Until I realized that murdered black man George Floyd and I both went to Jack Yates High School, in the Third Ward black ghetto of Houston, Texas, I was going to stay out of commenting. My childhood home in the 1960s was flanked by our school and the stadium where Mr. Floyd played football in the 1990s. I wasn’t going to comment on Canada and the USA, blackness and whiteness, the deaths of George Floyd and Regis Korchinski-Paquet, violence and protests.
Immigrating to Canada in 1967, I had commented in the press on the violent protests destroying US cities in the wake of the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and RFK in 1968, JFK earlier. I said then that I understood why black people like me were burning down cities. There was negative response to my analysis, saying I didn’t fully appreciate how I’d landed in southwestern Ontario where there was no racism, order, truth, and good government.
Now, in 2020, I can say how soul destroying it is to realize that my black brothers and sisters in the USA know their lives have gotten hugely worse in 52 years, including the roll back of most civil and voter’s rights legislation. I understand again, but do not agree with, the riots.
Also, in 2020, there are number of signs of enlightenment in Canada that were not there in 1968: First, many Canadians, not all, now know that their racism includes the past and present of Indigenous-settler relations. Many 9-year-olds know this because they are being better educated than their parents and grandparents. Second, the pandemic is teaching us about the sin of our much-praised universal health care system not including long-term care. Third, in the big cities our elected officials are not in denial about the virus killing the poor, the homeless, people of colour, and stress that we must correct the systems and not blame the victims. I am very cautiously optimistic that Canada has improved in 53 years.
Rita Shelton Deverell, CM, EdD
Rita Shelton Deverell is one of the founders of Vision TV. She is also a media and theatre artist, scholar, and Member of the Order of Canada.
Check out her interview with OrilliaMatters here.