The death of George Floyd in Minnesota has been a catalyst, a tipping point if you will. It has escalated a dialogue about race that has been already boiling in the United States for centuries. That dialogue is happening in Canada too after charges of systemic racism in the RCMP and the Toronto police service.
It’s easy to look at our neighbours to the south with a slight air of moral superiority about that country’s race issues, until you look at the subvert racism that exists here. For centuries, government leaders tried to erase Indigenous culture by forcing people on to reserves, and later into residential schools. The last residential school in Canada was closed in 1996. Our Upper Canadian ancestors outlawed slavery in 1793, but that only stopped new slaves from being brought into the colony. Slavery was actually outlawed by Great Britain in 1833. Segregated schools only ended in the 1960s. Racism in Canada has been, and continues to be, more subvert than overt.
Many symbols of Canadian history are being re-examined under this lens of what is appropriate in 2020 given a fuller context.
A recent petition in Russell Township called for that community to change its name. Its namesake, Peter Russell, was a prominent member of the colonial government in the 1790s, but he was also a slave owner. Another petition calls for Toronto to rename Dundas Street as its namesake, Henry Dundas, delayed the abolition of slavery in the British Empire by several years. Dundas County is named after Henry Dundas. Does that broader context make a place name more acceptable to a visible minority? Imagine being a Black student attending a school, or living in a community, named after a slave owner. How would you see yourself in that community? Would changing the name make you feel like you belonged?
We are not advocating for symbols and names to be changed per se, but for the greater conversation to take place. Recognize the blights of our collective past, and work towards true equality. If removing a symbol or changing a name helps in this, why not do so?
Recently South Dundas council approved a request by the OPP to fly the Pride Flag at the South Dundas Justice Building. A positive change, which showed support for a minority group in the community, Bravo! The long-overdue removal of a culturally-misappropriated symbol from the Iroquois water tower would be another good step.
Many times, the smallest actions can help bring about the largest and most positive changes.