Caribana…Black politics…and the reality of race
If there is anyone out there still naive enough to think that Toronto’s police force does not do racial profiling, or that we don’t think all Black people are potential criminals, all one needs to do is stroll up Yonge Street after dark during Caribana weekend (now officially known as the “Scotiabank Caribbean Festival”) to see where social fantasy collides with cultural reality.
The Yonge Street strip was packed last night when I cruised through on my bike (11pm). Caribana is a glorious celebration of Black culture, where people come from all over North America (bringing their estimated $300 million in tourist dollars) to meet and mingle and dance and eat and take in the sights of Toronto.
Every hotel in the city is jammed, there will be more than a million people at the parade today (I can hear the samba bands all the way over here on Broadview Ave as I write this), and last night, Yonge Street was a virtual parking lot of New Jersey, New York, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ontario, and Quebec license plates.
When I worked in Ghana in the early 1990’s, I was, for a while, in Kumasi, a city of a million people. It was the first time in my life that I got to experience what it would feel like if my reality was reversed, and I was the minority race in a city that was mostly Black.
Yonge Street on the eve of the parade is the same thing.
With one important exception. Yonge Street was also wall-to-wall cops, and they had no problem acting like back-alley bouncers, whose role it is to intimidate, harass, and generally be a pain-in-the-ass for every Black man who comes into their view.
In the one-block stretch of Yonge between Dundas and Gerrard, they had two Black men in a Lamborghini stopped and they were going over every inch of the car. I saw cops going through a man’s knapsack – while he and his girlfriend looked on. A flock of about 30 young men crawled by me on motorcycles and two cops pulled the one Black man amongst them out and stopped him and asked for identification. I watched two cops deliberately walk into a group of young black teen boys who were doing nothing but walking up the street and laughing and talking with each other.
At one point 20 cops walked down the street, lined up in pairs, taking up the entire sidewalk. Everyone had to defer and step aside as they marched by in what was nothing more than a total act of intimidation.
Cops in cars, cops in paddy wagons, cops on giant horses, cops on bikes. It was like the G20 all over again.
They create such an atmosphere of aggression that even an old 50-year-old white guy like me wants to tell them off – get in their face – tell them to fuck off – to stop acting like such buffoons.
Why the hell any Black man comes to Toronto for Caribana is beyond me.
This bullshit self-congratulatory notion we have about the assumption that we don’t have race issues in Toronto is completely thrown out the window when you watch these little vignettes of Black reality up close.
Unemployment amongst Black men is 2-3 times the national average; poverty in the Black community is twice the national average; and everyone knows that a “good education” guarantees nothing in the face of systemic racism where your Jamaican accent, your Regent Park address, or your African name immediately closes the door in your face.
And when the Black community explodes in violence as it did a couple of weeks ago out on Danzig Street, our Mayor tries to tell us its nothing more than a policing issue…that we simply need yet more cops on the street. He then goes on to brag in the media that he didn’t need to read any studies on race issues, talk to community workers, or continue to support community youth projects…
Come down to Yonge Street and see for yourself. Tonight will be the same as last night.
Come watch Toronto’s finest as they flex their muscles and walk around in their riot gear, all the while stroking their batons, and looking for any opportunity to fulfill their deep fetish desires.