Connecting Lake Simcoe's Community

In honour of Canadian Black Business Week (Oct. 26 to 30, 2020), Tia Harish looks at the issue of racism in the Lake Simcoe area.

The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked an ongoing discussion about racism and police violence against the Black community and other minorities. The stories heard in Canada typically involve large cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, or Vancouver. But what does the Black Lives Matter movement look like in smaller communities such as ours?

Smaller communities typically are less ethnically and racially diverse compared with larger cities and regions. This limits the number of interactions that minorities have with the police.

Having low regional diversity also results in lower diversity within local law enforcement. Some precincts may have only one Black police officer, and the chance of that officer being able to respond to a call involving Black people is quite low. This lack of representation is a concern that is rarely found in larger communities because of the diversity in the police force in areas like Toronto.

The lack of diversity in smaller communities also can result in people of colour being treated as outsiders within their own society. Some examples include the very common question, “Where are you from?” The issue with this seemingly innocent icebreaker is the underlying connotations, and the way people assume that because of a person’s race, the person couldn’t possibly be from Canada.

Racially biased police violence is not the only form of systemic racism present in our communities. Non-violent racism occurs in daily life, says Michèle Newton, founder of Our Mosaic Lives, a Barrie-based organization that celebrates the lives of black Canadian women and girls.

“In the workplace, it manifests as microaggressions,” she says. These can include touching the hair of Black men and women, not having one’s voice respected in the workplace, racial slurs, and reacting to a Black person in the street as if that person was inherently dangerous.

Shelly Skinner, president of Uplift Black, an agency working to improve the wellbeing of Black people who live in Simcoe Muskoka, says microaggressions can involve more serious situations, such as a sexual assault story not taken as seriously because the victim is a woman of colour. The community acceptance for these microaggressions is the result of a mentality that encourages people to ignore these scenarios. This mentality is especially harmful in areas of low diversity, where people are not always held accountable. 

The large number of people who attend rallies and post black squares on social media only for clout also can demonstrate another hindrance to the BLM movement -- performative allyship. This is when someone publicly supports a cause, but does little to no work on educating themself in private.

This is not a unique problem to areas such as Barrie and Simcoe County, but the effect is much greater than in places such as Toronto.

Shanicka Edwards is the founder of Shak’s World, a Barrie-based organization that focuses on community and the well-being and mental health of youth through basketball. She says performative allyship from companies results in very few donations to non-profit organizations, who don’t get as much funding in general compared with their Toronto counterparts. This hurts the community, she says, because real change cannot happen when people are not serious about helping others and educating themselves.

There are many different directions the community can go from this point. The most important step is education through listening to the experiences of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) and attempting to unlearn racism.

“The biggest thing is to remember that this isn't over and that it's never too late to start learning,” Newton says. “There are resources out there to help you, that want to be part of this journey with you.”

Skinner also commented on educating people about racism, saying, “There is a lot of opportunity to get out to the community and to do education on anti-racism and inclusion… Let's share in each other's culture. Let's share each other's experiences. Let's put value in the culture and the way someone can add value to your business or your community simply because of where they come from, the language they speak, or the country they may have lived in before.”

The Black Lives Matter movement has impacted every part of life and brought issues to light that were previously unseen. Smaller communities may not have police violence as the main problem, but there are still elements of social discrimination that must change. Education is incredibly important. Listening attentively to people’s experiences, taking sensitivity training, or even supporting your local Black businesses can create some much-needed change in the community.

The Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce has designated the last week of October as Canadian Black Business Week. Their goal is to highlight the important contributions of Black-owned businesses to the Canadian economy.

Tia Harish is a Grade 11 student at Richmond Hill High School. Tia is working as an intern with Lake Simcoe Living through the co-op program at their school.

Photo of BLM rally in Barrie in June, by Michèle Newton

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