Though I love to write, the reason I ended up writing my first book, Policing Black Lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to the present (Fernwood Publishing, in stores October 2017) was not necessarily for pleasure, but to contribute toward interrupting the near-total erasure of Blackness from Canada's official histories.
Being a young Black girl in Canada meant, for me, learning no context about the harms that have been enacted – since time - on people who look like me, nor the important role that the government had played in this. Looking back, I first experienced this erasure when I was in elementary school. While we learned all about the history of the French fur trade (without, of course any of the realities of Indigenous genocide, residential schools, or the 'pass system'), there was no mention of the fact that slavery was practiced here for over 200 years. In fact, there was no acknowledgement that Black people had ever existed in Canada. Later on, while I learned about the life of John A. MacDonald, nobody taught me about Viola Desmond's struggle against 'whites only' theaters, or how segregated schooling extended well into the mid-20th century in many Canadian provinces. We most certainly did not learn about long-standing Black resistance to police harassment and violence.
What does it mean to experience your own erasure – that is, how can you "experience" a lack? For me, the absence of Black people's lives from my education resulted in what I now realize was an internalized stigma toward myself. Experiencing hurtful comments about my skin and hair, and having my appearance and behavior intensely scrutinized by many of my teachers led me, as a child and young teenager, to dislike my appearance and to chemically relax my hair. I was given no historical context that would help me understand what I was experiencing, nor to realize how many tough, subversive Black women before me had stood up to racism over the past 400 years.
Of course, while this erasure began in elementary school, it has continued every day since then. How is it that I studied Cultural Studies in a Canadian university but never once read (at school) any works by Rinaldo Walcott, who is internationally renowned for his role in Black Canadian cultural studies? Despite having gone through elementary school, high school, and university, almost everything I've learned about Black life in this country, I have had to teach myself from books I sought out of my own accord (which has left me deeply grateful to brilliant Black Canadian writers like Dionne Brand, Dorothy Williams, Makeda Silvera, Sylvia Hamilton, Katherine McKittrick, Afua Cooper, Barrington Walker and Charmaine Nelson).
Learning how these histories have shaped my present has been enormously helpful in my development into a confident and knowledgeable 30-year-old Black woman. As I've gotten older it became important to me to create a resource to help make legible the climate of anti-Black racism - and the erasure of Black peoples lives and experiences - that are features of everyday life for Black folks of all genders in this country.
(Robyn Maynard's book Policing Black Lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to the present is available for pre-order here , and in stores in October 2017)
Robyn Maynard is a writer, activist and educator in Montreal. She's the author of Policing Black Lives (Fernwood Publishing), in stores October 2017