More people ready to be 'actively anti-racist' in light of George Floyd's death, Waterloo activist says

Three local Black leaders spoke to CBC K-W's The Morning Edition about the death of George Floyd, the resulting protests and what role people in Waterloo region play in the overall conversation about ending racism.

'There is a collective desire to finally speak out against anti-Blackness,' says Selam Debs

Some thousands of people marched along downtown Toronto streets on Saturday afternoon. The march was sparked by the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet of Toronto and George Floyd of Minneapolis. A similar march is planned in Kitchener Wednesday afternoon. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

The death of George Floyd and other anti-Black and racist events in recent weeks are echoing in Waterloo region.

Hundreds of people are expected in Kitchener Wednesday afternoon to take part in a solitary march for Black Lives Matter.

As unrest grows both in the U.S and Canada, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition spoke with a local activist, politician and university professor about what is happening and what role people in the region play in the larger conversation of racism.

Selam Debs owns a yoga studio in Waterloo and is also an activist and speaker. (Selam Debs/Facebook)

'Collective desire to finally speak out'

Selam Debs runs a yoga studio in Waterloo and is also a speaker, wellness coach and activist. She is an Ethiopian-Canadian and mom. She's also helping to organize Wednesday's march.

"There is a collective desire to finally speak out against anti-Blackness," Debs said.

"So many people that are realizing that they no longer want to be just not racist, but want to be actively anti-racist. And I think people have been seeing the images and watching the videos and constantly seeing the protesting and even the continuous police brutality and people want to do something."

Local politicians, the chief of the Waterloo Regional Police Service, universities and school boards have written messages in recent days supporting Black people in Waterloo region. Debs says she was surprised to see how quickly some groups responded to the unrest, but "we're not happy about the fact that it took so long for people to speak up on this" in general.

"We as Canadians, and especially in this region, have felt that our government and the communities are not really sharing that sentiment. We're not hearing people share and talk and open up the conversation to have Black racism and to really address the systemic issues actually here in our community," Debs said.

Portrait of woman
Laura Mae Lindo is the MPP for Kitchener Centre. She's also the NDP’s anti-racism critic and chair of the NDP Black Caucus. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

'People are exhausted'

Laura Mae Lindo is the MPP for Kitchener Centre, the NDP's anti-racism critic and chair of the NDP Black caucus. She says she's hearing from a number of people who want to see change to systemic racism.

"What I'm hearing is that people are exhausted, that we've been here before … it's like a cycle of protesting this, but no desire to actually change or the political will is missing to make the systemic changes that need to happen so that we can address the root causes of anti black racism," Lindo said.

Lindo says it's not just Floyd's death that is resonating with people. Many people are also calling and asking for an independent investigation into the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a woman who died after falling from a Toronto apartment building after what her family says was a 911 call that went terribly wrong.

"People want real action. They're tired of just the words," Lindo said.

Listen to the full interview with Debs and Lindo:

Histories of socio-economic marginalization

Barrington Walker says the socio-economic condition of black communities is playing a profound role in the unrest.

"I think what we're seeing is the connection between longer histories of socio-economic marginalization, the impoverishment the neglect of black communities in both countries and how that connects to the historical line that you can draw from those older histories to the condition of black communities today,"  said Walker, who is a history professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and a senior adviser for equity, diversity and inclusion.

Barrington Walker is a history professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and a senior adviser for equity, diversity and inclusion. (Barrington Walker/@ProfWlkr/Twitter)

"In terms of the police response, in terms of the response of local law enforcement officials, there are long histories of the neglect and the degradation of Black communities that have played out in the inadequacy of the response to the murder of of George Floyd," Walker said.

"In terms of the amount of time, for example in this particular instance, it took for local officials to lay charges, the inadequacy of the charges and then the explosion of discontent that you've seen … all of these things have been further catalyzed by the fact the pandemic that we're going through as well, which has taken the bottom out of the economy … It's amplified the fragile economic status of African Americans as well. So there are a lot of things that are going on during this particular moment."

Listen to the full interview with Barrington Walker: