Is the Federation of Black Canadians the true voice of African Canadians?
by MacAndrew Clarke
In last month’s article for the Black Ottawa Scene, I mentioned how the Federation of Black Canadians has positioned itself as the national voice for Black Canadians. Ever since its inception, I stayed up to date on its activities through its own publications and media reports from community and mainstream outlets. However, I have started to lose faith in the FBC’s mission. I’ll get straight to the point.
According to its website, the FBC is an organization that speaks on behalf of Black organizations across the country to “advance the social, economic, political and cultural interests of Canadians of African descent”. Their plan is to advocate on our behalf with “governments, parliaments, international organizations, business and faith-driven organizations.”
So, on February 18, part 1 of Cole’s radio show included his critique of the FBC. Part of his issue was with how a sitting judge could effectively advocate for all Black voices in government institutions such as Justice and Corrections. Well, Cole’s remarks were not taken very well by some members of the Black community. Despite the fact the Cole raises a good point, which is in no way shape or form an indictment against the judge’s character, the same people who praised Cole for shedding a light on carding are the same ones who are cursing him behind closed doors (physically and virtually) for asking questions relating to accountability. How’s that for irony?
Now I’ve repeated this many times: “actions speak louder than words.” On the site of the FBC, one of its “opportunities” is criminal justice reform. The goal there is to “explore opportunities to work toward the elimination of anti-Black racism in the justice system and to correct the overrepresentation of Black Canadians, promote restorative justice, and culturally appropriate reintegration supports.” However, since the incorporation of the organization (Nov. 2017), not one word has been said about the death of Pierre Coriolan; a Haitian man whose life was taken by Montreal police. Although Cole was simply asking why this was not even considered a thing for the FBC, most folks are criticizing him for not showing enough solidarity.
However, for some it seems to be perfectly reasonable that an active judge would not face or have no conflict of interest when advocating for criminal justice reform. So, to the naysayers, I ask: “What about Coriolan?” Not only would any lobby meeting on that subject be a clear conflict of interest for the chairperson, not talking about it diminishes the full potential of the Black community when advocating for these issues. There’s more.
Cole also mentioned that out of the many partners in principle that the FBC has, not one Canadian chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) is involved. My assumption is that the FBC is not interested in BLM or voices like it. Why? Because it has done an excellent job in dismissing voices like BLM and Cole. How can I say this? Because it’s happened before.
When the FBC sought to make a media cycle out of the Prime Minister’s announcement for recognizing the International Decade for People of African Descent, there was a problem. The PM made the announcement, but the press asked him absolutely no questions about it. Now some partners of the organization were quick to only blame the media. While I’m not saying that the press is completely blameless, the PM faced no equal criticism for his deliberate and conscious decision to provide multiples answers that had nothing to do with his announcement.
Instead of calling both sides out, the FBC and its supporters chose to critique the media while focusing on how amazing it was of the PM to say the words “anti-Black racism.” My issue is this: to say “anti-Black racism” is easier than actually fighting it. So, where was the PM’s fight in his moment of enlightenment? Overall, the self-imposed divisions in the Black community by this organization are not helpful and it’s callous.
I think it’s callous to sell a preferred version of hope for some over others. I think it’s callous to act like certain Black voices are legitimate when all our comments are directed to an organization that claims to speak for us. Meanwhile, the substance of our concerns go unanswered as our character and commitment to serving the community is questioned.
Leadership is mostly about listening than talking. I can understand that people put a lot work into this, but voices like mine won’t disappear. I think any organization that seeks to be a national voice for our community will have to exercise more flexibility and less ego when dealing with people.
At the end of the day, in my opinion, if there was a legitimate and non-partisan voice (beyond party politics) for Black folks in this country, it sure isn’t what the FBC is now.
About the writer
MacAndrew Clarke holds a B.A. (Hons) in Political Science and a minor in Music from Carleton University. He has dedicated himself to community building and advocacy through public, private, and non-profit organizations for many years. He has been contributing to Black Ottawa Scene since January of 2016. He can be reached either via email, Twitter, or Facebook.