Archive for February, 2011

The University of Toronto Students’ Union is hosting their 2011 eXpression Against Oppression (XAO) week, and last night they featured keynote presentations from writer and activist Ward Churchill, and Professor Angela Davis. The topic focussed on academic freedom, public education, and student autonomy.

The night began with Professor Roland Sintos Coloma (OISE/UT) who gave a short lecture on the politics of apologies. “What does it mean to say ‘I’m sorry’?” Apologies are both necessary and dangerous. Professor Coloma listed three of the most notable public apologies in Canadian history: 1) 1988, Prime Minister Mulroney apologized to Japanese Canadians for the internment during WWII, 2) 2006, Prime Minister Harper apologized to Chinese Canadians for the head tax laws, and finally 3) 2008, again PM Harper apologized to Canadian Aboriginal peoples for the residential school system. Professor Coloma co-wrote an open letter to Maclean’s magazine, calling for the elimination of anti-Asian racism.

Next up, was Ward Churchill, American scholar, author and political activist. Churchill’s lecture was absolutely enthralling (albeit a little over my head at times!). He spoke about the obligation we as social advocates feel for speaking truth, but the problem lies in the fact that POWER does not listen to TRUTH. “You don’t speak truth to power, you speak truth to people”. And it is the power of speech, of communication, and of galvanization that makes individuals a threat to the systems of oppression, that makes individuals targets. Churchill went on to look at specific examples of individuals who became such targets: Fred Hampton, John Trudell, Kate Richards O’Hare, and Norman Finkelstein. Linking these cases to the idea that university students are removed from their communities, planted into universities, and begin working within and for the institution. Students are there to serve the goals of the university. And when they resist, they are expunged from the institution.

Lastly we arrive at Angela Davis, political activist, scholar, author and feminist. And Oh the topics she touched on! Davis talked about the need for a collective quest for social justice. A collective that will spread globally: a need to produce global solidarities that can challenge imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, and ALL the other ‘isms’ and oppressions out there. Davis also referred to the prison-industrial complex, and insisted that “we can never say we’ve made significant progress as long as we have this prison-industrial complex in place, as long as the numbers of people incarcerated continue to rise, as long as the number of women, of Aboriginal women, incarcerated continues to rise”. And in what direction is Canada heading? Following in the footsteps of the US of course, and investing over $2 billion dollars to expand prisons. Why is it that the imprisonment of human beings has become so profitable? Why would we be heading this way, when studies have shown that increases in prison complexes leads to the decline of public education, the decline of addressing health care needs, and in fact increases racial disparities within those prisons. And the racial disparities are huge: Aboriginal women make up less than 2% of Canada’s population, yet they account for approximately 27% of the women in penitentiaries. Davis says that we have learned a few things about racism: We are able to recognize and reprimand someone who uses racist language. We are able to reprimand someone who egnages in racist activities. But what remains invisible is recognizing the structural consequences of racism. February, is Black History Month, and in closing Davis reminded us of what Martin Luther King Jr said in one of his speeches: “Justice is indivisible”. Justice links us across the globe, and it will not come for one struggle until it comes for all.

What a night with the academic activists!

Read Full Post »