Sunday, September 30, 2012

Christopher Heads (South)East - to Harvard

Yes, that's right, the Harvard that's pronounced "Haaaaaaarvurde" (the 'e' is silent).

I just spent the weekend in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Harvard University presenting at the "Reconsidering Caribbean Diaspora" Graduate Student Conference.

I, along with Anthony Morgan (McGill) and Jodie Glean (Concordia), were the only Canadian representatives (and represented this country extremely well) at the conference and were on the "Understanding the Caribbean-Canadian Diaspora".  We prepared, worked well together, complimented each other, and set the stage for other young Black Canadian scholars to keep on pushing the intellectual boundaries at these Ivy League institutions.

Here are some photos and a copy of the paper I presented (the presentation version - read it aloud and the "pause"s make sense).

The conference was held at the Barker Center (can spell it "er" cause it's in the US)
Ya, that's a tree in a pit.  I assume there's some kind of historical significance cause this school dates back to the 1630s, but I figure it's where they throw stupid people that failed exams and those that didn't have their ascot matching their argyle socks.
For the Obama fans
I love the suit.

Outside Adams House.
Evening out at Harvard: Christopher, Shane, Anthony, Nydia

And the paper:

No, We Can’t: Black West Indians and Canadian Political Culture
Paper Presentation

The Canadian multicultural myth of equality was designed to subdue, and marginalize to the periphery, politicized Black West Indian and Visible Minority groups in Canada.  These racialized groups were forced to accept the dominant rhetoric of Canadian multiculturalism policy established in 1971, which reinforced and maintained White charter group authority in Canadian society; Canada is officially multicultural insofar that foreign cultures, and people, fit within the English-French hegemonic framework.  The “Other” – the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious minority – must conform to the established, but obfuscated norms, of “Canadian” culture.

               The following presentation will argue how immigrant Blacks – of West Indian heritage, and for the purposes of this paper, I use Blacks and Black West Indians interchangeably – faced systemic barriers to their inclusion in the Canadian political process and Canadian political culture.  I contend that these barriers were institutionalized, politicized, and ideological; ostensibly altruistic ideals of inclusion were means for exclusion.  Multiculturalism policy marginalized Black political agency.

               That being said, this presentation is an on-going dialogue; one that raises contentious and emotional debate.  We, as Canadians, must acknowledge the positive attributes of Canadian multiculturalism.  Once the Multiculturalism Act became law, July 21st, 1988, it promoted the “full and equitable participation of individuals and communities” in Canadian society, and the Act was to assist in “the elimination of any barrier” to integration.  While it only “promotes” and “assists” in collective group participation in Canadian society, the Act ensures “that all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting and valuing their diversity”.[1]  Along with the guarantees of the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all Canadian citizens, irrespective of race, have the right to vote, and participate in the political process.  

               This analysis creates further discussion and future scholarship for whether Black West Indian immigrants are excluded from the political process, or if the “Black class” is apolitical.[2]  I argue that Canadian society accepted Black West Indians on an individual basis if they did not threaten the dominant English-French charter members; however, the ideology of Blackness, and the threat of an influential and visible “Black class”, curtailed Black West Indian and Black ethnic progress in Canada.  One of the biggest barriers to Black West Indian political participation is Canadian society’s reluctance to accept them – as a racialized group – as equal partners in the Canadian mosaic.   

              This presentation highlights that the individual Black West Indian, specifically Ovid Jackson, has found success politically – albeit once he denounced his Black identity – but this has not translated to group success.  Until this acceptance takes place, Black West Indians will remain on the periphery.  An influential Black Canadian political class and leadership are hamstrung by their codification as perpetual immigrants due to their skin colour and racialization by Canadian institutions and an exclusionary multiculturalism policy.[3]


             The transnational habitus of the new mass wave of Black West Indian immigrants between the 1970s and 1990s, brought local political practices, attitudes, and ideologies.  Coming from a British parliamentary and democratic society, one which was rooted in the Caribbean much longer than in Canada, Black West Indians could easily adapt to Canada’s liberal democracy.  Yet, the liberal democratic and multicultural system was designed on the basis of inequality; they were not accepted as immigrants to change the system, but to work within it, and abide by and assimilate to the English and French institutional structures.  Canadian multiculturalists’ appeals of integration did not equate to full participation in the socio-economic and political spheres.  If Blacks were not externally integrated in society, why is one to expect that they would become full partners in the Canadian political process?[4]  Multiculturalism policy, officially introduced in 1971, embraced an ideology that increased social, cultural, and political inequalities.  

             Black West Indian Canadians and all immigrants alike were given piecemeal toleration; the government will assist in the maintenance of their respective cultures – resource permitting – only within a Canadian, or a bilingual, framework.  This was an idea of a tolerable, but not fully integrationist, multiculturalism.  Immigrants were expected to conform to the dominant Canadian White culture designed to perpetuate social inequality.  Canada’s official policy on multiculturalism is fundamentally flawed and racism was a real barrier to Black political participation in Canada. 


But since I am presenting both the negative, as well as the positive outcomes of multiculturalism – as stated in the introduction – one must not overlook the contributions of Black West Indian associations and their efforts to mobilize their respective political communities.  Organizations including the National Council of Barbadian Associations in Canada Inc. (NCBAC) facilitated, and encouraged, the participation of Barbadian and West Indian immigrants in the Canadian mainstream.

Supported by the initial financial support of the Canadian government, the NCBAC facilitated the integration of Barbadian and West Indian immigrants into Canadian society.  Black West Indian immigrants found avenues, institutions, and social networks by which they could strive to become equal partners within the Canadian liberal democratic system.  One of the greatest triumphs of the NCBAC was its involvement in a project in co-operation with the National Councils of Jamaicans and Trinidadians in Canada.  These three groups sponsored a highly successful national conference aimed at facilitating the academic success of all Black children in Canada.                           
Despite the critique of a flawed sense of politicized multiculturalism, Black West Indian immigrants, as was true of most immigrants to the country, overcame exclusionary ideology.  Organizations such as the NCBAC, the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA), and the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) highlight the successes of Black agency and community mobilization within a Canadian framework.  Success was not determined by what a White dominated Canadian society could do for them, but what they could do for themselves.  They used the system to their advantage.  [PAUSE] We can then argue that official multiculturalism was not a total failure [PAUSE].  It would have failed if Black West Indian immigrants expected the government to follow through on its promises of equality; Blacks had the means to participate at all levels of politics in Canada.  They were not inferior, nor may one argue that they were not encouraged and did not have the support from the wider West Indian, or Black, communities.[5]  

One must recognize the misappropriation of Black Canadian identity and the erasure of Black people from the Canadian historical narrative, as thoroughly defined by Glean, its impact on the identity, self-esteem, and self-worth of Black West Indians, to begin to understand the precarious position of why Blacks have not collectively benefitted from the positive aspects of multiculturalism policy and the Multiculturalism Act.


Canadian society, and institutional racism, emasculated the politicized Black West Indian immigrant class, rendering it powerless, and apolitical, as a unified political group.  Black immigrants could not eschew the dominant ideology of their ascribed inferiority in the face of a White numerical and influential majority.  As a class – a socio-economic position in society defined by their “Blackness”, or a “Black class” – Blacks struggled to act politically outside of race-based politics.  West Indian Blacks, and all Black ethnic groups in Canada, irrespective of class and nationality, have yet to mobilize as one unified politicized group.  Unable to make meaningful change to the system as a sustained and influential political voice, Black political antipathy grew as the exclusionary vertical silo of Canadian society, and its political institutions, effectively silenced the minority group. 

Institutional structures restricted the collective Black immigrant voice; however, individual political and socio-economic agency existed.  The individual Black West Indian displayed industrious perseverance as he, and she, asserted himself and herself as an equal participant in Canadian society and its politics.  Supported by legislated terms of equality, they were not to be denied a place in the democratic process and strove to make change from within the confines of a White patriarchal ruling class.  With that, there must be an emphasis on the contributions of successful Black, and specifically Black West Indian, politicians in Canada, including Ovid Jackson. Individuals such as Jackson, controversially and contentiously, did not see the necessity in identifying with anything other than his status as an elected official, to serve the people that voted him in office.

Jackson, Guyanese by birth, was a councilor in the city of Owen Sound, Ontario, between 1974 and 1982, which was followed by his eleven-year tenure as the city’s first Black mayor.[6]  He was elected Liberal Member of Parliament for Bruce-Grey County in 1993, and re-elected in both 1997 and 2000, respectively.[7]  His election as the first Black mayor of Owen Sound and his subsequent representation as Member of Parliament are quite unique; the city’s population is roughly twenty-one thousand, while only one-hundred and fifty-five – or .7 percent – of its residents identify as Black.[8]  There are explicit dichotomies comparing these figures with Toronto and Canada.  Canada’s total Black population is 2.5 percent, while Toronto is 8.4 percent, respectively.[9]  Why was it that a man who represented less than one percent of a city was able to transcend race and “Blackness” and be an elected official for over thirty years with a career that spanned four decades?  Whether you agree with him or not, Jackson would argue that those factors are irrelevant believing that an elected official’s race did not, and should not, determine his political policies and political agenda. 

Jackson was not the enigmatic Black West Indian man.  Owen Sound was not a multicultural utopia.  I argue that he, and Owen Sound, were not unique or above the marginalization of the Other.  The city showcased its intolerance by its anti-French and anti-Quebecois sentiment in the mid 1990s.[10]  

Jackson did not believe that his “Blackness”, or his status as a Black West Indian immigrant affected his run in politics.  He was a Liberal, not a Black Liberal, but a Liberal.  He was the mayor of Owen Sound, not the first Black or immigrant mayor, but the mayor.  He stated, “Once people get to know me, they don’t see me in terms of black or white but as a concerned guy who wants to help”.[11]  What Jackson failed to acknowledge was what it meant to be no longer seen in “Terms of Black” [emphasis].  


Similar to Glean’s hypothesis, if Blacks were deliberately erased from the Canadian historical narrative, how does a Black Canadian, specifically a politician, present himself or herself to non-Black constituents?  Can Black Canadians learn from Black Americans?


I argue that this initial perception of Black identity by mainstream Canadian society, despite the supposed equalizing virtues of multiculturalism, was what inhibited Blacks from their full political participation in society.  If Black West Indians are not given the opportunity to succeed, and if their “Blackness” continues to deny them such an opportunity, the “Black class” in Canada will continue in its apathy towards Canadian politics.  However, Jackson, Rosemary Brown, Howard McCurdy, Lincoln Alexander, and other Black West Indian-Canadian politicians, past and present, represent the success and political aptitude of Black politicians in Canada.


Despite the flaws in Canada’s politicized multiculturalism and White dominated political culture, individual Black West Indian immigrants did contribute to Canada’s political system, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Multiculturalism Act legally protected their rights to participate as equals.  The future challenge is whether Black West Indian-Canadians and all Black ethnic groups in Canada can unite as a cohesive and influential political group.  

            We must remember the 1969 Sir George Williams affair and the militant activism of West Indians against institutional racism.  We must acknowledge those involved in their Occupy Movement; the late Roosevelt Douglas, who became Prime Minister of Dominica, and Barbadian born Anne Cools who became Canada’s first Black senator in 1984 and North America’s first Black female senator.


But [PAUSE] the dominant fractions in Canadian society have equal responsibility in this movement for change and equality as the process must come from the true recognition of equality by mainstream society.  That being said, Black West Indians must also acknowledge, and accept Black ethnic and national difference.  Black West Indians, and their second-generation children, must continue to challenge societal and political inequities, capitalize on any and all opportunities for socio-economic advancement, and benefit from the positive aspects of official Canadian multiculturalism policy.

[1] Canadian Multiculturalism Act, R.S.C., 1985, c.24 (4th Supp.) [1988, c.31, assented to 21st July, 1988].
[2] The “Black class” is a homogenous and monolithic group of Black people in Canada, irrespective of ethnicity or country of origin.  For the purpose of this paper the “Black class” will be one group in society, but it is understood that there are a multitude of Black ethnicities in Canada.  Nevertheless, this paper will contend that race and class are conflated terms in Canadian society.  One’s race is synonymous with one’s position on the societal hierarchy. 
[3] See Robin Winks for his interpretation of Black leadership in Canada and why Black Canadians have not enjoyed the same measures of socio-economic access as African-Americans.  Robin Winks, The Blacks in Canada: A History (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1971).
[4] To be internally integrated into a society, an immigrant must assimilate to the dominant Canadian culture.  External integration refers to the dominant society accepting an immigrant or visible minority as a Canadian and no longer the Other.
[5] Mass West Indian immigration, in the latter half of the twentieth century, precipitated the inception of Black community support groups.
[6] “Ovid Jackson,” Parliament of Canada, accessed July 5th, 2012,
[7] “Members of Parliament Representing the County of Bruce 1867-2008,” Bruce County Historical Society, accessed July 9, 2012,  As a Liberal MP, Jackson acted as Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, 1996-1998 and Chairperson on the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations, 2001-2002.  He was also a member of such committees as: Transport and Government Operations; Standing Committee on Health, SC on Natural Resources and Government Operations; Subcommittee on Bill C-35, Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration; “Ovid Jackson,” Parliament of Canada.
[8] Total population of Owen Sound: 20 895.  Total population of Visible Minorities: 645 or 3% of Owen Sound’s total population.  The Employment Equity Act describes a visible minority as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour”.  “Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada Highlight Tables, 2006 Census,”, last modified October 10, 2006,
[9] “Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada,”
[10] A house with a Quebec flag was egged, insults were written on its doors, and the owner’s cat was shaved.  Jackson defended Owen Sound arguing that it was an isolated incident and the city is not intolerant.  “Town Not Intolerant,” Globe and Mail, May 16, 1995.  For more information on the long history of Blacks in Owen Sound, and its involvement in the Underground Railroad, see
[11] Plattel, “Black Mayor.”


  1. lol ascots and argyle socks.

  2. lmao @ the tree pit joke! Im so proud Chris!

  3. I wonder what that pit is all about for real. And thanks thanks!