Toronto Blacks in desparate need of Heroes?

Posted: November 12, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Preamble: The title of this blog came to me on November 6th but has really been building for a few years.  The overwhelming truth of it occurred the week leading into the U.S. Presidential elections when I was getting notices and emails about various election results parties across the G.T.A, the majority of these invites were sent by black people and the events seemed to be targeting black people mostly.  The clincher was one invite which read “You can watch the second coming of Barack Obama at…” I almost fell off my chair.  This meant more to people than I had been accepting. It was very clear that this post which has been building for years now needs to be written.

Why Heroes

Within the past year and 1/2 there have been some significant losses to the “black community” (these quotations need explanation, more on that later), we saw the death of Dudley Laws, then Charles Roach and most recently Lincoln Alexander.  All three had impacted the Canadian landscape in different ways and arguably all three have some sort of Hero status among their friends/family/followers.  Hero is used here in reference to a clear iconization practice among all peoples, where we attach value to some people over ordinary persons because of some accomplishments or change they have effected that we think was extraordinary and maybe insurmountable or unfathomable at the time they did their thing.  This hero-worship usually stands for reverence as well as inspiration.  For black people whose bodies have been subject to numerous holocausts and who have had to struggle in the western world to prove their worth, having individuals who have accomplished something (sometimes anything) is taken for inspiration.  In Lincoln Alexander’s case it was seeing representation of a black person in the political arena, in Dudley Laws’ case it was having a person who would advocate for and fight against the injustices being dished out to black youth in Toronto and in Charles Roach’s case it was having the image of a lawyer who was immigrant and who was relentless in advocacy.  The sad thing about these losses is that regardless of what we may individually think about these men they bare very little resonance for black youth today.  They were of the “past” you see…and they had no time to translate their impact for a current generation whose “Heroes” surface daily in pop-culture mostly.  Have I answered the why? Doubtful!

It is clear to me that people need someone or hopefully some people to look up to.  This is for motivation, for legacy, for telling our histories or for inspiration.  The problem is that my traditional purview of heroes omits the very obvious stand-ins (fleeting heroes like cultural icons such as Lil Wayne, Drake, Usain Bolt etc.) that serve as heroes today.

Enters Barack Husein Obama

In The U.S.A. there have been discussions on this man who now gets a 2nd term at President.  What they have not possibly studied or discussed is how many black Canadians and for the purpose of this conversation–Torontonians follow him, hang on his every word and secretly wished they could have voted for him and that he was their president. Why? Foremost and obvious he is black! Not simply his colour but all it represents as some have said to me “imagine his little black girls running in their white house”, “he is the first black president and they can’t stop him”, “now little black girls and black boys can look at him and know anything is possible”, “Canada probably won’t have one” and so on.  It is really the possibility of possible that mints someone as a hero/heroine!  It is this possibility that Obama represents that caused the numerous election watch parties and the cheers that went up from Toronto when he won both times.  Of-course nobody ever frames the conversation around the evils that a U.S President engages in and sanctions instead it is a good thing and that’s that, no critique allowed.

Back to Canada…Don’t we have Heroes?

I am sure there are people who would qualify under the pseudo-definition I have been positing here.  The missing piece though is that everyone or at least a majority must be aware of the Hero.  Their name must be touted and their fame must be known, much like a saint about to be canonized there needs to be proof or record of their heroics and much in line with the fast-paced trending of social media they must be relevant to the now! This last criteria messes with the Heroes of the past even our most recent past.  You see in Canada we have Viola Desmond (our version of Rosa Parks), Elijah McCoy (inventor Extraordinaire–the Real McCoy), Mary Ann Shadd (started the first integrated school in Canada), we then have a slew of people to list including decorated soldiers, sprinters, musicians, politicians etc.  The list is however not well known and outside of awe-inspiring stories like “The Hanging of Angelique”–by Dr. Afua Cooper, the narratives or storytelling about the Canadian list pails in comparison to that of the Americans.  The reason for our less enthusiastic storytelling among black Canadians is varied and may need a second blog entry.  Suffice it to say, I think the process of assimilation into a “Canadian culture” and a resistance to break down the full story of a racist (shhh…this word is not allowed) struggle-filled past for blacks in Canada has had significant impact on interpretations of heroes and heroics.

What happens in the absence of Heroes?

The short answer is to look around at the impact on the identity-seeking, self-loathing and self-killing present among today’s youth.  The other answer includes noting that the void will be filled in the absence of heroes.  Remember the stand-ins I mentioned earlier, they take the space, Obama takes the space and other less favourable options take the space.  Arguably it may not be a bad thing to fill the space up with other things, I just get really worried when the absence of heroes means mis-representation takes the place.  My blog entry is really about my concern for the “black community” which we can all agree is neither monolithic nor congruent but which is still seen as a whole.  I am concerned that while I bash hero-worship I see where it is relevant if only in combating the alternative, which is a dismal future for blacks in Toronto.  As I watch our generations drift further and further apart in terms of what we deem important and worthy of preservation I see each generation clamour for their own heroes and we all seem to be getting it a little wrong.


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