The on-going denial in Canada as a country that doesn’t have a problem with race can be partly attributed to how some of the population chooses to justify their blatantly racist and islamophobic mindsets, masking their intentions behind concerns for “national security” and “public safety” as a means to validate their feelings towards refugees and IPOC. Add to that a lack of knowledge on the country’s history, and the denial, for many, just seems like completely justified thinking.
“[One] experience that is unique to us north of the border is that we don’t talk about having a ‘race problem’”, says Smith. “From my experience, many people here are quick to either think of racism as something that ended with the civil rights movement, or as something that only happens in the US. People here [find it] easy to point fingers elsewhere, but [don’t] examine the structures of white supremacy and capitalism that this country was founded upon, and their place within it.”
For newcomers like Lesueur, an international grad student from Paris studying at the University of Alberta, the feeling of being a minority was never a major issue until she came to Edmonton, where her new surroundings highlighted differences that she had otherwise never paid much attention to.
“I had a conversation with a friend some time before receiving the invite [for BB&F] talking about how everything here feels so white to me, because as someone who grew up in the non-touristy, unmarketable parts of Paris, I am so used to being constantly surrounded by mostly black and brown folks.” She adds, “I could go on for hours about how messed up it is over there, [but] I never had the feeling of actually being a ‘minority’ before coming here, so I was really excited to help create something that would take up space, [and] make us visible on our own terms.”
Critics of the group have stated that their approach and stance on these matters is too extreme, and have even garnered criticism from other IPOC for not addressing these issues in a more palatable way. For artists like Smith who have found it difficult to create art in Edmonton, she outlined two key factors that she feels are crucial for her and others like her to succeed in the scene:
- Free time & Wealth – Free time has to exist where my basic physical needs are being met, whether that’s through a social safety net, or through enough accumulated wealth to not have to worry about where my meals are coming from, or having a stable place to live.
- The Absence of White Fragility – While this country has profited from building the myth of a multicultural mosaic, it has struck me that the vast majority of non-Indigenous and non-racialized people seem very interested in consuming the performative aspects of our cultures and identities, but at no moment are interested in engaging in tangible ally-ship or questioning their own place in a white supremacist system. They want our cultures, but they don’t want us.
While BB&F was hoping for about 50 likeminded allies to come out to their first event, the response has been overwhelming since their call for submissions this past summer. The success of similar inaugural events in Edmonton this year (The Come Up – a conference by and for black diaspora youth, and Not Enough Fest Edmonton, an all-ages festival for women, queer, trans, and non-binary people) has shown that these conversations and spaces are much needed. While it’s too early to say what the response and progress of these initiatives will look like in Edmonton, groups like BB&F will continue to make themselves heard.
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