Black subjection has changed forms in important ways in a society that purports to be colourblind…
In what feels like the distant past now—last summer—I was keen on writing smaller pieces for a budding tea company in Calgary, Alberta called Sarjesa: loose leaf tea. This inspirational company is operated by a good friend of mine from undergrad who shares a similar love for books, knowledge, and social justice. Most importantly, Sarjesa is committed to “working with Elders and community members” in creating locally sourced tea blends and donating proceeds to support local marginalized communities.
I introduce this review with a word about my friend and Sarjesa because I haven’t been following through with my commitment to writing for Sarjesa, which nevertheless hosts some fantastic and important voices on social justice. I encourage everyone to check out Sarjesa’s wonderful variety of tea blends along with the accompanying blog.
Sarjesa’s commitment to solidarity has impacted my own approach to the books I chose to read and the kinds of questions I chose to raise in the margins of the page. In other words, solidarity has become an important concept in my own thinking. As such, one thing I value greatly in a book I read—whether it be a theoretical text or a cozy novel—is the ways in which it builds solidarity with its community.
I think that Robyn Maynard’s recent book, Policing Black Lives: State in Violence from Slavery to the Present, builds solidarity within critical scholarship, which critical scholarship all too often lacks. During my two year stay at Western University, I have come to notice this lack with my peers and the philosophical and political literature I would take up. Part of my reading habit then has been to change what kinds of work I engage with.
Liberal democracies like Canada continue to practise significant racial discrimination, yet they now do so while proclaiming a formal commitment to equality…
Though Maynard’s ultimately focuses on how the Canadian government has effectively oppressed black populations both historically and contemporarily, she doesn’t accomplish this by ignoring Indigenous struggles. Maynard identifies historical moments and legal structures in Canada that share the same modus operandi: the extraction of wealth from and the incarceration of the many Indigenous and black communities that are foundational to Canada. However, she does not accomplish this scholarly solidarity by necessarily naming these parallel phenomenon as the same. Indigenous struggles against state violence are not the same as black struggles against state violence. Nevertheless, both struggles often intersect, which is important to identify, I think, when imagining what solidarity looks like between social justice movements that might originate within different struggles.
As someone who has invested the last six years in developing his “academic know-how,” I value Maynard’s contribution to scholarly work on social justice. On the one hand, this is because Maynard meticulously cites her sources. If you are looking for a detailed and confident excavation of black oppression in Canadian history, look no further than Policing Black Lives. Along with expert scholarship, Maynard follows through with accessible language—something academics often take for granted (and subsequently wonder why their work isn’t taken up more broadly).
On the other hand, as I have stated but I believe this cannot be stated enough, Maynard’s detailed account of black oppression does not sacrifice its intersections with Indigenous oppression. Sometimes, in what is called academic “knowledge production,” blind spots emerge in even well-meaning scholarship. Surprisingly, in the knowledge of social justice, particularly in the realm of “post-colonialism” and black struggles, Indigenous perspectives are left out. This blind spot in knowledge is especially true in the context of the Canadian academy. That is not to say, however, that academics aren’t working to change this trend in scholarship.
In this important work, to put it briefly, you will find a diligent and rigorous account of racism in Canada both historically and how it exists today in new but typically unseen forms. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in social justice. But I also recommend Policing Black Lives for readers who are keen on understanding the lived experience of black lives in our contemporary moment where black persons are continuously harassed, assaulted, and murdered by police—even in Canada. Indeed, the violence enacted upon black bodies is not exclusive to the United States. In fact, it is a common and widespread problem in Canada that too often goes unnoticed. The same can be said about Indigenous bodies and their communities.