EDITORIALS | McGill must confront anti-Black racism


Black History Month is drawing to an end without McGill having made a single effort to honour it. At McGill, and in Canada more broadly, the history of slavery and anti-Black racism is often brushed aside or dismissed as minor in comparison to similar history in the U.S.. Canada has a sense of racial exceptionalism and presents itself as a post-racial, multicultural state; objections to racial injustices faced by Black people are often stifled and discredited. To combat racism and white supremacy, we, as members of the McGill community, must honour Black histories and challenge historical anti-Black racism at the university and beyond.

We must dispel the myth that Canada is a post-racial state. Racism, and specifically anti-Blackness, pervades much of Canadian society. Last year, Montreal’s Théâtre du Rideau Vert used blackface – theatrical makeup historically used to represent Black people in stereotypical and demeaning ways – to depict hockey player P.K. Subban. It was not until last year that the Quebec Toponymy Commission finally ordered the renaming of 11 Quebec sites that contain the n-word, and only after a petition was launched by Rachel Zellars, a PhD student at McGill. Anti-Black racism also shows itself in more institutional ways, such as racial profiling by the police, restricted access to housing, employment, and education, as well as disproportionate rates of poverty.

The University’s silence regarding Black History Month is symptomatic of a broader erasure of Blackness on our campus, and education is needed on all fronts to combat this. Our university was founded with the wealth of a colonizer who traded in Black and Indigenous slaves. Despite the University priding itself on supposed diversity, it continues to perpetuate James McGill’s colonial legacy. There are very few Black professors at McGill, and with equity virtually non-existent in the university’s hiring procedures, racism continues to bar Black academics from creating knowledge and shaping discourse. Further, McGill offers no programs dedicated to Black studies, and classes in existing programs rarely engage with these topics. McGill must begin to centre Blackness by following the lead of universities like Dalhousie, which will offer a Black and African Diaspora Studies minor starting next year, and by implementing a concrete equity program that specifically addresses anti-Blackness.

As we fight various forms of oppression on campus, we must acknowledge and challenge anti-Blackness both within our own organizations and at the university level. While incredible events to centre Blackness have been organized by student groups this month, such as the Black Students’ Network’s series, the labour of such efforts should not fall on Black members of the McGill community alone. Black History Month also honours a history of anti-racist resistance in Montreal, such as the 1969 Sir George Williams Affair, in which students occupied what is now Concordia University in protest against the administration’s dismissal of racist incidents. This resistance continues today. The McGill community as a whole must learn about and honour these histories, and work in solidarity to challenge the erasure of them. James McGill’s statue may stand at the heart of our campus, but the lasting white supremacy he represents has no place here.

—The McGill Daily editorial board

Commentary editor Igor Sadikov was not involved in the discussion of this editorial, due to the suspension of his editorial duties for the duration of the Arts Undergraduate Society campaign period.