Dr. Christopher Stuart Taylor’s book Flying Fish in the Great White North: The Autonomous Migration of Black Barbadians outlines an extremely important and ignored part of the history of Canadian immigration. It situates the West Indies, particularly Barbados, as having a history with Canada that I never knew existed due to the lack of its teaching and acknowledgment. The history of immigration policies in Canada is one filled with vile discrimination and overt racism--particularly anti-Black racism. It brings shame to, and taints the image of the accepting and inclusive, multicultural country we have been so distinctly taught. In par with the rest of the colonial lands, Canada, led and modelled by Great Britain, has its very own history of land theft, enslavement, segregation, genocide--all concepts that began with White superiority and supremacy.
The foundation of racism lies on the fragility of a concept such as skin colour, the identification of Africans as a monolithic colour. It continues to be the reasoning behind lack of value of Black lives. Lighter-skinned people worldwide are taught to internalize feelings of superiority while darker skinned people are encouraged to do the opposite. This goes back to the White hegemonic rule of Indigenous and African peoples. Whites have a history of cold-blooded murder, destruction of communities/families/culture, and a pattern of grounding it in religion--removing the guilt or empathy as they situate themselves as doing good. The ‘Curse of Ham’ is a great example of this, as it is often described as one of the key religious reasoning behind the justification for slavery.
Although the curse fails to mention Blackness or Africanness, the sons of Ham were misinterpreted to be Sub-Saharan or Black Africans and this text was used as a Biblical fact to justify slavery of Africans, which was endorsed and condoned by the church. Although there is no direct link to race or colour in the text, it became the foundation of anti-Black racism and slavery. The outcome of the oppressor's implications of this text is important to consider when thinking about current racial tensions and the concepts of racism. It aids in contextualizing the realities we have now, to understand that there are roots in the negative ideologies of Blackness and Black identity and many of these roots were formed here in Canada, specifically through immigration policies that continuously barred perfectly eligible West Indian Black people. On the quest toward creating a White liberal and Anglo-Saxon Canada, the Canadian government spearheaded by the British, created obscene policies and regulations that would make entrance into Canada by that of a person other than the White Christian, almost impossible. Barbadians showed a particular resistance to this pushback as they utilized education and government led Schemes in order to make their entrance into this land.
When looking at the history of Canadian immigration, it is essential to observe the reasoning behind leaving one’s home and emigrating to a unfamiliar place. In regards to Barbados, the dense population of the British colonial Island post-slavery led to a lack of opportunity available for the citizens. Their governments encouraged emigration in order to decrease the population size. In addition to this, following the rise of the Black Intellectual era education became an essential component of Barbadian culture and society. Education was largely government sponsored and funded, people were encouraged to study and use education as a tool to gain opportunities abroad. Education became the keys to a better future and a life outside of the Island. While this was good due to the fact that education provided a valuable service to its citizens is, as Dr. Taylor puts is, Barbados exported its most valuable commodity. Those who gained that British education that is so valuable abroad, were those whom the Island could not afford to lose for its own success. However, emigration to other British colonies, primarily the United Kingdom and Canada (also the United States) became the goal.
What followed this emigration was a negative response from both the British/Canadian governments and their citizens. The author describes “immigration policies prior to its deracialization as a major vector of state power through which Jim Crowism (anti-Black and social segregation) was institutionalized in Canada” (9). Such as the 1906 Immigrations Acts that excluded Black migrant settlements through invasive and unnecessary medical examinations.The government went through great lengths to lower the population of Black settlers and migrants, they did well in such that “between the late 19th century to the mid 20th century, most Black Canadians were native born” (9). Acts were utilized as a prime way to be overtly racist and have to not completely explain your position or have them make real sense. When a mass migration of Barbadians took place in the United Kingdom following WW2-- “an estimated sixty thousand” (Taylor 75). Eventually, the British government formed the Commonwealth Immigrants Act which was an act fuelled by anti-Black racism. As a direct response to the flow of British colony migrants of colour, this act was created to restrict movement. Citizens responses also fuelled these Acts, they responded by forming a series of violent attacks and hate crimes. They formed racist youth cults such as the ‘Teddy Boys’ who led and formulated many attacks. The government responded by trying to get rid of the Barbadian and West Indian migrants and prevent more from entering the country. This a history that is unknown to many people, one that is barely touched upon in Canadian history classes, this history is important to Canada as it was meant to be a country that reflected only the kind of Whiteness that the UK produced and actively worked to maintain it.
In Canada, despite its positive business related, trading affairs with the West Indies, racism still prevailed. Dr. Taylor quotes Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King saying the following WW2, in regards to Canadian racist immigration policies:
“I wish to make it quite clear that Canada is perfectly within her rights in selecting the persons whom we regard as desirable future citizens. It is not ‘fundamental human right’ of any alien to enter Canada. It is privilege. It is a matter of domestic policy.”
This to me summarizes the level of racism in Canadian immigration policies prior to it deracialization in 1962. Whiteness was a keep part in the Canadian nation building rhetoric and they were willing to go retouch lengths and enforcing senseless Acts in order to gain this ‘ideal citizen’--in order to keep non-white people, Black people, out. There were no politically, economical, or governmental strategic reasoning for excluding people based on race, yet Canada clearly excluded immigrants based on their race. They stated that “the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration shall decide if an immigrant is suitable for Canadian climate, society, education or that they do not have undesirable habits, customs and or model of life” (Taylor 113). These are texts that can be found in the archives of Canadian history yet it is not a piece of it which we are exposed to unless we seek it on our own based on some personal or social connection. Although Canadian immigration policy is ‘de-racialized’ today, I believe that once you understand and learn about the history of how it has been racialized in the past, you can find similar connections in these policies that are in place today.
Overall, I believe that Dr. Christopher Stuart Taylor’s book Flying Fish in the Great White North: The Autonomous Migration of Black Barbadians book is truly detailed and informative. It uses both a historical facts and social narrative/analyse in order to showcase the ways in which both facts and societal analyses complete the missing gaps in history and root the social order we live in today. Canada is very dishonest about their past and they are deliberately removing the contributions of non White people and allow an understanding of whiteness as the foundation of Canadian identity. When we learn about the realities of the Canadian past, we start to understand why the racism that exists here is done in such a way that the victims are conflicted about acknowledging it as such. There is a very undertone version of racism in Canadian history that exists behind the mosaic blanket of multiculturalism.