigating racism throughout their daily lives: you are not overthinking it and you should feel empowered to speak up against it.

An empowered Black youth population is what we aspire to help propagate through the Youth Action Committee at the BlackNorth Initiative, because we’ve all experienced racism first-hand and many of us felt empowered to do something about it, right around May 2020.

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We grew up seeing the tragic deaths of unarmed Black individuals all over social media, like Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner … the list goes on. But George Floyd’s death in May of last year hit differently — for us as young Black Canadians, at home during quarantine, Mr. Floyd’s death received unprecedented awareness on social media. Friends who had never voiced solidarity against racism before, were suddenly posting infographics, showing up at protests, donating to relevant organizations, and asking important questions. Before we knew it, we saw the support grow into the largest civil rights movement ever, with protests across the world calling for justice for George Floyd and the conviction of Derek Chauvin. It was overwhelming though. The stress of viewing triggering videos of police brutalizing our Black sisters and brothers in between Zoom calls was debilitating. (FYI our cameras were in fact working — our eyes were just swollen from crying all morning).

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"Many of us Black youth felt overwhelmed by the responsibility that our peers were placing upon us"

While we saw Black squares of solidarity and received messages of support from allies, many of us Black youth felt overwhelmed by the responsibility that our peers were placing upon us. We received dozens of well-intended messages along the lines of “What can I do to help?,” and what it truly elucidated was that for many Black youth, we are the conduit to the Black community for our non-Black peers, particularly those who grew up in predominantly non-Black environments. That said, we felt lost and overwhelmed by the responsibility of educating our peers. “What if I say the wrong thing,” we thought to ourselves. “What if I am not smart enough to do the movement justice?”

Shaken, dumbfounded and overcome by the fear of stirring up stereotypes about being angry and Black, one of us scrolled upon a quote that a friend, Akiel, had posted on Instagram by Angela Davis, that “You have to act as if it were possible to change the world. And you have to do it all the time.” The words clicked. If we are to see change, we have to believe that it is possible and that we are capable of driving it. The realization came after scrolling on Instagram, and elucidated for us that our words and actions on social media and in real life can inspire true action amongst peers, both Black and non-Black.

Despite the moments of self-doubt, we saw an even bigger opportunity to educate others based on the source that is arguably the most reliable: our lived experience.

And we never looked back.

Social media can be polarizing, but powerful. Without it, we wouldn’t have seen the conviction of Derek Chauvin, and without it, we likely wouldn’t be where we are today with regards to advocating for Black lives. We hope that we can continue to hold individuals accountable, and recognize that we are at the starting line working towards racial reconciliation. We bear the responsibility of doing all that we can to make the world a better place for generations to come, using the tools and resources that are at our disposal. And in 2021, a year where we are isolated and quarantined from society, we believe that social media is the tool that best positions us for success with regards to advocacy, awareness, and ultimately inspiring change and action. We will continue to use our platforms on social media to advance our mission to amplify Black youth voices against anti-Black systemic racism in Canada, with confidence.

Photo by Sticker You on Unsplash  

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