How committed are we to bridging the gap?
When I moved to Victoria, B.C., five years ago, to the unceded, unsurrendered, and occupied territories of the Lekwungen, W̱SÁNEĆ, and Coast Salish peoples, I came with the goal of competing in the Olympics. I knew that I would have to work harder than ever before. But none of my plans anticipated the detours that this year has presented.
On May 23, 2020, we learned that worldwide, more than five million people had contracted COVID-19. The next day, the International Olympic Committee officially postponed the Games. Less than 24 hours later, George Floyd was brutally murdered by police in Minneapolis. I had dreams of a decade that was to begin with glory, but it has quickly become a year of turmoil, uncertainty, and radical change.
While we are coping with COVID-19, we are simultaneously being slapped with brutal visuals, exposing the hardship of black and brown lives. It is disheartening and infuriating to see the same cycles and systems of oppression repeating. Some, wrapped in privilege, are turning a blind eye or simply ‘logging off.' It is easier to disconnect from the atrocities, because you can. With COVID-19 disrupting all my plans, I couldn’t socially distance myself anymore.
On May 31st at 6 a.m., Vanessa Simon sent me a Facebook invitation to march. She planned to showcase how Black lives should, and do, matter. I have no experience in protesting or marching, and my anxiety was through the roof, but I knew that this community has always been there for me, so I should show up and be there for them.
June 1, 2020, I saw in Vanessa not just a Black woman, but a leader who was prepared to walk alone. I saw someone who knew what needed to be done. Vanessa believed in me, and she let me walk alongside her. I grabbed the microphone and we led the way. On that day, almost 1000 people came to hear and stand in solidarity. It showed me that it is unacceptable to be passive and to act out of fear.
To be pro-Black does not mean to be anti- any other race, it simply means that my blackness is valid. I will no longer suppress my voice, or compromise what needs to be said.
A week later, my second rally, and this time I was one of the organizers, alongside Vanessa Simon and Asiyah Robinson. With COVID-19 cases still on the rise, we had to take the time to balance rallying our community and keeping ourselves safe. It had to be done right. 9,000 people gathered in the heart of our city, Centennial Square, and a further 10,000 joined us online.
We were welcomed by the Indigenous stewards of the land and by the “unhoused” folks who live in that space. It was beautiful. The crowd comprised people from all skin tones, all genders, and all ages. The platform gave space for black voices to describe the racism that exists here in Canada, and to detail how this pandemic is tearing us apart. It was a day that decried police violence, gave voice to the silenced, and called out the systemic and institutional racism that plagues Black lives, Indigenous lives, and the lives of people of color.
This rally opened my eyes. I can see now that individual mindsets can be changed. Asiyah Robinson said “humanity cannot move forward if we do not actively engage in introspection, and challenge the oppressive systems that keep us from evolving and unifying as one."
I am not exempt. I have benefited from the system. Playing on the national senior women’s rugby sevens team, I wear the Maple Leaf on the world stage. I have found comfort in that privilege, but I have to acknowledge the difficult questions that accompany my privilege:
Can I justify standing in a brand-new stadium in a developing country, knowing that just outside the gates, there are families who lack the necessities to survive?
How can I, a Black woman, be glorified and be given this platform, when Chantal Moore, an Indigenous woman, was shot five times, and killed by the police?
How can I use my voice to push the nation I represent to serve and protect Black, Indigenous, and other racialized peoples?
My position comes with a responsibility to speak up against injustices. It is not acceptable to be complacent. I need to keep challenging myself for the betterment of the community. Oversaturation of information and media has desensitized us, and disconnected us from one another’s pain, trauma, and experiences. Like the COVID-19 pandemic has done, racism and oppressive ideologies plague our minds, infiltrate our institutions, and expose deep inequalities.
We need to bridge the gap. We acknowledge that there is a divide, but to bridge it requires everyone in society to be actively anti-racist.
My name is Pamphinette Buisa and I am just one voice within the Black community. Let us be better for all of us. We are the ones who can keep us safe. Only together can we bridge the gap.
The Pam Buisa edition
Q: The best book you've read?
A: Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to Present - by Robyn Maynard
Q: Must-listen podcast?
A: Still Processing and Ear Hustle
Q: Best advice you ever received?
A: The greatest area for growth is when you are uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable..
Q: If your life is a movie, what is the title?
A: One Voice.
Q: Word or phrase you over use?
A: "In a nutshell"
Q: Skill you wish you had?
A: I wish I could speak more languages fluently.
Q: Something no one would guess about you?
A: I still get nervous public speaking.
Q: What scares you?
A: Being out of touch with others.
Q: Who gets an invite to your ultimate influential dinner party?
A: Denzel Washington, J Cole, Angela Davis, Viola Davis, Angela Arye, and Colin Kaepernick.
Q: What makes you cry?
A: I am not much of a crier but seeing others experience systemic injustices.
Q: What's your next goal?
A: I want to aid in the unification of disenfranchised people and help to influence policies in government.
(Photo credit: Top large image by Getty)