'Canadians are known for saying sorry but never meaning it': One poet's call for racial justice
Des Mckenzie examines 'the Canada no one wants to believe exists'
As the world around us grows more and more uncertain, four Black poets speak their truth in the fourth season of the CBC Arts series Poetic License. Watch previous performances now and read Des Mckenzie's poem below.
The poem you are about to watch was a difficult one for spoken word artist Des Mckenzie to write. As the 2019 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word National Champion, she is no stranger to using powerful words to unpack difficult subject matter. However, with the social inequalities enhanced by the global pandemic woven into the inescapable web of racism targeting the Black community both weighing heavily on her soul — where does one even begin?
"In the wake of all the devastating news over the last month, people are now realizing that racism in Canada isn't as covert as we've been gaslighted to think. The longer white Canadians believe that racism only lives in the extreme of Black people being murdered, the longer they won't be able to address the issue from all corners of our everyday lives. Racism affects people in the workplace, in schools, even the places geared toward serving us."
"I wanted to make people feel uncomfortable with this poem and analyze even the most comfortable parts of their lives because there's no doubt that racism has found a way to live there too. 'Covert' or not, it needs to end, and that starts with identifying the very role you play in perpetuating anti-Blackness in this country."
Watch Des Mckenzie perform 'The Original Pandemic' in the video above and read the poem below.
The Original Pandemic
In times like these
a Black person's grief
comes with no moment of silence
no time to process
the five stages of grieving are accelerated,
When you Act as mourners, coroners, SIU, funeral home, tombstone
I asked my father how he feels today
and he says sick and tired
But he says it like it's just another day
Like it's all same, different time and place
He's numb to this accelerated cycle of grief...
When you have to repeat yourself again and again, how can they blame us when our voices raise,
When tones change
After asking the same questions
After each investigation, dashed under rugs, floorboards, buried
beneath flowers dewy with sap
"Canada's not that bad" written on stems
Canadians are known for saying sorry but never meaning it
Forcing forgiveness from their victims
What the world and what the Canada no one wants to believe exists
has taught us
is that peace can look a lot of different ways
to Black people it's just being able to exist
skin undressed from caution tape
when to others,
Peace can be simply be delivered
In days at home
Riding the bus
peace can be delivered
By simply calling the cops...
But not for us.
Not here, not now, not ever actually.
No wonder there are protests in a pandemic
When danger rolls off backs the same way Black Lives Matter rolls off tongues when it's convenient
Anti-Black racism a threat to lives long before the pandemic we're living through
So what do you do the stop the spread?
You catch it at its source
Festering at the tip of every microaggression, unconscious bias, everyone you've argued to say the n-word, spoke over the Black girl in the boardroom, asked for more evidence when there's video proof every time you stay silent
You start by listening
Removing your body from comfort,
Look at this country's broken reflection
And see yourself in the mirror shards
Take each limb apart to expose what's been planted in you
Till you are broken
No more saying let's make it better for the next generation
Like the one right now is a write-off
Let them learn what it feels like to sit in complacency as comfortably as you do
This time, white tears won't wash away the trending topics fast like they normally do
It's your turn to be angry,
It's your turn to Repeat yourself
it's your turn Scream through all the white noise
Until your voices raise
Till you know what it really means to be sick and tired
So say something
Let Black people have a moment
you've had more than enough of those