Arts·Poetic License

'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."

Des Mckenzie examines 'the Canada no one wants to believe exists'

'Canadians are known for saying sorry but never meaning it': one poet's call for racial justice

3 years ago
Duration 3:31
Des Mckenzie examines 'the Canada no one wants to believe exists' in Poetic License.

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?

She writes:

"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...

He says, 
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 
At school, 
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
Tones change
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 


Lucius Dechausay is a video producer at CBC Arts, as well as a freelance illustrator and filmmaker. His short films and animations have been screened at a number of festivals including The Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs. Most recently he directed KETTLE, which is currently streaming at CBC Short Docs.

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