Towards the middle of last summer, I remember compulsively scrolling through my Twitter timeline during an online feud between two rappers, Meek Mill and Drake. I was sitting on my balcony in Scarborough overlooking Markham Road, when I heard Drake peg the question: “Cops are killing people with they arms up, and your main focus is tryna harm us?”
The question was directed to Meek Mill, a one-time Drake collaborator who had accused the Canadian rapper of having a ghost-writer for his lyrics, an accusation that obsessively took over Twitter that month. Drake stayed quiet about the allegations before deciding to respond back with “Charged Up,” a surprise diss track that aired on his own OVO Sound Radio channel during a lukewarm Saturday afternoon. It was almost as if the online world was caught off guard. Twitter went crazy. Drake, one of the many artists who had remained silent as public discussions about racialized police brutality swirled in the U.S., had finally broken his silence — albeit in a self-serving way.
It’s sound, sound, sound ’til the day I die
We going live to keep this shit alive
Cops are killing people with they arms up
And your main focus is tryna harm us?
And you think you ’bout to starve us?
The feud was inescapable. Toronto’s 6-God, not known for his political affiliations or socially conscious content, was highlighting the realities of police brutality in a diss track. All the while, thousands were tweeting for justice with the hashtag #WhatHappenedtoSandraBland, referencing the 28-year-old black woman from Illinois who died in police custody last summer. I was surprised.
The following Monday, I ended my workday by again, staring endlessly into my iPhone screen, observing another discussion pertaining to black life. This time, hundreds of demonstrators took to Allen Road in my home city to protest the killing of Andrew Loku, a 45-year-old Sudanese man shot by Toronto police on July 2. With arms above their heads, they marched with signs that read “Black Lives Matter.” The city’s various racialized communities, alongside their allies, had refused to stay silent about their angst. The killing of Loku had instigated a conversation in Toronto that was a long time coming: black lives matter here, too.
In a way, Drake’s attempt to shame Meek Mill indirectly brought light to the prominence of a socio-political movement that knows no borders. The 29-year-old rapper reminded us that there were more important discussions to be had. From Baltimore to Toronto, black bodies endure extraneous police carding, invasive surveillance, racial profiling and systemic violence.
But in Canada, the black experience involves an additional layer of erasure: the idea that here, anti-blackness is not our problem.
Hidden behind a liberal, multicultural reputation exists a uniquely Canadian history of enslavement, Africville, policies banning black immigrants, a racially segregated education system, over-representations of black bodies in prisons, high unemployment rates, racist carding practices and death.
Somewhere halfway through the album of photos from the protest, I became tired of all of the intake. I turned off my phone, and went to bed.
Huda Hassan is a writer and researcher based in Toronto. Her work focuses on race, gender and representation.
This is part of a series of reflections on Black History Month in Ontario. Twice a week for the month of February, we’ll be running essays on how black history and black lives today intersect with education, pop culture, social policy and more.
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