RACISM AGAINST BLACKS

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The history of Blacks in Ontario is long. Ontario is justly famed as the first region in the British Empire to legislate against Black slavery.

During the first half of the 19th century, the province became a safe haven for escaped slaves. Ontario was the main end station for the Underground Railroad. A loosely knit network of "stations" located at points a day's journey apart, to which fugitives were brought by "conductors," the Underground Railroad stretched from the U.S. South to Canada. It was an organized movement that many decent white Canadians rallied to support. By the outbreak of the American Civil War, Ontario had given shelter to some 50,000 Black refugees from slavery.

Unfortunately, anti-Black racism is as old as the province itself. The Underground Railroad, in fact, sparked the first great controversy related to anti-Black racism. Although many courageous white Ontarians aided in the Underground Railroad's rescue work, even at great cost to themselves, other whites favoured fugitive slave catchers from south of the border. They wanted to keep Blacks out.

Long simmering after the abolition of slavery, anti-Black racism reduced Blacks to inferior status in Ontario for nigh on a century. Segregated churches and schools, as well as laws and customary practices forbidding Black citizens entry to restaurants, hotels and clubs, became the norm.

Anti-Black racism thus became institutionalized in Ontario. It became systemic -- embedded in the fabric of social thinking and behaviour. Throughout the first half of this century, the federal government's keep-Canada-white policy denied entry to Black immigrants with the ludicrous claim that they would be harmed by the harsh Canadian winters.

Blacks weren't cut any slack until the 1950s, with the enactment of the Fair Accommodation Practices Act in 1954. Anti-Black racism accelerated once again with the increase of Black immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, the lot of Canadian Blacks is not an enviable one. A 1993 survey commissioned by the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews confirmed that Blacks face the most discrimination from one end of the country to the other, followed by Aboriginal Canadians and South Asians.

Most disheartening is the news that the level of racism in Canada has increased since 1989.

The largest number of Black people in this country is concentrated in southern Ontario, particularly in the greater Toronto area. Much evidence exists that anti-Black racism is now the most vicious form of racism in the province. Young Black males as a class are the primary targets -- hard-working, law-abiding youth being lumped together indiscriminately with felons as a social liability.

An Ontario government report acknowledged that: "What we are dealing with, at root and fundamentally, is anti-Black racism. While it is obviously true that every visible-minority community experiences the indignities and wounds of systemic discrimination throughout southern Ontario, it is the Black community that is the focus. It is Blacks who are being shot, it is Black youth (who are) unemployed in excessive numbers, it is Black students who are being inappropriately streamed in schools, it is Black kids who are disproportionately dropping out, it is housing communities with large concentrations of Black residents where the sense of vulnerability and disadvantage is most acute, it is Black employees -- professional and non-professional -- on whom the doors of upward equity slam shut. Just as the soothing balm of `multiculturalism' cannot mask racism, so racism cannot mask its primary target."

Negative stereotypes of Blacks are prevalent in the current cultural institutions of Ontario. Racial streaming in schools has been exposed for what it is -- a hypocritical form of school segregation that allows white and Black pupils to enter "integrated" schools by the same door, but once inside, streams them into separate classes.

This prescription for failure breeds disillusion. It results in functional illiteracy, encouraging teenagers to drop out of school. Once on the street, all too many -- abandoned without hope -- perceive no recourse but the parallel illegal economy, a setup that breeds Black-on-Black violence, exposing Black youth to racist-minded police officers and a criminal justice system that is itself under investigation for bigotry.

The sense of urgency is sharpened by police killings of young Black males and racist assaults perpetrated by skinheads and sundry white-supremacist organizations. The media project negative images of young Black males as alienated, criminally inclined, prone to violence and dangerous.

In the last decade of the century, 40 per cent of prisoners in Toronto-area jails are Black, from a Black population in the metropolitan area estimated at merely six to eight per cent of the whole. Blacks constitute more than 60 per cent of all inmates in Ontario jails.

Severe negative overrepresentation has raised serious concern as to whether Black men are overpoliced because of racism. The resulting tension between the Black community and the white majority prompted the Ontario government to establish a commission of inquiry into the equality of Blacks before the justice system. Observing that the criminal justice system reflects and perpetrates negative stereotypes of Blacks that are a part of the white community's psyche, the Court of Appeal noted in 1993 that "many Blacks perceive the criminal justice system as inherently racist."

All age cohorts of the Black population bear a disproportionate burden of joblessness traceable to racial discrimination in the job market. Black youth in this country now face the same hopeless prospects as their compatriots in the United States -- a lifetime without employment. It was in recognition of this widespread workplace discrimination against Blacks and other designated minorities that Ontario passed the Employment Equity Act in 1993.

Despite traditional Canadian disclaimers, the situation for Black people in Ontario today is not so different from the situation of Black people in the States. The task force wants U of G to do its part to remedy this injustice through affirmative measures to create a welcoming environment on campus for Black students, staff and faculty.

It's not enough to single out non-threatening tokens as a "credit to their race" and appoint them "deputies for the coloured."