In Canada, its never about race

A black immigrant in Toronto waves a household object in a “threatening” manner. Police are called. The man is described as disturbed, unruly, unstable, and most-importantly — dangerous. Concerned police plead with the man to drop the weapon but their cries are ignored. Finally, they are forced to shoot him. He dies. A familiar tragedy.

In 1979 the man was Albert Johnson, a Jamaican immigrant who was killed in his Manchester Ave. home on a Sunday morning holding a lawn edger. His death led to protests from the black community, a high-publicity trial and the acquittal of the two accused officers. The trial of the two officers would eventually result in the establishment of the SIU. In 2015 the man is Andrew Loku, an refugee from South Sudan, who was killed holding a hammer. His death was investigated by the SIU; the officers involved were cleared of any wrongdoing.

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Separated by nearly forty years, both men died unnecessarily at the hands of Toronto police. What is particularly haunting about both incidents is not merely the horrors of police violence nor the similarities of their deaths, but rather the virtually identical responses to both deaths in the white Canadian media. In both Johnson’s and Loku’s cases white Canadian law enforcement, media, and judiciary frame the killings as unfortunate incidents & sad tragedies rather than as the racist behaviour of a racist society. The identical responses to both killings demonstrates very clearly how anti-black racism is at the heart of Canadian public discourse.

Where the gorblummuh is here? CanLit, Clarke, and Algorithmic Criticism

One of the questions that haunts my research is why is Austin Clarke’s writing so marginal within Canadian Literature? Clarke is not only a foundational Canadian author but also one of Canada’s most prolific. His first book, The Survivors of the Crossing, is contemporary with The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and The Double Hook and predates Northrop Frye’s infamous conclusion to Klinck’s Literary History of CanadaClarke has, therefore, been concerned with the question of “Where is Here,” from a diasporic perspective, well before CanLit ever articulated that as the (supposedly) defining question. Yet despite being so prolific and engaged with the themes that centrally concern Canadian literature, there is very little critical writing on Clarke’s work.

A quick search of Google Scholar for Clarke reveals approximately 2100 results, many of which are completely irrelevant or only marginally related to Clarke’s work. Contrast this with the nearly 2000 results generated by searching for “Sheila Watson Double Hook.” Similar searches for Mordecai Richler and  Hugh MacLennan reveal 3,000 and 4,360 results respectively. Searching for Margaret Atwood breaks the internet.

No Really, Where is Here???

Stephen Marche’s polemic on the dea(r)th of Canadian Literature reads at times like the musings of the Manhattan ad executive as he soars over the Iowan countryside, commenting on the folksy ways of the people 30,000 feet below. As his argument jets between Atwood, Ondaatje, and Munro, the rest of CanLit receives a flyover. We learn that Lampman, Moodie, and Johnson were all “intensely marginal” and “not particularly good,” that “Despite the fact that Munro won the Nobel Prize, Atwood will always be the iconic Canadian writer, like the Mounties or Anne of Green Gables,” and that Ondaatje is “perhaps the first post-nationalist Canadian writer … Canadian in his preoccupations and in his instincts—He too looks for the victim to cherish and obsesses over settings.” Broad strokes indeed; Marche’s analysis offers the kind of sweeping generalizations that come with breathing rarefied air. Back here on planet Earth, however, things are a little more complex and messy.

Fierce Departures: Albert Johnson

Quickly checking some facts for the manuscript, and I stumbled across this headline describing Albert Johnson’s killing. Part of the historical basis for Dionne Brand’s thirsty, Neil Bissoondath’s Innocence of Age, and large sections of Austin Clarke’s MORE. Officially forgotten by the selective memory…