As social media defies geographic borders, many Canadians scrolling through their timelines are flogged with anti-Black sentiments coming out of the United States. But before basking in the centuries-old falsehood that Canada is nowhere near as racist as the US, you may want to read Montreal activist and author Robyn Maynard’s debut book, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present.
Maynard provides readers with an understanding of Canada’s own troubling history of anti-Blackness, racism, state violence and segregation; a fact that is seldom discussed, further perpetuating those events today.
Prior to visiting Halifax for her book’s launch, Maynard spoke with The Coast about the writing challenges she faced, as well as
Robyn Maynard: I think what was most difficult was really just the violence. Constantly reviewing the violence that Black men, Black women and even Black children have experienced across centuries and just sitting with that every day, while also trying to write those stories in a way that conveyed Black humanity.
What was it like to be a Black girl growing up and simultaneously experiencing the erasure of your own Black Identity?
I think that to a certain extent I almost feel like I wrote this book for that young Black girl. I feel like I look back and so much of what I was experiencing was unintelligible to me.
For example, being subject to intense scrutiny and heightened discipline at school is something that happened to me and to a lot of other Black girls, I later learned. But that wasn’t clear to me,
This past week the Ontario Human Rights Commission came out calling for seven years worth of data in order to examine instances of discrimination against the Black community. How do you feel about that?
I think that shows us that the work of activists in Toronto for the last 20 years is paying off. We need to see that, not as like a gift that the government is giving us, but actually as a gift that came from the hard work of the Black social movements that have actually put their bodies on the line in order to force this into being recognized as an issue. For example, staging the teachers’ walkouts and actually getting police out of school. This is a product of longstanding organizing that has taken a significant amount of labour of all kinds of people. Not just in terms of Black Lives Matter, but in terms of Black parents and Black educators as well. So I think we have to thank the community for that. And I think that this inquiry stands to be a really important investigation. So we have to remember that it was fought for.
Since the beginning of Canada’s colonial history, Black persons have been challenging prevailing narratives that Canada is a multicultural haven. How has that history influenced your writing?
Looking back at the history of Black activism in Montreal in the late 1980s and ’90s, to the work of Rocky Jones in Nova Scotia, to the Black Action Defense Committee in Toronto and now to the Black Lives Matter movement—I think we really have inspiring models of leadership in terms of contesting a society that is still so profoundly