By Mark Brown
PRIDE Guest Columnist
Imagine for a moment you are a long distance runner about to run a marathon. You and the other runners, from all around the world, are at the starting line waiting to begin.
Just prior to the sounding of the starter’s pistol and unknown to you, the organizers of the race approach you from behind and fasten a backpack filled with bricks on your back. The straps of the backpack are fastened to your shoulders so tightly you are unable to get them off. At the same time the bang from the starting pistol echoes through the air.
The race begins and your only option is to run with the added weight. The other runners have left you behind and are soon out of your sight. Some of the spectators of the race seeing this, petition the organizers to have the backpack removed.
The organizers take the backpack of bricks off of your back relieving you of the weight, then spread the bricks on the ground in front of your path and tell you to run and keep up with the other runners who, you know, have long since left you behind.
“Run” the organizers say. “You have an equal opportunity to win along with everyone else”. This is what many Africans view as the collective economic condition of people of African descent as a result of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
From the 15th to the 19th century, millions of Africans were taken, against their will, chained in the belly of thousands upon thousands of ships, forcibly removed from their homeland and brought to Canada and other countries.
While Europeans and others throughout the world were busy building generations of economic wealth and power, Africans were being sold into slavery and became the property of the purchaser.
Recognized as cattle under the law, Africans were forbidden from owning property, learning to read and anything else that might lead to improving their economic condition.
A recent report by the United Nation’s (UN) Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent argues that the nature of the slave trade in the United States cries out for reparations for people of African descent.
The study entitled Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to the United States of America was composed by a group of experts, made up of prominent human rights lawyers from around the world.
The report reads, in part:
“There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity and among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and that Africans and people of African descent were victims of these acts and continue to be victims of their consequences”.
The working group recently offered its report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, establishing the linkage between today’s extra-judicial killings of people of African descent by law enforcement and the injustices (lynching’s etc.) during dark chapters of American history.
The report goes on to say that past injustices and crimes against Africans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.
While the UN working group report speaks to African Americans it is well documented that the transatlantic slave trade was just as prevalent in Canada as in the United States. For that reason the question begs to be asked.
“When can we as African Canadians expect to receive an apology and reparations for the generations of suffering and financial disadvantages that were received as a result of Canada’s role in the transatlantic slave trade?”
History shows that the slave owners received reparations when slavery was abolished but not the slaves.
Racial profiling, mass incarceration, the over representation of people of African decent within the Children’s Aid Society continue to be seen, by many, as residual effects of the transatlantic slave trade and the years of segregation that followed.
African Canadians continue to struggle with the anti-black racism that generations of slavery and segregation left behind. Therefore, why are African Canadians not demanding both a federal apology and reparations from those who seek support in federal and provincial elections?
If politicians want the support of African Canadians, then reparations for African Canadians must be front and center in their election platforms.
Chinese head tax, Indigenous residential schools, South Asian Komagata Maru incidents are a few of the injustices that have been addressed with a federal apology and or reparations by current and or previous federal governments.
What would reparations for African Canadians look like?
Perhaps it would look like free post-secondary tuition and the forgiveness of current student loans. Perhaps it would include a free prescription drug plan, a low interest mortgage or an African Canadian tax credit.
I don’t have an answer for that question, ultimately what reparation looks like must be determined as a result of public consultation with the African Canadian community.
What I am confident of is, that many will interpret Canada’s disinclination to apologise for its role in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and provide some form of reparatory justice as approval of its role in the transatlantic slave trade by inaction and justification of the slave trade by way of complacency.
If African Canadians intend on having the issue of reparations and an apology for slavery on the federal discussion table, this issue must be forced unto that table as an election issue.
The collective struggle for reparations in Canada is, as I see it, an obligation that African Canadians have to future generations.
Mark Brown is the Chair of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council’s Equity Committee, a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionist (CBTU), An Executive Board Member of the Labour Education Center and a member of the Toronto Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. He can be reached at: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000658149978 or Twitter MarkAAABrown