To be either Black, African, or Caribbean or Indigenous to some who are racist is an accident of history but for some of us is a way of life and we owe no one an apology and we are proud to be Black.
Black ancestry has always been considered the cradle of man and each of us shares the Black genes in some compositions. Black folks have endured untold suffering in the hands of caucasian folks and other races that consider themselves to be superior.
Black injustice and racist tendencies date back to the period of slavery and the slave trade. In the landmark case of Dred Scott vs Sandford (1857) authored by McBride, slaves even free ones that were not considered as property were for a long time not considered American citizens just because of their African ancestry. It took innumerable activism and social justice that eventually culminated in naturalized and born in the US nationals to be now recognized as US citizens, even though the racial undertones are still being amplified.
Within the Canadian university context, much has been said about racial incidents with some calling it a “good crisis” and others a “horrible experience.” Even within the national stage, a McGill University chancellor (2008) is on record of calling the original inhabitants of Canada as “savages.” This goes to show a lack of racial tolerance, systematic biases, and superiority complex.
Much has been written and said within the University of Ottawa about racism and the mechanisms and steps being followed to address the issues and make the U of O a more tolerant and inclusive society. Within the University I have experienced racism even when I was an Executive Member of the Student Union. It is even saddening to know that racial undertones still exist at the campus in this day and age.
The Canadian landscape is replete with examples of how different societies have been viewed under racist lenses (from the Indian Act, to South Africa apartheid, to antisemitism, the Anti-Oriental riots in Vancouver, incarceration of Indigenous and black communities in disproportionate numbers and police cardings in most Canadian cities). It is time we changed the notion and attitudes of unconscious bias and systemic racism to folks that do not look like us in terms of the color of their skin but are like us in all aspects (number of genes, colour of their blood and IQ’s).
To paraphrase Charles Lawrence, we are all racists because of our cultural beliefs, influences, and biases which can also be changed by inculcating values and beliefs that we are all equal and every life has equal value.
How do we make progress from here at the University of Ottawa? If by terming it as a good crisis, Jacques Frémont is going to make transformational changes in the U of O landscape, I am all behind him, but if it is going to be talk, PR, and no action, then his legacy will be harshly judged by all generations for having a good crisis go to waste as coined by Winston Churchill.
For a beginning, he can do this by taking stock of the academic staff to find out whether it is representative of the student fraternity. More proactive action needs to be done to recruit and promote more from minority communities within the teaching fraternity. Equally, there needs to be diversity and equity in all levels of management at the University of Ottawa.
For a start, baseline statistics can be published of the academic teaching staff and employees of the U of O. After, proactive steps should be taken to increase the under-represented communities.
Lastly, a course on unconscious bias should be mandatory at the U of O with live examples shared by students who have experienced racism since it is more impactful to demonstrate what harm racism can do than just talk about it as if it any topic of discussion.
It is time we healed wounds of historic injustice and stereotypes of racial superiority.
Lastly, I am happy to note that the student movement and black teaching fraternity staff are staying the course and one day I believe racism will be history at our University.
Rony Fotsing Is an international student who has experience at different levels of student government and within the University precincts. He is a hardworking, committed, and dedicated student who believes that all people have equal value. He was the University of Ottawa Students’ Union’s first operations commissioner. He is bilingual and is a collaborative, ambitious, logical, analytical, and solution-oriented individual.