During the July 2016 Gay Pride parade in Toronto, Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO), which was featured as the “honored” group that year, staged a sit-in that effectively stopped the parade’s progression for nearly thirty minutes. During this action, BLMTO took the opportunity to highlight the marginalization of black, indigenous, and other vulnerable communities, both generally and at the festival. BLMTO also issued a list of demands, most “contentious” of which was a ban of (official) police floats from future Pride festivities. The ban was demanded on account of the police’s violent history toward black and LGBTQ+ communities.
The protest resulted in some successes for BLMTO. For one thing, it forced festival organizers to acknowledge their “failure to address divisions within [their] own community” while reminding them (and Pride attendees) of the activist, political roots of Pride. Even though the Canadian media’s response to the BLMTO protest ranged from supportive to inquisitive to outright hostile, the movement succeeded in putting anti-Black racism and police violence at the center of a national conversation. Finally, earlier this year, Pride Toronto agreed to all of the organization’s demands, at their annual general meeting.
Despite these gains, and even though racism is a historical and contemporary issue/structural reality in Canada, anti-Black racism is not something Canadians are prepared to honestly (and extensively) confront. A carefully cultivated (and mythologized) image of progressive tolerance helps to obscure the reality of this bias. The fact that the United States is the main reference point in Canada for race relations makes it that much more difficult to shake Canadians out of their sense of complacency.
A powerful new documentary, The Skin We’re In is, however, forcing Canadians to open their eyes. The film, which aired on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) on March 9, 2017, is directed by filmmaker Charles Officer and features acclaimed journalist/activist/public intellectual, Desmond Cole. The film is in many ways an extension of Cole’s intimate, award-winning 2015 exposé on racial (police) profiling for Toronto Life entitled The Skin I’m In. While Cole’s Toronto Life piece is a personal account of anti-Black racism, the film captures its collective and systemic nature.
Described by the CBC as a “distinctly Canadian contribution to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement,” the film follows Cole across Canada (with a stop in Missouri, the U.S. state where Michael Brown was murdered at the hands of police in August 2014) as he explores the history of anti-Black racism to the present-day, through direct conversations with black Canadians. The end result is a beautifully crafted call to action that demands Canadian attention and introspection.
The film can be seen here.