'It's real for us': Derek Chauvin verdict highlights racism, need for change in Sask.
Black educators in Sask. say Chauvin verdict reamplifies need for action
Natalya Mason said people can't brush off George Floyd's murder and the need to address systemic racism as an American problem.
"Canadians have a long history of colonization, first of all, but also of anti-Black racism," said Mason, who is a Saskatoon-based social worker, activist and educator.
"These things happen in our own backyard quite regularly, and so this isn't just an American problem. This is a white supremacy problem and that very much makes it a Canadian problem."
Last week, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter for killing George Floyd last year. Chauvin, who is white, had pinned Floyd to the pavement with his knee on the Black man's neck until he died.
"This is certainly not justice at all. There's been many, many Black and brown people who have been murdered in the hands of police or who have died in police custody," said Juliet Bushi, who is a Black woman and educator living in Regina. "But this is definitely one step toward accountability."
Like Mason, she's wants the movement to lead to lasting local change.
"We really need to start looking at home to be able to understand the lessons that we have learned, hopefully, from the George Floyd movement," she said. "And to remind ourselves that there's no place for racism in Saskatchewan — even though we know that it's well and alive here — it will not be tolerated in any institution."
Inspired to act
Floyd's murder shone a spotlight on systemic racism around the globe, including Saskatchewan. Mason was inspired to lead more anti-racism work in the community after attending and speaking at rallies, conversations and protests on Saskatoon's streets in the summer of 2020.
She said it's been healing to partner her lived experience with her academic background in the work. Mason said the anti-racism education sessions she runs are a small start, but there's much more work ahead.
"You can't explain centuries of discrimination and violence and oppression to someone in three hours," she said. "We still need to see more substantial change at an institutional level."
Mason said that means dismantling systemic racism in healthcare, policing and education. There is resistance.
"Lots of people are just so set in their way of experiencing the world that they haven't considered that we don't have to do things the same way that they've been done for 100 years, that we do have the ability to change our realities and the world that we live in."
Latoya Reid holds onto hope that Saskatchewan can move forward in a positive way, even though she had to leave the province because of the racism her son faced.
She's just settled in Ontario and still considers Saskatchewan home.
"It was imperative for me to ensure that I wasn't a martyr within the province at the expense of losing my son," she said. Reid said racial violence came from classmates, but it was actually a teacher who damaged her son the most. She said the principal's response to the teacher's behaviour was dismissive, so they tried to start fresh in Saskatoon but he was called the N-word by peers there.
"It's real for us. It wasn't far to the south. We lived it."
Reid said her son has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder related to the racial trauma. She's holding onto hope that Saskatchewan will see change so other youth don't have to experience what her son did, but she sees little signs of change. She just received an email about a new anti-racism course in the social work faculty of her university.
"These things are coming to fruition, not because there wasn't advocacy in the past, but because this is now a turning point where people are not so ignorant anymore."
There's also some hope trickling from the Chauvin verdict. Reid said the Chauvin verdict for her was bittersweet. She imagines it's little comfort for the many mothers mourning the loss of their sons slain by police, including George Floyd.
"I could see my child in him."
Mason was surprised — and deeply affected.
"When I heard the word guilty, I started crying immediately," Mason said. "The physical reaction that I had really indicated to me how much pain and hurt I've been carrying because of the events of the past year."
Reid, also a mental health therapist, said this year has been incredibly hard on Black people's mental health. She said on top of personal trauma stemming from racism and oppression, the vicarious trauma of seeing so much racialized violence in the news and social media can become overwhelming.
She said the province must address an inadequate amount of therapists focused on race-based trauma in Saskatchewan.
"Can you imagine all the people who are suffering with this stress, injury or serious trauma and are suffering in silence," she said.
"We don't have that representation ... not many mental health therapists who identify as white are able to validate or deal with the heaviness that comes with supporting individuals who are going through [racial trauma]."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.