Now Or Never·PERSONAL ESSAY

Why I can no longer remain silent about racism in my community

Following a racist incident in Stratford, Ont., Katia Maxwell organized an anti-racism march.

Following a racist incident in Stratford, Ont., Katia Maxwell organized an anti-racism march

'When I see myself in the mirror, I see a woman who has hope and a tiny smile with room to grow' (Submitted by Katia Maxwell)

Contributed by Katia Maxwell

There are moments in my life when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. 

I see a woman who has been beaten down, struggles with PTSD, betrayal, trauma, chronic depression, racism and misogyny. She's being told to be silent. I feel I should hold her tightly. Keep her safe. 

I tell her: no more silence.

I see a woman who sometimes feels unsafe at work. A woman who believes that one of her employers has a lot of work to do around systemic racism and misogyny. She has accepted a situation that does not make her feel safe. She has been quiet and has been told to be quiet.

I tell her: no more silence.

Three generations of resilient women. (Submitted by Katia Maxwell)

Standing up

I see a woman reading a Facebook post about her city. A black man had taken a photo of a confederate flag in a Stratford, Ont., apartment. He was on the sidewalk and could only see the top part of the flag. He posted a comment about the flag and its impact on black and brown people. Comments started to come in and it did not take very long for vile and vicious responses to push the original post aside. One exchange went like this:

Grow some and knock on the door.
If he did that the racist might kill him. 
Well then, problem solved.

I tell her: no more silence.

But this time, I step up beside her. I take a deep breath and tell her: this one is on me. Because of the hatred it is time to step up. The ugliness has always been there; now it's been given permission to show itself, all over the world. Intolerance is now worn like the logo on a designer shirt. 

It's time for no more silence.

E.B. Smith took this photo with his cell phone after he spotted the flag through the window of an apartment that was having a loud party on June 26. (E.B. Smith/Facebook)
 

It's time to march

This August, I organised a march to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic March on Washington. The response was incredible. We chanted as we marched. Rallying at Stratford city hall, we shared the spoken word. It was a potent moment for me. My children were there; those who pass for white and those who pass for brown. They held signs and even took over leading the chants. That moment embedded itself in my heart.

My 78-year-old Mother — the matriarch of our family, who orchestrated her large family's exodus from violence in their homeland — marched with us. 46 years ago, she was a single mother of two, starting over in Canada.  

Seeing her march, and knowing she was proud of me, embedded itself in my heart. My community embedded itself in my heart. The love and support from our white allies embedded itself in my heart.

'We chanted as we marched. Rallying at city hall, we shared the spoken word. It was a potent moment for me.' (Submitted by Katia Maxwell)

We had a few moments of confrontation. A man interrupted our moment of remembrance. He wanted a moment of silence for all the white people killed by Black Lives Matter. When offered the megaphone, he chose not to speak. A driver fumed, yelled and swore as we crossed the intersection. Another rushed the intersection and stopped just shy of marchers. We were not distracted from our cause, although the driver continued to circle city hall blaring his music. 

After the march, he messaged me online and we had a discussion. He was angry at the start. By the end of it, we agreed there is anti-racism work to be done. That chat with him made me realise that choosing voice over silence can make a difference. Being willing to engage with kindness can make a difference. 

Causing ripples

Seeing my 78-year-old Mom march, and knowing she was proud of me, embedded itself in my heart. (Submitted by Katia Maxwell)

A local high school talked about the march and a friend of my daughter texted to say I was being talked about in her class. Another young person who attended the march decided to do a project on it for a university course. Friends heard a radio station calling me a hero. Choosing voice over silence made a difference. I believe that "one voice can cause ripples." Even my small, introverted voice chanted and spoke and had an impact.

No more silence. 

Today, when I see myself in the mirror, I see a woman who has hope and a tiny smile with room to grow. I see the strength in her rising. Sometimes I see ancestors behind her, holding her up; a daughter of slaves. I know that she will most likely always struggle with the barbed hooks in her body. Despite that, she and I are getting closer and closer. 

When she and I come together, remaining silent will no longer be an option.

Signs at the August 2020 Martin Luther King memorial march in Stratford, Ont. (Submitted by Katia Maxwell / Photographs by Mindy Gough )

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.

(CBC)

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