This week, critically acclaimed writer and activist Robyn Maynard launched her debut novel, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present. The spirited book launch, hosted at the Grand Bibliotheque, opened with a poem written and performed by Black poet and activist Shanice Nicole. The 600 people attending then listened intently to the speech delivered by Maynard, and the following Q&A session where she discussed the details and nuances of her work.
Robyn Maynard, a Black, Montreal-based feminist and Black-rights activist, has spent the past decade working in frontline harm-reduction outreach work, along with administering training sessions for health and social service providers on the harms created as a result of institutionalized racism. Her interest lies in racist and state-based violence, which she has been carefully documenting and reporting.
“The criminalization of Black people’s lives has always been a major part of policing in Canada,” she explains. “Policing has always been extremely racialized.” In her book, Maynard also discusses how anti-Blackness manifests across different institutions. “Today anti-Blackness, the surveillance and punishment of Black people of all ages and genders, is embedded within all major institutions.”
Maynard describes Policing Black Lives as “unapologetically intersectional,” critically investigating how we decontextualize anti-Blackness and disconnect it from the network of factors which impact its manifestation. She insists that we look beyond anti-Blackness itself, at how it’s experienced differently by different Black people depending on gender, class, ability, and other overlapping factors of identity. She says that these components are often not taken into account and are not part of the narrative, hindering our ability to fully understand how individuals experience racism.
Maynard explains what this lack of context means for her: “Being a young Black girl in Canada meant, for me, learning no context about the harms that have been enacted since time immemorial on people who look like me, nor the important role that the government had played in this.” She goes on to say, “I was given no historical context that would help me understand what I was experiencing, nor to realize how many tough, subversive Black women before me had stood up to racism over the past 400 years.”
In her 40-minute speech, Maynard addresses this deliberate erasure of the history of anti-Blackness. “How do we fight a problem that is widely believed not to exist?” She demonstrates how Black people are working and living in a climate that invalidates their experiences in Canadian society, presenting anti-Blackness as a problem that is foreign to Canada.
“We’re educated within universities, and in our pop culture, to learn about racism through an American lens. There is a distinct impression that Canada will be a more welcoming place for immigrants, that Canada, unlike the U.S., is a welcoming haven from Black terror. However, this is untrue. There are institutions of formal and informal anti-Blackness.”
Maynard’s book details the implicit anti-Blackness in our governmental and societal framework, drawing attention to the manipulation of the education system and the absence of Black people’s narratives and histories. “There was no mention of the fact that slavery was practiced here for over 200 years. In fact, there was no acknowledgement that Black people had ever existed in Canada.”
The lack of acknowledgement of both the struggles that Black people faced in Canada due to slavery and racism, as well as the ongoing state violence, is what drove Maynard to finally draw attention to the problem.
She asserts that anti-Blackness is foundational to state violence: the rate at which Black people are incarcerated, which is three times higher than white people, demonstrates the fundamental, inherent anti-Blackness present in policing.
“Black women, since slavery, have been subject to intense violence and policing of their movements; policing was fundamentally made for Black people.”
She says that this broad dehumanization shows us the nature of anti-Black violence and the different ways that it manifests, from state-sanctioned surveillance, to disproportionate incarceration, to criminalization and racial-profiling.
“There is this idea of crime being attached to certain people: Black criminality. It’s a racialized conception of who is a risk and who isn’t, allowing these ongoing horrors that continue to permeate Black people’s lives in Canada.”
Policing Black Lives is now available for purchase online, in paperback or digital format. Visit Fernwood Publishing or Robyn Maynard’s website to find out more.