Canada is overdue for a reckoning with its anti-black racism


Scores of supporters rallied together in Edmonton, Alberta, last week, in solidarity with the family of an 11-year-old-boy who was racially profiled for wearing a durag at school.

On 12 September, Emmell Summerville, a sixth-grade student at Christ the King school, was asked to remove the durag because it “contravened school policy that states no caps, bandanas or hats are allowed in the school”.

But it’s not the request that’s truly appalling, it’s everything that happens after it. As the boy later described to his mother, Una Momolu, he was accused of being a gang member by a school resource officer, who suggested that the item of clothing connoted some kind of “affiliation” with gangs.

After a meeting at the school to discuss the incident got testy, the principal triggered a lockdown and called police, reporting that Momolu had been aggressive and was “screaming” during the 10-minute confrontation, causing concern for her safety and that of the students. Despite the fact that both an audio recording and Una’s recounting of the discussion prove this version of events to be completely false (there was no screaming or yelling, and Una sounds clearly distressed), she has been banned from school premises for a year.

Allow me to reiterate what happened here: An 11-year-old boy is criminalized because of a piece of clothing. The next day, his rightfully angry mother is not only dismissed in her concerns, but also made out to be a criminal.

Sadly, none of this is new when it comes to racial politics in Canada. Young black men across the country have spoken for years about being surveilled and criminalized simply for existing. In 2015, writer and anti-racism advocate Desmond Cole wrote an award-winning essay about his experience with carding, the police practice of stopping civilians and collecting their personal information. At the time, Cole had been carded over 50 times. As of 2013 (before the practice saw a steep drop) black people were 17 times more likely to be carded in downtown Toronto than white people.