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Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Research Papers

Volume 4

Racial Minority Perspectives on Violence

A Report Prepared for the Review of the Roots of Youth Violence


Rinaldo Walcott,
associate professor of Black Studies at OISE/UT

Cecil Foster,
author, journalist and an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Guelph

Mark Campbell,
PhD candidate at OISE/UT and a disc jockey at a community radio station [CHRY] that services the Jane and Finch community

David Sealy,
PhD candidate at the Centre for Criminology, University of Toronto

Executive Summary

Preface

As a review of the existing literature, this paper provides an analysis of recent events in Ontario (Toronto) by drawing on scholarly work that seeks to make sense of how violence and crime operates for Black people and other racialized minorities. We focus on Black people, especially Black youth,1 and at the end, we make four recommendations that speak specifically to the situation faced by our young citizens and the metropolitan city as a whole. Our central thesis is that we cannot make sense of violence and crime without addressing racial oppression and the way such oppression produces poverty. In this regard, we draw attention to the mechanisms enacted since the 1980s by the three levels of government to dismantle the welfare state and to replace various welfare provisions with a greater reliance on market forces — a collection of measures that has been the hallmark of neo-liberal social and political policies.

In the midst of the Great Depression, and extended and revised after World War II, welfare policies as an attempt to make sure every resident received the daily requirement of goods and services to keep body and soul together had been a significant component of the social good and collective citizenship. Recent policy decisions, by contrast, have resulted in greater levels of poverty. This, in turn, has led to greater expressions of alienation, or what in the sociological literature is called anomie — a loss of solidarity among members of a collectivity, where some members feel a sense of alienation to the point of having no sense of belonging or fulfillment in the society. In the popular literature, solidarity is a raison d’etre for citizenship in western or liberal democracies. This citizenship is usually deemed to be made up of three major components: the civic; the social/political and welfare (Marshall 1950, Clarke 1996, Heater 2004). Where all three of the components exist together, thick citizenship or solidarity exists. Where any of them is missing, only a thin relationship or sense of citizenship or belonging prevails. This anomie often results in what is generally referred to as anti-social behaviour, such as a disdain for law and order in some circles and a failure to subscribe to some collective social ideals.

However, neo-liberal policies, with their whittling away at a collective social welfare base, also bring with them a moral side, which is often a knee-jerk reaction to the above behaviour, which then only extends the chain of anomie by further breaking down the remaining planks of society that might connect the alienated to any feeling of belonging. We seek to demonstrate that racial minority scholars often bring very different analyses to these questions and concerns. Some minority scholars present a relevant and often overlooked perspective, which pays attention to the links between the violence that is innate to poverty, the violence of the history of racism and its continuation, the disenfranchisement of the Black poor, and a system that is systematically constructed to produce widespread failure for non-white peoples. The prescription many racial minority scholars offer provides meaningful insights for the situation in Canada and Ontario. In this sense, racial minority scholars’ analysis often begins with the wider issues of placement or positioning of specific groups, usually defined by race, ethnicity, and class, in relation to a dominant mainstream society often assumed to be white. We contend that, at heart, the concerns over growing acts of violence by Black youth are all issues related to citizenship, in terms of questions and concerns about belonging and, among those youth, feeling a sense of empowerment to meaningfully contribute to the nation-state as genuine, accepted, and cherished members of the society, recognized as practising their full and active citizenship rights.

Therefore, we have used recent events to frame our conversation and to highlight the ways in which racism and a history of racial oppression continues to actively shape life in Canada, and more specifically, in Ontario. At the same time, we focus on the poor because we believe it is more accurate to speak of racisms rather than racism. Middle class Black and other racial minorities experience racism very differently from the way poor racial minorities do.

We think it is imperative that these distinctions be made if any meaningful solutions are to be achieved. Indeed, too often the so-called Black community is viewed as a homogeneous group with little or no difference or diversity within it (Walcott 2003, Foster 2007). As suggested in the Statscan definition referred to earlier, we contend that the opposite is true. Therefore, poverty and racialized violence appear in many guises and with varied outcomes for and reactions to and by those defined as Black in Canada. Indeed, solutions might very well have to be targeted at specific groups to be effective and to achieve the wider goal of creating a desired social and common good. We suggest this targeting based on specific needs, such as those of Black youth, rather than the application of an off-the-shelf, one-policy-fits-all approach to the specific issue of racialized violence.

Introduction: Defining Violence, Racism, Racial Minority and Youth

Racial minority scholars studying violence and crime in North America have by and large reached the consensus that ideas of race, practices of racism, and the history of racial oppression are a fundamental, significant, and determining factor in the outcome of violence and crime among certain groups or communities. A survey of the literature shows that these scholars consistently demonstrate that, in North American and Western societies, the history of racial oppression plays a primary role in the manner in which violence and crime are experienced and practised within, among, and beyond marginalized groups and their communities (Cashmore and McLaughlin, 1991, Gilmore, 2007, Hall, et al, 1978, Martinez and Valenzuela, 2006, McLagan, 2005, Palmer and Pitts, 2006, Richardson, 2003, Sudbury, 2005).

Although there exists a widespread consensus on the role that racial oppression plays in the production of violence and crime, scholars take different approaches to what racial oppression means and how racial oppression influences various outcomes. The approaches differ in the ways scholars account for how marginalized people practise various forms of agency or the freedom to go after what they want in a racist society.

Scholars who understand racism as an obstacle or hurdle to be overcome produce analyses that locate crime in various individual and group pathologies (Lemann, 1991, Wilson, 1987). Scholars who understand racism as a form of violence and a fundamental organizing mechanism and practice of human life analyze violence and crime along a continuum in which marginalized people are punished, incarcerated, and deemed deviant because they do not have the power to name the various ways in which crime and violence are understood and legislated against, and how citizens are made to be accountable to other members of the society for violence and crime (Gilmore, 2007, Giroux, 1996, Hall et al, 1978, Sudbury, 2005).

In what follows, we place emphasis on the latter understanding of crime — that is, that racism is a form of violence that gives rise to other kinds of violence, of which crime is but one form. Indeed, violence is not only physical, but also epistemic — in the way others are spoken to, the body language, the treatment, and the many symbolic ways of making individuals or groups feel excluded from full citizenship. Often, physical actions might be a response to the epistemic — maybe to a slight that is real or perceived, often as an act of lashing out by those who feel helpless, vulnerable, and excluded. Of course, physical violence can also be rooted in dominance and the need to dominate. Often, this latter form of violence is singled out for special attention over all others, primarily because there is usually a direct connection between it and the violation of liberalism’s notions of an individual’s life and property.

For racial minority scholars, violence cannot be conceptualized without accounting for the violence of racism and the ways in which racial oppression violently marginalizes racialized peoples. With the terms race and racism, we are referring to a systematic treatment of groups of people by other groups based on notions of innate superiority and inferiority between the groups (Mills 1997, Walcott 2003, Edward-Galabuzi 2006, 2007, Foster 1996, 2005, 2007). In this way, violence and crime does not arise out of some inherent biologically and culturally defective place, but rather, violence and crime are socially produced, and therefore can be socially addressed in the context of unequal power relations. It is our view that the state and its various legitimating practices play a significant and profound role in crime and violence as experienced by racialized people and as practised by them. Thus, the state, as constituting a set of legitimate institutions through which people as citizens are valued or not valued, is deeply implicated by the school of thought that maintains that state racism is a fundamental aspect of how violence and crime arise in communities and among groups. Our perspective is informed by what David Theo Goldberg (2002) calls the “racial state.”

For Goldberg, the racial state is the way in which modern nation-states, especially those in the West, have “through repression, through occlusion and erasure, restriction and denial, delimitation and domination” (2002, p.33) produced homogeneity, a perceived and imposed unity of norms that is always white and therefore always racialized negatively for non-whites. These western nation-states have, in various ways, incorporated and simultaneously denied the existence of their racialized others, or non-whites. In so doing, they do not offer to the non-privileged the hope of belonging fully in the nation-state. All the while, they evade or make very difficult the creation of the necessary conditions under which belonging might become a reality for all. Thus, in important areas like employment, education and policing, racial minorities tend to find themselves in marginal areas compared with whites. In most instances, those conditions lead to a denial of full citizenship as expressed through access to and ownership of the society’s legitimating institutions. Practices of racism play a central and important role in how racial states operate.

Here, we are thinking of racism as the ways in which the various institutions of the nation and state work to render racialized citizens, both as individuals and as groups, subordinate to whites. Racism takes many forms: from individual insults, stereotypes, and physical violence, to more wide-ranging conditions that involve systematic practices of deliberate exclusion from the nation’s institutions, to unconscious ways of privileging whites, to disadvantaging racialized people through social and cultural networks, to cultural assumptions and practices which place nonwhite or racial minorities outside legitimate avenues of power and decision-making. Racism is both historical and contemporary; it changes over time, but it also builds on its history to accrue the power to name, place, and displace, and by so doing, to inflict violence on those at its receiving end — those whom racism makes into racial minorities through history and through the power to control the lives of other human beings. Racism is thus a process that unfolds over time and changes over time, taking different forms with different social, political, economic, and cultural effects (see Goldberg, 2002, 1993 for more elaborate discussions). Again, we emphasize the point that racism is violence, both physical and epistemic. Perhaps what makes it most odious is that this violence is often practiced and/or condoned by the state and the institutions and agencies that make citizenship meaningful.

Throughout this paper, we used the term “racial minority.” Significantly, we do so when we speak to the context of how white racist power works to make non-white peoples into minorities. Additionally, we focus our attention on Black people since, as we will suggest below, the long history of racial oppression that Black people have endured sometimes works as a template for the racial domination and control of other non-white peoples. For us, racial minority as a term points to the ways in which white power works to name and organize the society and the culture we all inhabit. However, as we will demonstrate below, terms like racial minority can also work to homogenize vast and multiple experiences into single experiences and histories, thus occluding and erasing other experiences like class, gender, and sexuality. In this discussion, we offer a rich and thick description of racial minority as a category of naming and experience, in which Black people are only one group among many others.

Therefore, racial minority is not a demographic signifier for us. Racial minority is a shorthand way to point to the many different processes at work in how racism functions to make people inferior, to render their lives less than those lives deemed to be more important, and to control their access to the nation’s institutions and thus the practice of their citizenship. Racial minority is, for us, a compromise term that points to the unequal ability to name oneself in the face of white power and authority. Another term that we also use is that of “visible minority,” of which Blacks are one group. Here, we are applying the term as developed by the federal government, specifically the definition in the Employment Equity Act of 1995, which states that “members of visible minorities means persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.”

Finally, we define “youth” as a person between the stages of childhood and adulthood. Although various institutions and agencies additionally define youth in chronological terms, we refrain from doing so since there is no consensus on chronology for youth; figures can range from 12 years old to 30 years old inclusive. Since the category of youth is a fairly recent invention, with some scholars arguing that “youth” was invented as recently as after the World War II (Fisk, 1989), we understand youth in relationship to society’s institutions, like mandatory schooling, cultural practices, self-identification, and other variables that might involve taste, music, clothing, etc. Furthermore, we specifically focus on Black youth in this paper as constituting a significant segment of the minority community in Canada. In this regard, we are hyper-aware that Black youth, especially males, have been significantly implicated in the kinds of violence and crime that this paper seeks to put into context — both in Canada and in the scholarly research elsewhere. The perception of Black male youth as violent and criminal has led to a kind of moral panic in the larger society.

What do we mean by a moral panic? Stanley Cohen, the British criminologist offers the classic definition of a moral panic:

Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or groups of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved (or more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. (Cohen 1972: 9).

What is important to note is that the moral panic must emerge from some series of anxieties or fears that were already there, and then, in a given situation, take on a kind of life of their own. So, our question is: How do young men from poor urban neighborhoods, marked with the racial history of Blackness in Canada, become part of a moral panic around the presence of “guns and gangs?” What were and are the processes that created this moral panic? And what must be done to alleviate these problems in the future?

Let us be clear: our argument is not that there are no “guns and gangs” in racial minority neighborhoods in Toronto. That is to say, there are troubling circumstances, borne out by the racial history of Canada, from which guns and gang activities have emerged as a state of affairs in some racialized minority Toronto neighborhoods. We take time, below, to analyze the factors that have contributed to the presence of “guns and gangs” in racialized minority Toronto neighborhoods. But the reality is nowhere near the epidemic level that was announced in the salacious headlines and talk shows that for weeks were an ongoing part of our lives in the City of Toronto. Our argument is that the panic around the presence of “guns and gangs” is in part precipitated by the coming together of what criminologist have called the fear of crime, which seems to be an integral part of our neo-liberal age, and a series of incidents that have been named as high profile by the press. What then is the racial history in Canada that marks these young men’s lives, and inevitably leads to some young men from racial minority neighborhoods carrying guns and organizing themselves as gangs, and leads to societal moral panic?

Thus, we suggest that this generation of youth violence cannot be adequately dealt with without addressing the long and enduring past of racial oppression and anti-Black racism in Canada. We suggest that contemporary forms of racism are part of the problem of youth violence, and that addressing racism in a sustained fashion would go a long way toward stemming the tide of violence. We understand that investments in people, communities, and multiple and diverse youth services would have an impact on crime and violence. In this regard, our recommendations speak to the need for sound and profound political leadership, vision, and will to invest in the human resources that would contribute greatly to halting what we argue is the first generation of street crime that can yet be interrupted and replaced with other alternatives if racism and poverty are seriously tackled.

Recommendations

1. Institution-Building

a) An Institute for Black Research and Innovation. This should monitor and provide continued research and policy input on the interests of Black people and other racialized people in Ontario. This will be an enhanced “Anti-Racism” Secretariat, which will be responsible for compiling, documenting, researching and maintaining the evidence necessary to make the case for how well or how poorly Ontario is doing in regard to racial and cultural diversity and the issues that arise from such contexts. By this we mean that both government and corporate investments and collaborations with the community will be adequately assessed, improved, and sustained based on informed, research-based perspectives.

b) Research Chairs in Black Studies, Multicultural Studies and Urban Studies. These chairs should be housed both at the Institute for Black Research and Innovation and at strategic Ontario universities. These researchers should see their scholarship as involved in public policy questions and concerns.

c) A Black Cultural Institute/Museum/Gallery. This Institute would program, develop, document, and preserve the rich cultural traditions of Black Ontarians and Canadians. It would be multidisciplinary in scope. Its focus would be cultural in the largest possible sense, but it would also be intellectual, drawing on the expertise of the Institute of Research and Innovation and universities, as well as on other sources, for its intellectual engagement with the wider public across Ontario and Canada.

2. Education Reforms

An education review is needed once again. This time, however, this review should narrow its scope and focus specifically on faculties of education, and particularly their teacher education programs. Teacher education programs need to be retooled for the diversity of Ontario. As it currently stands, questions of racism, diversity and marginalization are addressed in teacher education based on the “goodness” factor of the particular program. Even in these “good” programs, issues of diversity and social justice operate as empty rhetoric, as admissions committees decide on potential teacher candidates based on their “comfort level” with an application, in some cases never meeting any of the applicants in person. This must change. This review is even more necessary following the calamitous discussion we have just witnessed in the Toronto School Board on the question of a Black-focused or Afrocentric school(s). In addition, we point to the recent report by Julian Falconer, which paints a disturbing picture of violence in our schools, including the violence of the collusive silence of those officials who should be speaking up and speaking out (Falconer, 2008). Too often, we see these issues as separate and distinct. We argue that, to the contrary, they flow from the same source or sources — exclusion from full citizenship, and teacher training that is badly broken.

3. Public Campaigns

Public history campaigns that begin to address, document, and educate all Canadians about Black peoples’ place in and contributions to the national story must be initiated (again). Simple regurgitations of an Underground Railroad story that begins and ends with a benevolent Canada are completely inadequate, and serve only to silence underserved populations. These campaigns should begin to educate Ontarians and other Canadians about why the above-mentioned resources are necessary. But these campaigns should also be concerned with highlighting the ways in which Black people have always belonged to Canada. The establishment of all of recommendation 1, above, would go a long way toward achieving this goal.

4. Employment, Recreational and Arts Programs

While the above programs are in the process of being created a network of programming initiated among government, private industry, voluntary organizations and foundations should be established in varying degrees of partnership. Although a number of these kinds of programs already exist, a more extensive and active range could be developed. These programs would introduce youth to a wide range of opportunities and help to build civic responsibility, citizenship skills, and a sense of belonging to Toronto, Ontario, and Canada. Such programs would go a long way toward stemming the disenfranchisement and alienation that many youth currently feel. A clearly defined network or portal of pre-existing programs also needs to be established as a “one-stop shop” of programs for youth.

Preface

As a review of the existing literature, this paper provides an analysis of recent events in Ontario (Toronto) by drawing on scholarly work that seeks to make sense of how violence and crime operate for Black people and other racialized minorities. We focus on Black people, especially Black youth,2 and at the end, we make four recommendations that speak specifically to the situation faced by our young citizens and the metropolitan city as a whole. Our central thesis is that we cannot make sense of violence and crime without addressing racial oppression and the way such oppression produces poverty. In this regard, we draw attention to the mechanisms enacted since the 1980s by the three levels of government to dismantle the welfare state and to replace various welfare provisions with a greater reliance on market forces — a collection of measures that has been the hallmark of neo-liberal social and political policies.

In the midst of the Great Depression, and extended and revised after World War II, welfare policies as an attempt to make sure every resident received the daily requirement of goods and services to keep body and soul together had been a significant component of the social good and collective citizenship. Recent policy decisions, by contrast, have resulted in greater levels of poverty. This, in turn, has led to greater expressions of alienation, or what in the sociological literature is called anomie — a loss of solidarity among members of a collectivity, where some members feel a sense of alienation to the point of having no sense of belonging to or fulfillment in the society. In the popular literature, solidarity is a raison d’etre for citizenship in western or liberal democracies. This citizenship is usually deemed to be made up of three major components: the civic, the social/political, and welfare (Marshall 1950, Clarke 1996, Heater 2004). Where all three of the components exist together, thick citizenship or solidarity exists. Where any of them is missing, only a thin relationship or sense of citizenship or belonging prevails. This anomie often results in what is generally referred to as anti-social behaviour, such as a disdain for law and order in some circles and a failure to subscribe to some collective social ideals.

However, neo-liberal policies, with their whittling away at a collective social welfare base, also bring with them a moral side, which is often a knee-jerk reaction to the above-mentioned behaviour, which only extends the chain of anomie by further breaking down the remaining planks of society that might connect the alienated to any feeling of belonging. We seek to demonstrate that racial minority scholars often bring very different analyses to these questions and concerns. Some minority scholars present a relevant and often overlooked perspective, which pays attention to the links between the violence that is innate to poverty, the violence of the history of racism and its continuation, the disenfranchisement of the Black poor, and a system that is systematically constructed to produce widespread failure for non-white peoples. The prescription many racial minority scholars offer provides meaningful insights for the situation in Canada and Ontario. In this sense, racial minority scholars’ analysis often begins with the wider issues of placement or positioning of specific groups, usually defined by race, ethnicity, and class, in relation to a dominant mainstream society often assumed to be white. We contend that, at heart, the concerns over growing acts of violence by Black youth are all issues related to citizenship, in terms of questions and concerns about belonging and, among those youth, feeling a sense of empowerment to meaningfully contribute to the nation-state as genuine, accepted, and cherished members of the society, recognized as practising their full and active citizenship rights.

Therefore, we have used recent events to frame our conversation and to highlight the ways in which racism and a history of racial oppression continues to actively shape life in Canada, and more specifically, in Ontario. At the same time, we focus on the poor because we believe it is more accurate to speak of racisms rather than racism. Middle class Black and other racial minorities experience racism very differently from the way poor racial minorities do.

We think it is imperative that these distinctions be made if any meaningful solutions are to be achieved. Indeed, too often the so-called Black community is viewed as a homogeneous group with little or no difference or diversity within it (Walcott 2003, Foster 2007). As suggested in the Statscan definition referred to earlier, we contend that the opposite is true. Therefore, poverty and racialized violence appear in many guises and with varied outcomes for and reactions to and by those defined as Black in Canada. Indeed, solutions might very well have to be targeted at specific groups to be effective and to achieve the wider goal of creating a desired social and common good. We suggest this targeting based on specific needs, such as those of Black youth, rather than the application of an off-the-shelf, one-policy-fits-all approach to the specific issue of racialized violence.

Introduction: Defining Violence, Racism, Racial Minority and Youth

Racial minority scholars studying violence and crime in North America have by and large reached the consensus that ideas of race, practices of racism, and the history of racial oppression are a fundamental, significant, and determining factor in the outcome of violence and crime among certain groups or communities. A survey of the literature shows that these scholars consistently demonstrate that, in North American and Western societies, the history of racial oppression plays a primary role in the manner in which violence and crime are experienced and practised within, among, and beyond marginalized groups and their communities (Cashmore and McLaughlin, 1991, Gilmore, 2007, Hall et al, 1978, Martinez and Valenzuela, 2006, McLagan, 2005, Palmer and Pitts, 2006, Richardson, 2003, Sudbury, 2005).

Although there exists a widespread consensus on the role that racial oppression plays in the production of violence and crime, scholars take different approaches to what racial oppression means and how racial oppression influences various outcomes. The approaches differ in the ways scholars account for how marginalized people practise various forms of agency or the freedom to go after what they want in a racist society.

Scholars who understand racism as an obstacle or hurdle to be overcome produce analyses that locate crime in various individual and group pathologies (Lemann, 1991, Wilson, 1987). Scholars who understand racism as a form of violence and a fundamental organizing mechanism and practice of human life analyze violence and crime along a continuum, in which marginalized people are punished, incarcerated, and deemed deviant because they do not have the power to name the various ways in which crime and violence are understood and legislated against, and how citizens are made to be accountable to other members of the society for violence and crime (Gilmore, 2007, Giroux, 1996, Hall et al, 1978, Sudbury, 2005).

In what follows, we place emphasis on the latter understanding of crime — that is, that racism is a form of violence that gives rise to other kinds of violence, of which crime is but one form. Indeed, violence is not only physical, but also epistemic — in the way others are spoken to, the body language, the treatment, and the many symbolic ways of making individuals or groups feel excluded from full citizenship. Often, physical actions might be a response to the epistemic — maybe to a slight that is real or perceived, often as an act of lashing out by those who feel helpless, vulnerable, and excluded. Of course, physical violence can also be rooted in dominance and the need to dominate. Often, this latter form of violence is singled out for special attention over all others, primarily because there is usually a direct connection between it and the violation of liberalism’s notions of an individual’s life and property.

For racial minority scholars, violence cannot be conceptualized without accounting for the violence of racism and the ways in which racial oppression violently marginalizes racialized peoples. With the terms race and racism, we are referring to a systematic treatment of groups of people by other groups based on notions of innate superiority and inferiority between the groups (Mills 1997, Walcott 2003, Edward-Galabuzi 2006, 2007, Foster 1996, 2005, 2007). In this way, violence and crime does not arise out of some inherent biologically and culturally defective place, but rather, violence and crime are socially produced, and therefore can be socially addressed in the context of unequal power relations. It is our view that the state and its various legitimating practices play a significant and profound role in crime and violence as experienced by racialized people and as practised by them. Thus, the state, as constituting a set of legitimate institutions through which people as citizens are valued or not valued, is deeply implicated by the school of thought that maintains that state racism is a fundamental aspect of how violence and crime arise in communities and among groups. Our perspective is informed by what David Theo Goldberg (2002) calls the “racial state.”

For Goldberg, the racial state is the way in which modern nation-states, especially those in the West, have “through repression, through occlusion and erasure, restriction and denial, delimitation and domination” (2002, p.33) produced homogeneity, a perceived and imposed unity of norms that is always white and therefore always racialized negatively for non-whites. These western nation-states have, in various ways, incorporated and simultaneously denied the existence of their racialized others, or non-whites. In so doing, they do not offer to the non-privileged the hope of belonging fully in the nation-state. All the while, they evade or make very difficult the creation of the necessary conditions under which belonging might become a reality for all. Thus, in important areas like employment, education and policing, racial minorities tend to find themselves in marginal areas compared with whites. In most instances, those conditions lead to a denial of full citizenship as expressed through access to and ownership of the society’s legitimating institutions. Practices of racism play a central and important role in how racial states operate.

Here, we are thinking of racism as the ways in which the various institutions of the nation and state work to render racialized citizens, both as individuals and as groups, subordinate to whites. Racism takes many forms: from individual insults, stereotypes, and physical violence, to more wide-ranging conditions that involve systematic practices of deliberate exclusion from the nation’s institutions, to unconscious ways of privileging whites, to disadvantaging racialized people through social and cultural networks, to cultural assumptions and practices which place non-white or racial minorities outside legitimate avenues of power and decision-making. Racism is both historical and contemporary; it changes over time, but it also builds on its history to accrue the power to name, place, and displace, and by so doing, to inflict violence on those at its receiving end — those whom racism makes into racial minorities through history and through the power to control the lives of other human beings. Racism is thus a process that unfolds over time and changes over time, taking different forms with different social, political, economic, and cultural effects (see Goldberg, 2002, 1993 for more elaborate discussions). Again, we emphasize the point that racism is violence, both physical and epistemic. Perhaps what makes it most odious is that this violence is often practised and/or condoned by the state and the institutions and agencies that make citizenship meaningful.

Throughout this paper, we used the term “racial minority.” Significantly, we do so when we speak to the context of how white racist power works to make non-white peoples into minorities. Additionally, we focus our attention on Black people since, as we will suggest below, the long history of racial oppression that Black people have endured sometimes works as a template for the racial domination and control of other non-white peoples. For us, racial minority as a term points to the ways in which white power works to name and organize the society and the culture we all inhabit. However, as we will demonstrate below, terms like racial minority can also work to homogenize vast and multiple experiences into single experiences and histories, thus occluding and erasing other experiences like class, gender, and sexuality. In this discussion, we offer a rich and thick description of racial minority as a category of naming and experience, in which Black people are only one group among many others.

Therefore, racial minority is not a demographic signifier for us. Racial minority is a shorthand way to point to the many different processes at work in how racism functions to make people inferior, to render their lives less than those lives deemed to be more important, and to control their access to the nation’s institutions and thus the practice of their citizenship. Racial minority is, for us, a compromise term that points to the unequal ability to name oneself in the face of white power and authority. Another term that we also use is “visible minority,” of which Blacks are one group. Here, we are applying the term as developed by the federal government, specifically the definition in the Employment Equity Act of 1995, which states that “members of visible minorities means persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.”

Finally, we define “youth” as a person between the stages of childhood and adulthood. Although various institutions and agencies additionally define youth in chronological terms, we refrain from doing so since there is no consensus on chronology for youth; figures can range from 12 years old to 30 years old inclusive. Since the category of youth is a fairly recent invention, with some scholars arguing that “youth” was invented as recently as after World War II (Fisk, 1989), we understand youth in relationship to society’s institutions, like mandatory schooling, cultural practices, self-identification, and other variables that might involve taste, music, clothing, etc. Furthermore, we specifically focus on Black youth in this paper as constituting a significant segment of the minority community in Canada. In this regard, we are hyper-aware that Black youth, especially males, have been significantly implicated in the kinds of violence and crime that this paper seeks to put into context — both in Canada and in the scholarly research elsewhere. The perception of Black male youth as violent and criminal has led to a kind of moral panic in the larger society.

What do we mean by a moral panic? Stanley Cohen, the British criminologist, offers the classic definition of a moral panic:

Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or groups of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved (or more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. (Cohen 1972: 9).

What is important to note is that the moral panic must emerge from some series of anxieties or fears that were already there, and then, in a given situation, take on a kind of life of their own. So, our question is: How do young men from poor urban neighborhoods, marked with the racial history of Blackness in Canada, become part of a moral panic around the presence of “guns and gangs?” What were and are the processes that created this moral panic? And what must be done to alleviate these problems in the future?

Let us be clear: our argument is not that there are no “guns and gangs” in racial minority neighborhoods in Toronto. That is to say, there are troubling circumstances, borne out by the racial history of Canada, from which guns and gang activities have emerged as a state of affairs in some racialized minority Toronto neighborhoods. We take time, below, to analyze the factors that have contributed to the presence of “guns and gangs” in racialized minority Toronto neighborhoods. But the reality is nowhere near the epidemic level that was announced in the salacious headlines and talk shows that for weeks were an ongoing part of our lives in the City of Toronto. Our argument is that the panic around the presence of “guns and gangs” is in part precipitated by the coming together of what criminologist have called the fear of crime, which seems to be an integral part of our neo-liberal age, and a series of incidents that have been named as high profile by the press. What then is the racial history in Canada that marks these young men’s lives, inevitably leads to some young men from racial minority neighborhoods carrying guns and organizing themselves as gangs, and leads to societal moral panic?

A Brief History of Blacks in Canada

Black people have been a part of the Canadian polity from the founding of the colonial state until its present post-colonial moment. The first Black person is reported to have arrived in the 1600s. Since that time, Black people have been coming to Canada at various periods in Atlantic and colonial history, continuing well into our contemporary moment. Each new group brings with it an addition to the diversity and complexity of Black Canadians. Therefore, Black Canadians of many generations, whether in Ontario, Nova Scotia, British Columbia or the Prairies, share similar and very different experiences of life in Canada. More recent immigrations of Black peoples from the Caribbean and Africa also share and differ in their experiences of life in Canada (Cooper, 2006, Hill, 1981, Walker, 1976, Winks, 2000).

Although the history of physical or chattel slavery in Canada is a comparatively short one in the Americas, it is important to understand that, as a part of the British Empire in the Americas, Canada shares a white colonial and settler history that imbues it with many of the assumptions, practices, and attitudes that have come to characterize and shape white settler colonies. Issues related to genocide and near genocide of Aboriginal communities, chattel slavery and the dehumanization of Africans and African-descended peoples, a privileging of whiteness and European cultural institutions, customs and norms, as well as an assumption of civilizing nonwhite peoples or racial minorities, are some of the basic and pervasive taken-for-granted attitudes that underpin modern settler colonies. Canada is a part of this ideological stance, which assumes that non-white people historically required civilizing.

In this sense, then, neo-slavery continued well into the second half of the last century, particularly during the period when Canada was officially a White man’s country and Black and other visible minority immigration was effectively prohibited. Canada did not officially abandon its White-man’s-country ideal until 1971, when a policy of official multiculturalism was announced, which suggested an end to the white male as the template for Canadian citizenship. Multiculturalism is also an attempt to deal with the issues of neo-slavery in terms of Canadian institutions and who those institutions recognize fully as citizens. This new policy coincided with some specific legislative initiatives around this time, including a new immigration policy in 1967 that allowed a more universal approach to accepting who would become future citizens; the federal multicultural policy of 1971; a new Citizenship Act in 1977; and the Multiculturalism Act of 1988. Other major initiatives aimed at creating a new Canada — one that is committed ideologically to a “Just Society,” that is, a liberal democracy that is multicultural — include the inclusion of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in a patriated Canadian Constitution and, at the provincial level, the institutionalization of an Ontario Human Rights Bill and various changes to the Ontario education system.3

Although the Black population in Canada remained a small one compared with those in the Caribbean and the US, the growth of the Canadian Black population remained identifiable well into the 1970s, when increased numbers of Blacks continued to migrate, in a number of different waves, and establish themselves in Canada. The first stream was home-grown slavery, in both the British and the French colonies in what later became Canada. The second stream corresponded with the US War of Independence, in which Loyalists were allowed to bring their property (slaves) with them (some Black Loyalists also came as freed men). A third stream of Blacks emigrated, fleeing the Fugitive Slave Law of 1852 in the US, well into the US Civil War of 1860– 1865. Yet others came after British emancipation in 1832, and so on. Thus, Black peoples have been migrating to the geographic space of Canada for some time now.

However, it was not until the end of the World War II that significant numbers of Blacks and other racial minorities entered Canada. The period prior to that is noted for Canada’s authorities’ attempting to institute and establish policies to produce and maintain itself as a white settler nation with a racist immigration policy (Stasiulis, 1995, Walker, 1980, Alexander and Glaze, 1996). It is the period of modern immigration reform that most concerns us in regard to Black life in Canada. However, it behooves us to point out that patterns emerge in Ontario similar to those in Nova Scotia, where a significant portion of the Black community can trace its roots to the Loyalists (whether freed or slave) and Jamaican Maroons. Although the bulk of Black Ontarians are recent migrants and their Canadian-born children, many of the issues affecting contemporary Black people in Ontario are very similar to the issues confronting the descendents of the Black Loyalists, the Maroons, and new immigrants and their Canadian-born children. Indeed, it is worth noting that fully a third of the United Empire Loyalists, many of them Blacks, resettled in what would later become Ontario (Foster, 1996). The one thing that unites all these waves of Black people into a coherent history, if not a community, across generations and cultural differences, is the history of racial oppression experienced in Canada.

Well into the 1960s, Blacks were allowed into Canada in any substantive numbers only under special and strict provisions. Two programs best characterize this period. Both programs targeted women. From 1922 to 1931, Caribbean women were recruited as domestic workers, and again from 1955 to 1961, a second wave of Caribbean women was allowed in as domestics (Calliste, 1993 Carty 1994). In his Toronto Trilogy (The Meeting Point, 1967; Storm of Fortune, 1971; The Bigger Light, 1975), eminent Canadian author Austin Clarke documents the conditions of life for these women and the small group of men who made up their community at that time. Thus, restrictions on Black immigration to Canada have been at the forefront of Black political organizing in the history of Blacks in Canada (Taylor 1994; Hill, 1996, Grizzle 1998). Yet, despite this history of “being deemed unsuitable,” the most popular narrative about Blacks in Canada is the Underground Railroad, which has been rewritten as a Canadian story of benevolence and tolerance.

Across all historical periods, Blacks in Canada have organized to protect their rights, enhance their freedoms and refuse to be made subordinate (Smardz-Frost, 2007, Cooper, 2006, Taylor 1994). But after World War II, Blacks organized in a fashion that since has been unbroken. From the Sleeping Car Porters Union of the 1950s (Hill, 1981, Grizzle, 1998, Mathieu, 2001) to the Black Action Defense Committee of the 1980s and after (Taylor 1994, Foster, 1996, Grizzle 1998), Blacks in Canada have organized to seek redress for racial oppression and inequality along a range of issues; they have founded many different organizations and associations to articulate their interests in regard to freedom and equality.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Caribbean immigration to Canada grew at an unprecedented rate, with over 400,000 Caribbean people and their Canadian-born children calling Canada home by the 1990s. The Black population is reported by Statistics Canada to be as high as 600,000 today, although there is some discussion that this might be an underestimation (Torczyner 1997). A significant portion of the Black population resides in Ontario, over 300,000, with the largest percentage living in Toronto and its suburbs. The Black community consists of people from the diverse nation-states of the Caribbean (many of them multicultural), as well as the diverse nation-states of post-colonial continental Africa. Particularly in the latter group, many Canadian Blacks come from religious and ethnically diverse societies as well, where clan or ethnic loyalties are sometimes more important than national designations. Thus, the profile of the Black community is truly diverse and multi-ethnic, and its evolution and composition reach back to more than 400 years on Canadian soil.

To reiterate, but with a difference, racial oppression and white power make this diverse community one, but this should by no means reduce the Black community to a homogeneous community. Indeed, we contend in this paper that class, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality further complicate the story of Black life in Canada, Ontario, and Toronto. In this sense, then, much of our analysis of events, literature, and an array of circumstances for making sense about violence and crime will be in regard to how poor and working poor Black people and other racial minorities living in poverty are affected by violence and crime.

Some Context in Brief: Neo-Liberalism and Its Impact

Neo-liberalism might be understood as constituted from a number of different forces that put various practices into play for the management of populations. Most notable is neo-liberalism’s economic rationale for whittling away at the welfare state. Black British scholars have pointed to the managerialism of neo-liberalism policy and practices. In this view, neo-liberalism is more than trade liberalization; it is a set of policies and practices, which are unevenly implemented, and these policies stretch across the economic, the social, and the cultural. Seen this way, we also begin to realize how neo-liberalism might be understood as a part of the production of violence and crime among racial minorities.

In the late 1970s, and then in the 1980s, in a series of elections around the globe characterized by symbolic figures like Margaret Thatcher in Britain in the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan in the US in the 1980s, Brian Mulroney in Canada in the mid-1980s, and similar-minded chancellors in Germany and presidents in Japan, the neo-liberal economic agenda took shape and became normalized in much of the capitalist world. At the provincial level, we also saw the election of the Mike Harris government, committed to its neo-liberal policies under the framework of a “Common Sense Revolution.” This revolution was marked by the downloading of specific welfare services to municipalities, which, because of severe funding restraints, were often left in the position of having to eliminate welfare programs. This normalization of neo-liberal approaches included more than the unfolding of international economics, international trade, and domestic policies; it also produced narratives of demonization (i.e., the so-called Black youth mugging crisis) and practices of managerialism that reached into the cultural and everyday lives of citizens, well beyond the economic (Hall, 2007, Harvey, 2005). For example, Thatcher’s Britain demonized Black youth, helping to produce a crisis of mugging, which continues to frame Black youth experiences in Britain today. Ronald Reagan’s two terms saw the over-policing of African American and Latino/a working classes and their communities (Hall et al, 1978, Kelly, 1997, Reed, 1991). Through a series of rewriting of laws, so-called gang violence was targeted in US urban centres, producing and reconfiguring what many scholars and activists have come to call the new slave system of the US: the prison industrial complex (Davis, 2005, Wilson, 2007).

Most important for our purposes are the forms of demonization, surveillance, and practices of “otherization” that accompanied the putatively non-economic side of the neo-liberal triumph. Indeed, the same thing has been said about the Ontario “Common Sense Revolution,” with its acute emphasis on policing and the suggestion of tougher sentences and longer periods of incarceration, and the debates in Ontario concerning the adoption of a three-strikes approach to criminal sentences, which was widely seen in the Black community as itself a strike against Black youths, particularly males, both in the school system and in the judicial system. The Safe Schools Act, a policy forged out of those kinds of debates, which was aimed at showing zero tolerance for violence in schools, led to the expulsion of many Black students involved in various incidents in schools. This policy coincided with the introduction of boot-camp discipline in penal institutions, the creation of private jails that replicate the U.S method of penal warehousing of offenders, and the institutionalization of “workfare” to replace welfare payments, mainly for “welfare queens,” a derogatory concept for Black female welfare recipients borrowed from the US.

At the federal level, “Mulroneyism” contradictorily supported the international and national withering of the welfare state, especially with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. At the same time, Brian Mulroney made multiculturalism an Act of Parliament, enshrining it as an important national policy statement. Thus, Mulroney’s years are often not assessed as the beginning of neo-liberalism’s entry into Canada. But it was not until the election of Mike Harris in the mid-1990s that the conditions of neo-liberalism really affected Ontarians in ways other than the economic. It is important to note that economic decisions, as we have pointed out in the Introduction, have effects that manifest themselves beyond the realm of numbers. In the Ontario case, decisions made under the pretext of economic rationalization included the dissolving of the anti-racism secretariat, the termination of employment equity programs and after school programs, the closing of recreational facilities and/or the charging of user fees, cuts to social assistance, cuts to social housing programs, and so on. This created conditions which impacted the social and cultural lives of Ontarians and exacerbated conditions of poverty for those already on the margins. It is within those conditions that the violence with which this Review is concerned came to be. Thus, this Review’s work is actually about a context that is far greater than violence. It is, in large part, about government’s will to invest in human resources and community infrastructure. The important thing to note, in light of the ways in which economic policy affected the most vulnerable people, by which significant numbers of poor Black and visible/racial minorities found themselves impacted, is that this economic policy was also followed by a cultural arm of neo-liberalism. This cultural arm is the management of poor communities through various forms of “policing,” whether it is racial profiling, Safe Schools Acts, various policies of zero-tolerances, and so on, which continue to send the signal to the marginalized that they do not belong. It is in the context of the whittling away at the welfare state and other policies that limit poor peoples’ life chances that Canada’s and Ontario’s “underclass” begins to solidify itself in Toronto, Canada’s most important city.

How to Think about the Literature: A Review

There is no doubt that poor Black youth are in crisis. We make the distinction between poor Black youth and middle-class or upper-class Black youth, not to deny that the latter also face racism (our definition above includes them), but rather to point immediately to the ways in which racism and class oppression and disadvantage has specifically impacted poor Black people and other poor racial minorities. As we point out above, racism changes over time and with context. Thus, it is more effective to think in terms of racisms than to think of a single transhistorical racism. It is our view that racism, in the singular, often tends to end up not addressing the specific issues that makes life for poor racialized peoples particularly violent.

Whether in Canada, Britain, or the US, poor Black people and other racial minorities are dealing with vast amounts of violence in their lives and communities (Bennett, 2003, Cashmore and Troyna, 1982, Hales, 2005, Hallsworth, 2005). Significantly, in all these cases, young Black men have been identified as carrying the brunt of this violence and crime as both victims and perpetrators (Barn, 2001, Cashmore and McLaughlin, 1991, Durant, et al, 1994, McLagan, 2005, Palmer, 2002, Tilley and Bullock, 2002). Many different reasons have been offered for why this is the case. Cultural reasons have come to dominate the public-sphere debate, with ideas about popular culture (specifically hip hop) and family (i.e., single mothers and lack of fathers) being the two most important. As we have already suggested, the research literature tends to point in the direction of the history of racial oppression and its continuing contemporary impact. Here, we are offering an analysis of the literature as it applies to the Canadian case. We will, in other sections, address directly the cultural argument demonstrating how that argument is also infused with racist assumptions and ideas about Black people.

The media, too, play a significant role in this conversation. Often, the media has reported crime and violence as if it is merely an outgrowth of the Black community. In such a fashion, crime and violence are understood and represented as belonging to “the Black community,” and Black people are thus portrayed as cut off from the larger citizenry. Such forms of reporting draw on a history of stereotyping, which positions Black people as more deviant, dangerous and violent than others. Media reporting has tended to cover “the Black community” most extensively when the issues are negative ones, and even when the centre of the coverage is not negative, negative inferences are the impetus for the story. Thus, reports that might look at community picnics or festivals often begin or conclude by reminding viewers or readers that the neighborhood being covered is one plagued with crime, thus making the coverage of the community for such events appear unusual. It might thus be argued that such forms of media reporting make it appear that Black people are “naturally” linked to crime and violence in very primary ways.

The issues of gun violence, crime and Black people have taken on a certain urgency, most recently (2005) marked by incidents, high-profiled in the media, such as the shooting of Amon Beckles on the steps of the church, while attending the funeral of his friend Jamal Hemmings who was also shot to death. However, things really heated up with the tragic death of Jane Creba on Boxing Day in downtown Toronto in the same year. Ms. Creba’s death marked a shift in the public conversation concerning this “new” phenomenon of gun crime in Toronto and Ontario. Unfortunately, Ms. Creba’s death highlighted the deeper discourse that makes Black people appear to be more aberrant, less humane, and in need of more constant policing, surveillance, and control. All those sentiments were well expressed in the public debate that followed Ms. Creba’s death, including a highly publicized media event by the then-leader of the opposition, Stephen Harper, which used the murder scene as the backdrop for his electioneering — particularly for the announcement of proposals for a get-tough-policy on crime — and for his party’s plans to return the streets to Canadians. Such kinds of discourse are really available to Canadians through our intimate experience of the US, but importantly, such discourses skillfully suggest that Black people do not intimately belong to the nation. Mr. Harper won the election and has since introduced tough anti-crime legislation that has recently passed the Senate. This suggests that this issue — and the same or similar backdrops — might be reprised in the next federal election.

As we pointed out in our discussion of neo-liberalism and its rearrangement of contemporary life, making sense of this “new” phenomenon of gun crime has to be located within at least a 35-year period in Canada, Ontario, and across the globe. In many Western nations, the anxieties about the increasing numbers of Black peoples in places they are seen not to “naturally” belong (Canada, Britain, and other parts of the West; in this regard the US is different) have led to the demonization of them in difficult economic times, but the demonization also has a much longer history in terms of the larger story of European colonial expansion and its accompanying anti-Black racism.

If we recall the police shootings of the late 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s in Canada and Ontario, alongside the Toronto Star’s reports on racial profiling from October 19–27, 2002, which statistically confirmed what many of us knew and had personally experienced (often racial minority scholars write from and analyze information from insider knowledge since some of us are subject to the same conditions we observe and study as scholars), we see a pattern of Black victimization and resistance to it by Black people. What is significant is how the conditions of the last 30 years have produced an inward turn of violence as it is unleashed on the working poor and poor in their communities, often on themselves but not exclusively so. Violence in these communities must also be understood as over-policing, inadequate health access and care, gender violence in families and beyond, and homophobic and trans-phobic violence, alongside the social control and the political and cultural disenfranchisement of these affected communities from full citizenship in the province and the country. (For a discussion of these kinds of effects in the US, see Gilmore, 2007).

For example, tensions involving the Toronto police service from the 1970s to the 1980s laid the groundwork for their contemporary relations with poor Black communities and other poor racialized communities like the Vietnamese, who in the 1980s were also perceived to be involved in the gang drug trade. The many Black men shot by Toronto police in that period and the allegations of racial profiling recently legitimated by the Toronto Star’s reporting mentioned above all contributed to a context in which tensions existed and continued to exist, despite changes in practice and procedure of policing during that time. Without a solid understanding of the history of suspicion, we cannot even begin to make sense of practices like “no snitching” in some communities. These communities have a long, and quite often justified, suspicion of the police and other authorities like children’s services in their communities.

In this regard, these communities more often see themselves reflected in “the ghetto politics” of US cities than in Canadian social life. Such cross-border affinities are well documented in the mixture of real and imaginary narrations of “hood life” espoused by local rappers from Regent Park, Flemington Park, Lawrence Heights, and Jane and Finch. The tension between police and racialized communities in the 1990s best pinpoints the ways in which poor racial minority communities have come to identify with cross-border expressions of social life. Indeed, these tensions have made their way into the literature of Black Canadians, such as in Governor General’s Award-winning poet Dionne Brand’s Thirsty (2002), which deals in part with tensions between the police and Blacks in Toronto, and the plays of Joseph Pierre, which deal with youth, masculinity, crime, and poverty.

In 1992, when the Yonge Street Riots occurred and young Black people said that they felt the treatment they received from police in Toronto was not different from the ways in which police treated African Americans in US urban areas, Canadians by and large disapproved of such sentiments and claimed a difference from their counterparts in the US. Several major newspapers, radio and television news reports responded that Canada was quite different from the US. Our multicultural policies and law were used as a buttress against claims that racism similar to that in US had taken root and was fast creating an underclass of Black and other racial minority citizens. But Stephen Lewis’s report of 1992 pinpointed “anti-Black racism” as a central feature of the lives of young Black people in Toronto and the province and, we can say, across this country. Thus, from the 1970s to the 1990s, it was deemed incorrect by some of the nation’s most powerful institutions for Black Canadians to identify with African American racial oppression. However, by the turn of the century, this outlook had changed. Canadians were now looking to the US for answers to dealing with the emergence of gun crime and violence among its urban poor.


Over a hundred years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois (1899) published The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, a comprehensive study of African American social and cultural life in an American city, Philadelphia. In that study, which Elijah Anderson describes as no “mere museum piece” (ix), Du Bois identified and offered an analysis of the conditions that gave rise to what has now emerged as successive generations of working poor and endemic poverty among African Americans. The brilliance of Du Bois’s analysis was in the way in which he spoke to the conditions he studied and the prophetic nature of his argument, which continues to point to the conditions of economic rationality that produce particular kinds of social and cultural effects for African Americans. Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro still offers a useful counterpoint to texts and theories like William Julius Wilson’s (1987) underclass theory, as well as to culture of poverty theories (Moynihan, 1965). What Du Bois offered was a critique of the racialization of capitalism, which produced a Black surplus labour force or population that had to be socially controlled by authorities, which limited the citizenship rights of Blacks, which in turn impacted on their identification with the nation.

Similarly, in 1978, Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke and Brian Roberts published the still relevant and ground-breaking Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. In the study, they demonstrated, across a range of nation-state mechanisms, how the invention of mugging as a state technique of control of unruly and undesirable bodies worked to suggest that those who were non-white or Black in Britain needed a special kind of control. In Hall et al, the social history of the moral panic of mugging provides readers with a methodology for making sense of moral panics — how “events are produced, perceived, classified, explained and responded to” (p.18). By providing a methodology of a moral panic, Hall et al pointed to how moral panics are used, both discursively and in regard to state policy, to police and control those citizens who pose contradictions for the nation as surplus labour in neo-liberal capitalist arrangements.

We have turned to Du Bois and Hall et al as a backdrop for thinking about race and crime in Canada, specifically Blackness and crime in Ontario, because we think their insights help us to explore differently what might be at stake in various responses to and analyses of what might be the first generation of “street gang crime” among Canada’s and Toronto’s Black diasporic youth populations. In what follows, we try to work across a fairly wide terrain to offer an analysis that makes the nation-state present as a unit of investigation. As well, we point to diaspora identifications and practices to make sense of them. We identify what we call migrant subjectivities (more on this in the section on belonging) to discuss cultural practices and attitudes. Finally, we discuss the ways in which a range of institutions, including those established by Black people (like churches), has failed the Black poor.

The history of North American anti-Black racism, along with the unfolding of neo-liberalism, specifically “Mulroneyism,” federal Liberal cutbacks of the 1990s, and the severe policy reforms and cutbacks by Mike Harris of the 1990s in Ontario, helped to create conditions of severe poverty and other forms of social and cultural disenfranchisement for poor racial minorities (Ornstein Report, York University). Some estimates, such as in the Ornstein Report, suggest that 50% of Black Canadians live on or below the national poverty line. But his suggestion fits well with others. The Canadian Association of Social Workers (2005), using Statistics Canada data, suggests that about 50% of Black Canadians live on or below the Canadian line of poverty. Racialized young people in Canada experience much of this poverty, the experts point out. It is in fact these kinds of social and economic conditions that give rise to the kinds of violent phenomena we are witnessing and that Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro can help us make sense of in our times. Du Bois’s study demonstrated how social conditions produced numerous kinds of social problems. Importantly, he showed how the history of racial oppression had worked to make life difficult even for Black Philadelphians who sought to do better economically. It is our contention that a similar process has been under way in Ontario, and Canada more generally, since the at least 1980s.

Most interesting is that Canada has been repeatedly rated as one of the top 10 Western counties in which to reside. But persistent poverty among Canada’s Black and Aboriginal/First Nations peoples tells a different story of that top rating. As Hall et al and Du Bois point out, in such cases, social control and authoritarian measures become at least one way to blunt the force of such capitalist contradictions, which are often remedied by programs of moral regulation. It is the cultural aspect of neo-liberalism that blames people for their poverty and thus for social ills that we are now forced to address. In this regard, the racialized poor find themselves the victims of a social rhetoric that understands their cultural practices as degenerate. Ideas of new and old racisms allow us to think about how state power positions racialized class as a failure of the individual, and not as socially produced and therefore requiring social action. What Hall et al (1978) call the “social history of social reaction” is crucial to the policing of Black youth. They write:

Schematically, it begins with the unresolved ambiguities and contradictions of affluence....It is experienced first, as a diffused social unease, as an unnaturally accelerated pace of social change, an unhingeing (sic) of stable patterns, moral points of reference. It manifests itself...as an unlocated surge of social anxiety... on the hedonistic culture of youth, on the disappearance of the traditional insignia of class....Later, it appears to focus on more tangible targets: specifically, on the anti-social nature of youth movements, on the threat to British life by the black immigrant, and on the ‘rising fever chart’ of crime (p.321).

What Hall et al are diagnosing is how a social, moral and political panic comes into being. For our purposes, we point to the ways in which the contradictions concerning the unequal distribution of wealth is managed by suggesting that poor people are at fault for not doing better. Such ideas turn poverty into an individual experience and condition, as opposed to an experience and condition that is produced by the decisions of the larger society.

In societies that pride themselves on attempting to achieve social good, poor people, especially poor racialized people, always represent a societal “stain” that must be cleaned up or erased in various ways. This is often achieved through housing, as the poor are pushed farther away from the central operations of the nation’s business. We see this in Toronto, Montreal, Paris, London, Amsterdam — all cities where the racialized poor live on their borders and hardly ever in the core of the city (Centre for Urban and Community Studies, “Three Cities in One”). (This is not entirely so for Toronto, but increasingly becoming so.) All kinds of poorly funded and staffed agencies exist, in each of those cities, to address poverty and various forms of marginalization and disenfranchisement. Each of those agencies tends to have its specific moral and political agenda, and into this context the Black church and its social agencies have emerged again as an important voice.

The Contemporary Black Church: Answer or Part of the Problem?

The Black church is one such agency these days. The Black church has come to have a significant role in helping to morally police the Black poor in a post-civil rights era. Faith-based social agencies have emerged, and play an important role, if not sometimes a contradictory role, as we shall point out below. Although the Black church is historically important (Clarke, 1991, Foster, 1996), the church also plays a role in gender-related and homophobic violence (Cohen, 1999). Many faith-based agencies do not address or respond to crises considered sinful by their theological doctrine. Therefore, in the realm of social issues, faith-based leadership is often compromised leadership that cannot reach out to a wide cross-section of the community concerning difficult social matters.

A brief analysis of Reverend Eugene Rivers’s visit to Toronto in January 2007 accentuates our concerns. Reverent Rivers is a Boston Minister who, in the mid-1990s, gained national attention in the US on two fronts. The first and most important was what has been hailed as “the Boston miracle,” in which Reverend Rivers was commended for his work in helping to reduce crime, specifically gun-related crime in one of Boston’s most dangerous communities. The second bit of notoriety is built around his attempt to shame the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard by claiming that the intellectuals had failed “the people.” Rivers’s claim resulted in a symposium at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the mid1990s, infamously called “The Role of the Black Intellectuals in the Age of Crack.”

Rivers’s subsequent visit to Toronto was well covered by all media, and he met with important city officials like the mayor and toured communities affected by violence. In Rivers’s many statements, he mentioned the need for social programs to stem the tide of violence. However, we would say that his advice, though generally useful, did not speak to the local context of conditions in Canada, Ontario and Toronto. His overemphasis on fatherless homes, spiritual poverty and a “family values” agenda speaks of the kind of moral policing we mentioned earlier, which tends to exclude rather than include.

It is important to point out that such arguments are cultural arguments, and therefore the assumption behind the problems’ resolution appears to rest with individuals and/or the community, who are understood in such arguments to be culturally deficient. In such assessments, no structural changes are required. The redistribution of wealth or power is not addressed, and the social problems lie only with individuals and communities. Culture of poverty arguments date back to the 1960s at the least, but might have a deeper resonance in term of the kinds of poverty the ex-slaves were released to. Such cultural arguments, quite frankly, work to absolve governments from having to participate in social programs and other responses that might require monetary investments in people and communities. Significantly, such arguments also pathologize Black peoples, making it appear that the very constitution of their cultural practices and expressions are deviant and abnormal. What such arguments do not account for are the ways in which the economic and the social work together to produce cultural responses, expressions, and habits.

There can be no doubt that the post-civil rights era has ushered in a diminishment of the political reach of the Black church across North America. This decline in political reach is a complex one and we cannot easily summarize it in this paper. Therefore, we want to point to one or two general claims about its decline that might help us to situate its role today. The church has diminished in stature as it has failed to grapple seriously with issues related to feminism (especially domestic violence and child abuse) and homophobia (especially HIV/AIDS) (Husbands, 2007). As Husband’s points out, there is an assumption, still, in some Black communities, that HIV/AIDS is related to immoral practices, and such assumptions are used to limit women’s access to insisting their men use condoms and practise safer sex, since such an insistence might be understood as suggesting that one or the other engaged in some kind of immoral behavior. Quite often, religious beliefs and moral attitudes sit behind these kinds of “choices.”

The Black church, in the US context, played an important role helping to usher in a Black middle class in the civil rights and post-civil rights era. The “new” Black middle class, like all middle classes, sought to separate themselves from the working poor and poor around them, thus, similarly to whites, fleeing to US suburbs. Thus, what was once imagined (and we stress imagined) and perceived as a united Black community became fractured politically, socially, and culturally. What emerged was that the Black middle class was able to be a power broker, or at least the authorized Black voice within governmental and institutional spaces on behalf of an imagined national Black community — a national Black community that usually means middle class interests and concerns, especially around glass-ceiling employment issues and stereotyping, but hardly ever issues around poverty. So, let us be clear: the Black church accrued its power from the deep and historical disenfranchisement of African Americans from the formation of the US nation-state, in particular its governmental apparatus, which was put in place shortly after the Reconstruction period following the Civil War (1860s). The Black church thus filled a void that was as much civic as it was religious in the US. As has been well documented in the US, the Black church only became a central force in the US civil rights movement because there were no other organizations well populated and organized enough to reach the necessary demographic and mobilize various communities in acts of resistance to segregation. The church’s position arose out of political necessity, not out of some preordained and predestined order. The church’s unrivalled power has now mostly past, but like many other mighty institutions, it struggles to reclaim its lost power through faith-based social agencies.

Governments, hampered by the effects of neo-liberal reforms, have turned to faith-based social agencies to address the social and cultural impact of economic reforms. Thus, these governmental programs, made popular by the current US President Bush, have opened up an important space for the Black church (and more broadly, other Christian denominations as well as other religious communities) to enter political and thus secular life through the back door by distributing public dollars to faith communities’ social agencies. These faith communities have become the sites of distributions for important funds, like HIV/AIDS education and sex education, community social and recreational programs, and other programs like the skills training necessary for ameliorating the sometimes dire conditions of social and cultural life for the poor and working poor in urban areas of the US. However, it must be understood that a series of serious problems around faith-based programs, ranging from homophobia to gender discrimination to patriarchal practices, are emerging from community activists in the US. Others have begun to document how faith-based agencies have been a central force in attempts to push back against youth contraception, sex before marriage, and queer youth coming out, and have even been providing young men with skills to be better patriarchs, fathers and husbands, in their future homes (See ColorLines, Spring 2005). Thus, we believe that faith-based agencies must be greeted with caution as they come to the table around these issues in Canada.

The Black church in Canada is an even more complex entity than its US counterpart is. The Black church in Canada draws on its many different denominations, but it is also constituted from many different periods of migration to Canada. For example, fifth-and sixth-generation Black Canadians have a relationship to the Black church that is very different from that of recent immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. In many cases, Black people worship and form a community in Baptist, Pentecostal, and other Christian denominations, but they also worship in mainstream denominations like the Anglican and Catholic churches. Additionally, there are the syncretic religious practices, which combine African and Christian practices that remain somewhat outside the mainstream in Canada (here, we mean Vodun, Yoruba, and Kumina, as a few examples). Thus, the Black church in Canada is as diverse and multi-faceted as the Black community is. We should therefore be cautious about elevating the church and its faith-based agencies into central sites for social redress of social ills.

The language and the politics of faith-based programs have consequences. They help cement the cultural impact of the neo-liberal triumph of the last 30 years. They help to put in place the continued surveillance and control of the urban poor (a project that has been with us since humans invented cities and thus “moral soldiers” to police the practices of the poor). They aim to convince those among us who have been rendered obsolete by global capitalism that it is our fault, and not that of the radical remaking of the welfare state — a state that, even within the confines of previous periods of capitalism, was willing to tacitly acknowledge that a good society looks after those who cannot look after themselves. Faith-based programs work to put in place the cultural side of the neo-liberal economic program. The social and economic largely drop out, and culture (music, dress, language, etc.) takes its place along with religion. These programs are fundamentally concerned with control — the control of conduct and the governance of the self. Indeed, there is a danger in reading the Black community as too homogenized; in this case, owing to the imagined unity stemming from one place: the Black Christian church. A significant number of Black/African Muslims are now an element of the community, further complicating the Christian bias in many of these conversations and responses, since it is often (but not exclusively) Christian-led churches that head these agencies.

Law and Order: Part of the Problem?

The death of Jane Creba pushed many politicians to articulate a more forceful law-and-order agenda. Many of the politicians’ positions abdicated their responsibility to represent the interests of Black Canadians as constituents and citizens in their immediate responses to the tragedy. We want to stress that such calls often reinforce the idea that Black people do not belong or that they are barely citizens and constituents. For poor racialized people, such positions become a part of the profound disenfranchisement that they experience, often causing them to believe that no one is looking out for their interests.

All three levels of government have made law and order a priority in relation to gun crimes. New funding has been found for policing, and debates about various legislation are under way. Ontario’s government found a reported $50 million to invest in law and order, and both Chief of Police Bill Blair and Mayor David Miller supported the investment. Such developments suggest that law and order investment, not community investment, is the way to respond to these crises. Those actions further suggest that the Black community is solely responsible for the crises. Thus, the law and order debates often tend to suggest that Black people are not a part of the larger society, and therefore, that all of the society should not share in the resolution of the problems identified. In essence, some communities are policed while others are told they will be kept safe, as if all do not share the same city, province, and nation.

When the Toronto police raided numerous homes in affected neighborhoods (like, for example, Jamestown in Etobicoke) in search of alleged “gang members,” these actions suggest that a “war” had been declared on the poor. Such “wars” have a long history in the US urban context and were most visible in the 1970s and 1980s. But importantly, such practices target all those who are young and phenotypically Black, and those who are Black identified and/or “Black tainted” (tainted in terms of identifiable forms of dress, attitude, and other markers of Black popular culture, especially hip hop fashion and style). We would argue that these raids produce fear, and help to further push people away from the authorities. Such practices, like raids and helicopter surveillance, have produced these effects in US urban centres. Earlier, when we claimed that poor Black people identify with “US ghetto” politics, it was with the above-mentioned kinds of practices in mind, like large-scale raids in communities that the poor in Canada’s marginalized neighborhoods identify with, for better or worse. Such practices tell people that they are, and make them, less than citizens. In this sense, citizenship is treated like a gift and not a right.

For example, with respect to the much sensationalized and excerpted DVD The Real Toronto, little has been made of the voices of the disenfranchised and alienated Black youth in that DVD who pointed to a history of harassment and criminalization (see more on this below). One of the onscreen personalities points out that, from about age thirteen, they are being criminalized by the police. In the US context, such measures have failed. Three-strikes laws have disproportionately incarcerated young Black men for crimes that are often not very serious, and over-policing of communities has led to mistrust and even more violence (Wilson, 2007, Sudbury, 2005). The evidence of gun crime is clear and requires serious solutions, but equally problematic are the solutions being offered. One of the most profound aspects of The Real Toronto is the sense that the viewer gets from the people in it, namely that they do not belong to Canadian society and that they are totally responsible for themselves.

Intense focus on the The Real Toronto DVD by law enforcement and the general public has made inaudible the rebuttal by Black youth concerning hip hop culture in a 2006 documentary called The Toronto Rap Project. Despite a glowing review from the Toronto Star, and despite winning “Best Documentary” at the 2006 Reel World Film Festival, The Toronto Rap Project has not significantly impacted how the general public connects rap music with violence. This DVD and soundtrack presents a counter-narrative to the dominant images proliferated by the media via selectively sensationalized news coverage. The documentary covers the “year of the gun,” 2005, and attempts to disentangle the simplistic, linear way in which violence is blamed on rap music. These DVDs speak more profoundly to the need to belong than to the sensationalism for which they have been excerpted. It is clear that young people possess the knowledge and skills to contribute to and to engage in refuting the demonization and caricatures applied to them.

The Politics of Belonging and Multiculturalism

For racial minorities, the larger and more general concern of how to belong to Canada is something that must be seriously considered. As our brief history of Blacks in Canada points out, despite being in Canada since its founding, Black people are consistently seen as not belonging. This problem of not belonging is particularly acute for the second and third generations of the 1960s and 1970s migrations. Those generations know no home other than Canada. Yet, their presence in this country seems to disturb many, even in the context of state multiculturalism. Taken together, second-and third-generation Black poor and working poor youth force us, in a number of different kinds of ways, to account for the excluding machinations of modern nation-state citizenship as it continues to produce a narrative of the country that views itself as white, placing Black youth outside of the only home they have ever known. Therefore, we argue that the narratives and public histories of citizenship in the modern West (Canada included) is a particular kind of violence with which the racialized poor must constantly contend.

To make sense of the last five years of intensified gun violence in Canada, at the centre of the analysis must be an appreciation, understanding, and acknowledgement of persistent racisms, xenophobia, and the production of what we call migrant subjectivities in the Western Metropolis. In the case of the latter, migrant subjectivities, its production is simultaneously one of agency and one of exclusion. By this we mean that many of the young people concerned in our analysis cannot be considered migrants by any stretch of the imagination, because they have either migrated at such a young age that memories and or pertinent engagements with another homeland are tenuous, or they are second-and third-generation children, born in the West (Canada), of immigrant parents. However, they are produced, and have experienced life, within a context of having to negotiate a here and a there, in both the public and private realms (school and home), for which their only reference point is the production of there here. There here is a constant interchange of understanding their parents’ homeland here and never there, and understanding their (youths’) homeland as elsewhere, while here (Walcott, 2001). In this way, they have an experience and engagement with migration, even when they themselves have not migrated — such is migrant subjectivity. This migrant subjectivity constitutes a significant critique of nation-state inadequacies: it can be a nostalgic longing, or it can be a perverse and disturbing anthropologisation of an imagined homeland culture, always somewhere outside of the metropolitan place. Multiculturalism in its most unsophisticated practices, such as food festivals and celebrations, produces such experiences of alienation and disconnection. This is the stuff of anomie.

Recent debates concerning multiculturalism pinpoint its ambivalent role in questions of belonging for poor racial minority people. The debate on multiculturalism has been led by public intellectuals of all kinds (Bliss, 2006, Foster, 2005, 2007, Gregg, 2006, Stein, 2006, Stein et al, 2007). Except for Foster’s (2007, 2005), the focus has been on Canada’s identity crisis. With that focus, a significant amount of anxiety concerning Canada’s racialized others is very evident. For example, Bliss states that “the assertions of ethnic minorities to the effect that Canada should have no official culture” (p. 4) has fueled the failure of the nation. This assertion by ethnic minorities, in his view, radically affects Canada’s foreign policy, and, in fact, he cautions that: “In the global struggle against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, Canada, where the Muslim population outnumbers and is growing faster than the Jewish population, veers uncertainly” (p. 5). Similarly, Gregg offers us a picture of immigrant enclaves with little or no exchange between a host community and a second generation that refuses to be integrated into a mainstream Canada, as he claims was once the case. Stein and others suggest that Canada’s social values do not register for racial minorities, and thus we are headed for a crisis. Now, although this debate is driven by the question of violence, and in particular, terrorism in a post-9/11 world, issues of gun violence, the education system, and unemployment for racialized minorities all underlie the debate, too.

In this country, proponents and critics of multiculturalism have waged war in favour of and against the idea from a range of political camps and ideological positions. The trio of camps, Right, Left, and liberal, understood multiculturalism as a necessary social cohesion proposition (liberal), saw it as the undoing of the nation’s cultural heritage (Right), or called into question its power to place cultural expression outside of the political and legislative avenues of power, especially in relation to race and class (Left). Those different positions have sat behind the ways in which the idea of multiculturalism has been deployed in Canadian life for some time now. Ideas of benevolence and tolerance are the foundation of Canadian multiculturalism, and thus must always represent Black people and other people of colour as a problem for the nation. For example, African Canadian writer/scholar Cecil Foster praises Canada for its multicultural accomplishments, suggesting that the queen of Canada is now Black due to the appointments of Nova Scotia’s Lieutenant-Governor, Mayann Francis, and the Governor General, Michaëlle Jean. Foster’s position ironically supports the idea that where race appears, power becomes absent — a long-held opinion in anti-racist and Left multicultural critiques. Foster makes his case for celebrating Francis’s induction in the context of having before argued that, in Canada, multiculturalism should have made race irrelevant if how it was practised was true to the original ideal. Foster’s is a curious argument, since many would argue that ideas of race remain central to Canadian citizenship (Walcott, 2003). But as he said in the same work, multiculturalism in Canada now serves to highlight what he calls “the dream deficit” for visible minorities — the alienation caused by the chasm between what was promised and what has been realized. Indeed, by Foster’s accounting, Canada still has a ways to go before it can be a place where race actually does not matter (Foster, 2005). In this context, anti-Black racism clearly points to the continuing dilemmas of race and nation in Canada.

Political and Social Reponses to Belonging

In recent memory, there have been too few responses to the social ills that plague poor racialized communities, especially Black ones. After the Lewis report of 1992, some programs were briefly initiated to stem the tide of disenfranchisement and poverty among Ontario’s Black youth. The Fresh Arts Program, for example, run out of the Toronto Arts Council, was highly regarded. But it no longer exists. The significant finding of Lewis’s report, we reiterate, was that “anti-Black racism” constituted a serious threat to the livelihoods of Black Canadians. Despite the various social projects and programs recently announced by the province, as well as the City’s ongoing projects, this “first” generation of violence appears to be on its way to becoming endemic violence, in part because much remains piecemeal and short-sighted in terms of social programming and social projects to impact youth culturally and economically. In February 2006, the province announced, with much fanfare, The Youth Challenge Fund, which targets 13 communities suffering from the effects of violence. It also provided provincial monies to faith-based groups to run a series of programs in similar communities. The latter has been touted as new approach. We see this approach in the larger context of the above discussion of the Black church. We are skeptical of the idea that such approaches will bear significant fruit or make any significant contribution to dealing with the kinds of social issues affecting those communities. Such approaches can only be but one small part of a much larger investment in people and their communities. More profound political leadership is needed.

Although it is not clear and remains to be seen, it is somewhat predictable, given the route the province has taken with The Youth Challenge Fund and the faith-based funding, that this type of social engineering is most likely to fail in the long term, even though it is producing seductive effects in the short term. The churches will attract the youth who were already there, along with a few others, and the terms of The Youth Challenge Fund offer a promise that requires far more than the terms and resources of the fund would allow it to do. Therefore, such a fund also needs strong and insightful government commitments to real, sustained investment in communities and people — their infrastructure, economic, cultural, and social lives. Similarly, we would suggest that most faith-based agencies are funded on trust in the idea that their actions will help, but few of them have mechanisms in place for actually measuring whether they do help. We believe that having well-funded social agencies with trained professional staff remains the best route in these matters. Finally, to date, not one level of government has seriously offered any kind of assessment of how to bring deeply alienated and excluded citizens into the Canadian family. It is that alienation and disenfranchisement that is so disturbingly present on The Real Toronto DVD.

Culture: In Brief

In the final part of this paper, we want to use The Real Toronto DVD as a way to think about culture. It is reported that the DVD has been used twice by the police to arrest “gang members,” and more recently as “evidence” in the lead-up to the raid in Jamestown. The Real Toronto is an interesting document of the issues we have been pointing to. The DVD is a disturbing mix of masculine bravado and the desire for a hip hop musical star life. Most of the young men in the video seem to desire to be rappers. And many of them perform for the camera a specific discourse of hip hop and masculinity that concerns itself with hip hop’s creditability as embedded in the street. This particular discourse thus circumscribes what the young Black men can and will say to the camera. A hard-and-dangerous masculinity has come to define and to be considered an essential quality by many urban Black youth. The history of this is complex, and it goes well beyond fatherless homes to also engage with toughness as a way of surviving in an environment where both community members and legitimate authorities might mean you harm.

Indeed, some of the young men in The Real Toronto represent and act upon a nihilistic response to the social and cultural conditions of their lives. Some brandish weapons and make statements that suggest a deep and frightening interpretation of the world they inhabit. These particular young men (only one woman appears in The Real Toronto) seem to represent the most extreme form of alienation and disenfranchisement from Canadian society. But what is most interesting is that isolating any of the youth from the larger context of the DVD, which is about much more than crime and criminal behavior and intent, makes all the youth in the DVD even scarier, and this is what the mainstream media has done in its excerpting of the DVD. Effectively, the youth act out the anomie with which we started this discussion, except that, this time, the result could be recuperated as the evidence needed to jump-start serious investment in attempting to achieve a societal good.

The Real Toronto moves across at least five different neighborhoods, interviewing young men and showcasing the dire social and physical decay of the infrastructure of the communities. The DVD interviewees offer analyses of their communities and the decay, alongside “evidence” of community projects to combat decay, where possible, through the rebuilding of basketball courts and such by community members. These participants attempt to take responsibility against the background of the effects that neo-liberal restructuring have unleashed on their communities. The Real Toronto offers a blunt assessment of the neo-liberal undoing of poor and poor Black neighborhoods. It is curious that none of the media reports have produced any discourse around this aspect of the DVD. However, if we consider how the mainstream media have largely ignored The Toronto Rap Project documentary, then we should not be surprised, since that later and well-produced documentary takes aim in a fashion similar to that of the underground The Real Toronto. Taken as a whole, with its nihilism and its exposition of social decay and the always-lurking criminalization of youth in those communities (some say that from age 12 or 13, the cops are getting their names and addresses), the The Real Toronto DVD offers a critique and assessment that returns issues of class, nation, labour, race, and state practices to the table. That The Real Toronto has only been used as a tool of state repression should give us pause, since it documents a much larger ethical imperative of our citizenship. The striking importance of The Real Toronto DVD is that its interviewees know their future, and know it to be no different from their present. Thus, we can all learn something about the failure of the state and its projects of inclusion by spending time carefully viewing both The Toronto Rap Project and The Real Toronto and by listening to how people describe the conditions under which they experience Canada.

Finally, hip hop culture is often scapegoated as a reason for violence and crime in many Black communities across North America. There can be no doubt that hip hop has been a part of the larger story of how many Black youth come to see and understand themselves (Jasper, 2002, Palmer and Pitts, 2006, White, 2004, Zylinska, 2003), but hip hop is not by its very nature violently inclined. In fact, there now exists much evidence to show that engaging various marginalized youth through hip hop is one way to stem the tide of violence, particularly among youth.

Conclusion: Recommendations

In 1992, after the Yonge Street Riots, Stephen Lewis identified anti-Black racism as central to youth alienation. Those conditions still remain. In the aftermath of that report, a number of short-lived social programs were put into place to stem youth alienation. One of those programs at the city level, Fresh Arts, was run out of the Toronto Arts Council. The Fresh Arts program has given this city a significant number of cultural producers — artist, singers, rappers, poets, film-makers, video directors, etc. (McNamara, 2007). If we look at the now-defunct Fresh Arts program, the youth it mentored in 1994 are now leading figures in the “urban” music industry, the performance arts and television. But to measure the success of Fresh Arts by its constituents would be to miss the real accomplishment of the program. Fresh Arts provided an institutional base through which young Black artists could explore issues of identity, belonging and race. Trey Anthony’s hugely successful play and television show, “Da Kink in my Hair,” d’bi young’s numerous plays and poetry, Motion’s CBC award-winning poetry, and Little X’s music video portfolio are all works made possible by the training provided at the Fresh Arts program. The efforts of these artists are small but significant contributions towards building desperately needed spaces of belonging, where Black youth can explore and articulate their cultural identity and belonging to the nation.

In our view, what we need are programs that will allow young people to engage with and make sense of the ways in which they can contribute to the culture of their communities and beyond. This kind of approach means providing young people with spaces where they can offer critiques of the culture and society and offer up alternatives generated by them. We believe these spaces cannot be ones designed to monitor young people through theology, or through the seductions of a sporting life, even if the glamour of the program is diminished. The emerging evidence in the US suggests that both sports-inspired and faith-based programs have failed to stem the tide of violence there (ColorLines, Spring 2005). In Canada, we have the opportunity and the hindsight advantage to learn from the US. Du Bois’s study of over 100 years ago still resonates in the US context as the prison industrial complex overflows with Black males and we find few of them in college class rooms. This does not have to be the case in Canada.

Therefore, our recommendations speak to the political leadership and will to implement meaningful and sustained change to stem the tide of a permanent and racializied underclass in Ontario. These recommendations are made with the understanding that the building and provision of sustained institutions, with which youth can identify in meaningful ways, will have a solid impact on their and our overall well-being. With respect to each of the recommendations, we believe that youth should play a fundamental role in their development, programming, management, employment and direction. In this way, we bring youth into practices of citizenship well before the age of majority, voting and other markers of adulthood. In our view, it is not enough to offer youth summer employment, special educational classes, recreational facilities, and so on (all of which are very important and should be a part of this process) if their aspirations will be impeded in the larger society when they reach adulthood. Thus, we believe that our recommendations would work to provide youth with evidence that their community is one that is valued in the society through the prominence of institutions that are seen to contribute to the wellbeing of all. In our view, this is a long-term project that requires time, energy, resources, and political will and leadership for long-term sustained change. We believe that such powerful recognition would have a major impact on Black youth in Ontario and, in fact, all of Canada.

Recommendations

1. Institution-Building

a) An Institute for Black Research and Innovation. This should monitor and provide continued research and policy input on the interests of Black people and other racialized people in Ontario. This will be an enhanced “Anti-Racism” Secretariat, which will be responsible for compiling, documenting, researching, and maintaining the evidence necessary to make the case for how well or how poorly Ontario is doing in regard to racial and cultural diversity and the issues that arise from such contexts. By this we mean that both government and corporate investments and collaborations with the community will be adequately assessed, improved and sustained based on informed, research-based perspectives.

b) Research Chairs in Black Studies, Multicultural Studies and Urban Studies. These chairs should be housed both at the Institute for Black Research and Innovation and at strategic Ontario universities. These researchers should see their scholarship as involved in public policy questions and concerns.

c) A Black Cultural Institute/Museum/Gallery. This Institute would program, develop, document, and preserve the rich cultural traditions of Black Ontarians and Canadians. It would be multidisciplinary in scope. Its focus would be cultural in the largest possible sense, but it would also be intellectual, drawing on the expertise of the Institute of Research and Innovation and universities, as well as on other sources, for its intellectual engagement with the wider public across Ontario and Canada.

2. Education Reforms

An education review is needed once again. This time, however, this review should narrow its scope and focus specifically on faculties of education, and particularly their teacher education programs. Teacher education programs need to be retooled for the diversity of Ontario. As it currently stands, questions of racism, diversity and marginalization are addressed in teacher education based on the “goodness” factor of the particular program. Even in these “good” programs, issues of diversity and social justice operate as empty rhetoric, as admissions committees decide on potential teacher candidates based on their “comfort level” with an application, in some cases never meeting any of the applicants in person. This must change. This review is even more necessary following the calamitous discussion we have just witnessed in the Toronto School Board on the question of a Black-focused or Afrocentric school(s). In addition, we point to the recent report by Julian Falconer, which paints a disturbing picture of violence in our schools, including the violence of the collusive silence of those officials who should be speaking up and speaking out (Falconer, 2008). Too often, we see these issues as separate and distinct. We argue that, to the contrary, they flow from the same source or sources — exclusion from full citizenship, and teacher training that is badly broken.

3. Public Campaigns

Public history campaigns that begin to address, document, and educate all Canadians about Black peoples’ place in and contributions to the national story must be initiated (again). Simple regurgitations of an Underground Railroad story that begins and ends with a benevolent Canada are completely inadequate, and serve only to silence underserved populations. These campaigns should begin to educate Ontarians and other Canadians about why the above-mentioned resources are necessary. But these campaigns should also be concerned with highlighting the ways in which Black people have always belonged to Canada. The establishment of all of recommendation 1, above, would go a long way toward achieving this goal.

4. Employment, Recreational and Arts Programs

While the above programs are in the process of being created, a network of programming initiated among government, private industry, voluntary organizations and foundations should be established in varying degrees of partnership. Although a number of these kinds of programs already exist, a more extensive and active range could be developed. These programs would introduce youth to a wide range of opportunities and help to build civic responsibility, citizenship skills, and a sense of belonging to Toronto, Ontario, and Canada. Such programs would go a long way toward stemming the disenfranchisement and alienation that many youth currently feel. A clearly defined network or portal of pre-existing programs also needs to be established as a “one-stop shop” of programs for youth.

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1We are using as our guide the definition by Statistics Canada of black as an ethnicity. Statscan segments the Canadian population into 12 ethnic groups, one of which is Black, defined as “Black (e.g., African, Haitian, Jamaican, Somali). See Statistics Canada. Race: Detailed Classification. http://www.statcan.ca/english/concepts/definitions/ethnicity01.htm.
For greater clarity see Ann Milan and Kelly Tran’s Blacks in Canada: A Long History, Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.ca/english/freepub/11-008-XIE/2003004/articles/6802.pdf, accessed Feb 6/08

2 We are using as our guide the definition by Statistics Canada of black as an ethnicity. Statscan segments the Canadian population into 12 ethnic groups, one of which is Black, defined as “Black (e.g., African, Haitian, Jamaican, Somali). See Statistics Canada. Race: Detailed Classification. http://www.statcan.ca/english/concepts/definitions/ethnicity01.htm.
For greater clarity, see Ann Milan and Kelly Tran’s Blacks in Canada: A Long History, Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.ca/english/freepub/11-008-XIE/2003004/articles/6802.pdf, accessed Feb 6/08.

3 In terms of education, this would mean the elimination of a segregated system; various initiatives in the 1970s and after to diversify teaching; and multicultural and anti-racism curriculum in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, these changes continue with the debate about, and now the promise of, at least one black focus school.

Contents

Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews