When it was announced that Barack Obama had won the American election, many Blacks across the diaspora cried with jubilation. Seeing a Black man become leader of what is termed the free world gave hope to many that have lived with desperation, racism, violence and hate. Whether or not we agree with his politics, which are decidedly centrist, his body represents hope to many.
In Canada, President Obama actually has a higher approval rating than in the U.S. His rating is also higher than our sitting Prime Minster. When he visited last winter and was greeted by our Governor General, it was as though a conquering hero had arrived on Canadian soil. Even Caesar returning to Rome in triumph was not so besotted with love and adoration.
Despite the love shown for the shiny new American president, if Obama were to run for election in Canada, he would never be elected. No political party has been led by a person of color and we are nowhere near seeing people of color legitimately represented on Parliament Hill. White liberals run special committees to address race issues, but without the input of those that are actually affected by racism, what progress can possibly be made?
The highest ranked Black person in government is the Governor General and based on the fact that she was openly referred to as La Reine-Nègre (Negro Queen), it would seem that Canadians are more than prepared to allow race to determine worth. Though the term La Reine-Nègre is clearly offensive, we were assured that it had nothing to do with race and was simply a commentary on the way she preformed her duties.
Many Canadians look southward with a sense of superiority and it has not escaped the notice of people of color that we do not have a national group, like the NAACP or the Congressional Black Congress, to represent our needs in government. In academia, if one wants to take courses in African Canadian history, one must attend a university in an Eastern province. It is, in fact, impossible to get a degree in African Canadian studies outside of eastern Canada, and this would lead one to believe that African Canadians have not contributed to the growth of Canada as a nation.
Politicians have made many racial comments without apology. Even in the States, they at least attempt to cover their hatred by claiming that they never meant to offend. What better evidence is there of White privilege than the ability to display one’s inner racist to the world without receiving censure or social discipline?
Though the conversation about race in the U.S. is continually conducted in a false binary of Black vs. White, at least it is taking place. Canada still functions with the myth that we are an integrated society that has moved beyond racial discord. In the 2005 Ipsos Reid study that was commissioned by the Dominion Institute to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, one in ten respondents said they wouldn’t want people from another race as next-door neighbours. Nearly 15% of the 1,001 people surveyed said they thought skin colour made a difference at work, while 13% told pollsters they would never marry or have a relationship with someone from another race. The great salad bowl is filled with rotten produce.
Canadians barely acknowledge that slavery occurred here and instead we prefer to focus on the Underground Railroad because that makes us seem morally superior. The first slave in Canada was a child, and his baptismal name was was Olivier Le Jeune (the African name has been lost to history). He was brought to the province of Quebec by David Kirke in 1628. Slavery as an institution existed in Canada until the British Parliament emancipated slaves throughout the empire effective August 1, 1834. The purposeful denial of Canadian history is but one of the many ways in which we ensure that people of color remain at a second-class status.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” Yet we know that justice has routinely been denied Canadians of Color. Just as in every other Western nation, people of color are over-represented in the penal system, and yet we look southward and speak about the US industrial prison complex, thereby conveniently ignoring our own faults.
We are routinely ignored in the mainstream media unless it is to discuss a crime. The correlation between capitalism and racism that combine to create these situations is erased from discourse. We don’t even have an Essence magazine or BET network in which to discuss our issues.
Barack Obama could never become our Prime Minister because, unlike the United States, we have yet to admit that we are deeply flawed. How could a Black man rule a nation which has yet to accord its citizens of color even the semblance of power? Black Canadians are presumed to be from elsewhere, as a Canadian identity is understood to be white. Obama’s Kenyan ancestry would be an issue, despite the fact that one need not be a naturalized citizen to be Prime Minister. We speak about about wanting a politician to engage us in the way that Barack did Americans with his “yes we can” slogan, but it would seem that we can only admire change and hope from a distance.