‘A reckoning’: Scholar Strike Canada’s action to teach anti-Black racism

Canadian educators are joining the fight against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.

Wednesday morning kicked off Scholar Strike Canada, a two-day event in which professors will press pause on their everyday teaching and administrative duties to host digital teach-ins on police brutality and anti-Black and anti-Indigenous violence across the country.

Min Sook Lee, an assistant professor at OCAD University who co-organized Scholar Strike Canada, called education the “pathway for addressing the critical issues of our times,” adding it’s high time to “move the education from the brain to the muscle.”

“An uprising is in many ways a reckoning of anti-Black violence and anti-Indigenous violence and how our institutions are violent to too many of us. This is a moment of great change and our students need to be part of it, not bystanders or witnesses,” she said.

On its website, Scholar Strike Canada demanded educators support defunding police, removing police from school campuses, and support redistributing the funds to Black, Indigenous, racialized, queer and trans communities.

The labour action also urged schools to address “historic and current underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous faculty (full and part-time) in all Canadian institutions,” stressing the need to prioritize diverse faculty hires.

Several activists and educators will be leading the event, including Desmond Cole, Susan M. Hill and Eve Tuck.

While Lee and her co-organizer, University of Toronto professor Beverly Bain, were assembling educators to garner support, Lee said it was important to them that they feature the voices of leading public intellectuals, activists, scholars, critical thinkers and artists who were engaging in current events.

“The role of education is to get to make democracy robust. That’s our job, to question power and question how institutions reproduce power and ideologies that are violent and anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and violent towards poorer people, queer people, trans and racialised communities,” she said.

The digital teach-ins will be livestreamed online. Many tackle topics such as violence against Black people and police brutality.

One teach-in, which will be taught by Saskatoon community organizer Erica Violet Lee and co-founder of the Black Power Hour El Jones, is called ‘Gender, Colonialism and Anti-Black Police Racist Violence,’ which will focus on resisting oppression.

During another, entitled ‘Indigenous Responses to Black Resistance,’ York University professor Bonita Lawrence will look at the “commonalities between Indigenous peoples and Black people” and discuss Indigenous support for Black Lives Matter protests.

Min Sook Lee claimed there was a misconception of ‘Canada the Good,’ which she described as a “cultural amnesia” that leads Canadians, media and elected officials to deny systemic racism throughout the country.

“All of our institutions in many ways have been inherited through a colonial legacy,” she said. “Are we simply going to protect and reinforce those systems, or do we ask ourselves: how could we build our intellectual creative resources? How could we use them to do a society that cares for each other, that prioritizes human life, Black lives, Indigenous lives, queer lives, trans lives?”

Lee said she hoped the strike will influence and inform other actions that people engage in.

“Change is not given to you. It’s not gifted to you. You fight for it. You make it happen. It’s very much an opportunity for our students to understand how we make history in the moment,” she said.

Inspired by the NBA, WNBA

The labour action was created by University of Pennsylvania associate professor Dr. Anthea Butler, who told Global News that she credited the NBA and WNBA strikes as her inspiration for the Scholar Strike in the United States. The strike in the U.S. began on Tuesday and will last for two days.

“That was the catalyst,” she said of the basketball associations, adding that it was “heartfelt” to see the support the Scholar trike had picked up. Butler said over 5,000 educators had signed up to either support or participate in the action.

 

The Milwaukee Bucks began a series of strikes by NBA, which included the Toronto Raptors, that occurred on the 26th in the wake of civil unrest over the Jacob Blake shooting, forcing the NBA to just postpone playoff games until the 28th.

When garnering support and volunteers for digital teach-ins, Butler said it was important that participants focused on racism, issues or injustice and policing.

She said asking ethnics study faculty members like herself to teach is not enough to turn things around, but the responsibility of institutions  and their administration to be proactive.

“How much of this are we supposed to continue to take in America as educators? Specifically as an African-American professor, am I supposed to just be happy to go to my job and teach this history of African-Americans when they are killing black people on the street every day?”

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