Blockorama/Blackness Yes statement in advance of Pride town halls

Not actually handed out at the August 30 event that I could determine.

Blockorama demands

  • Picture
  • Facebook version
  • Version below is copy-edited, like everything here.
  • Update the next day (2016.09.02): It turns out there were three pages. These kids really need to learn how to communicate in black and white.

Two quotations that may come in handy later

  • “And because, as Nina Simone said, days after they assassinated Martin, ‘I ain’t about to be nonviolent, honey, no.’ ”
  • “And to the white queers with white tears we remind you, ‘We’re still fucking here.’ ”

Statement

Today is the first of two town-hall meetings with Pride Toronto, and some of what will be discussed is the issue of anti-black racism within the organization and with the outgoing executive director, Mathieu Chantelois.

We at Blackness Yes are intimately familiar with the insidious anti-black racism that has been a pervasive issue within the organization for over a decade. We are in a position to know this all too well. After 18 years of working alongside, but definitely independently from, Pride to program the largest and longest-running stage at Pride – Blockorama, an unapologetically black-affirming space in a sea of white supremacy. We have witnessed so much racism from within the organization firsthand. Despite our long tenure, each year we find ourselves fighting for space, funding and the right to exist.

Over the past 18 years, we have pushed Pride Toronto to consider how their move towards corporatization and away from political activism has created an unwelcoming space for those on the margins or for those who don’t support a capitalist agenda (including those who perhaps never felt supported at spaces like the Pride festival anyways).

We have fought hard to create an unapologetically black-affirming space in a sea of whiteness. A space where the brilliance of black trans women artists was celebrated, where they performed onstage long before Pride ever created any official trans programming; where black and African-diasporic deaf and disabled people could perform on a fully accessible stage with ASL interpretation in a festival that remains largely inaccessible to many. We have fought for change within the existing system, trying to hold accoutable the organizations that take city funds to create space for all Torontonians, organizations that still don’t reflect the diversity of Toronto in [their] staff complement, and in its programming commitments. We have worked to make new systems outside of existing systems, starting fresh to create new ways of being together. We have fought hard and loved hard, and, sometimes, we have won.

Blackness Yes grew out of the important work of groundbreaking groups like Aya, Zami, World Majority Lesbians, and BlackCAP, amongst others. We have come from a line of black queer, trans and intersexed activists who have made this city a better place because of their dedication, work and love.

We continue to push for accountability at Pride, and within the larger LGBTTI2QQA community in the city, because this is a continuation of the fight of those before us, those brave ancestors who knew in their hearts and souls that gender is more complex than the colonizers’ impressions of binary, those who knew deeply that love and intimacy was to be shared freely and with consent amongst human beings and that what we know think of as queer and trans and intersexed identities was in fact not outside or different – rather it was just what it meant to be human, to be alive.

We fight because we are fighting for our lives. Because Black Lives Matter and because Black Love Matters. Because Martin Luther King said, “The masses of people are rising up… the cry is always the same: ‘We want to be free.’ ” Because Assata Shakur said, “We can win, we will win our liberation” and that she was “committed to life.” And because, as Nina Simone said, days after they assassinated Martin, “I ain’t about to be nonviolent, honey, no.” Because they keep killing our people. Because we want to live. Because we believe we can and will create something new together.

And so we helped to write demands with Black Lives Matter Toronto. Demands that could help ensure space for us to be together, to love each other, to share resources and tools for survival. We called for an increase in funding for Blockorama, and we explicitly called for support for black deaf interpreters and for a fully-ASL-interpreted pride. For disability access. We wrote these specific demands after spending months trying to ensure ASL interpretation at Blocko. Despite being the first stage to have ASL interpretation at Pride, it is a service we have to fight for every year. After months of fighting for support for the few POC interpreters and POC deaf interpreters, we were left short – again. We demanded collaboration. We called for support for other groups on the margins.

We shared these demands and noticed how similar many of them were to the demands we wrote in 2010 – when we were fighting Pride Toronto over a location and its ever-present anti-blackness. Because so much is still the same, six years later. We still believe these demands are the minimum that is needed at this moment to ensure safety for black queer and trans people at Pride.

On July 3, 2016, we set up our Blockorama stage, preparing for our 18th birthday and then… we marched. We marched with our siblings in Black Lives Matter Toronto. We rallied with them. We thanked them for their amazing work. We sat/rolled/stood/walked/ran/rested together. We loved together. We stood at Yonge and College and talked about our work with the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention and got booed. We talked about the need for funding for Black deaf and disabled communities at Pride and got booed. We talked about the need for support for black queer youth and got booed. One of our members spoke on Yonge Street, and he said that nothing had changed since we began our work 18 years ago, and the crowd screamed that he was selfish for stopping and to “move along.” Move along. What they told black folks for centuries – move along. Don’t stop. Don’t look at white people. Don’t fight back. Don’t resist. Don’t cross to our side of the public street. Move along.

So they booed black people who were talking about politics and pride and the changes we need so that we can all thrive. They yelled. And they booed. But perhaps white queers have always booed queer and trans people of colour… They booed Sylvia Rivera too, in 1973. She stood up and tried to talk to the crowd about trans women of colour and pride. She tried to talk about police brutality and racism and the origins of the riot at Stonewall and they booed her. Because the crowd there couldn’t understand her presence at Pride, a mere five years before she led the riot that started this movement. And she said, “Y’all better quiet down.” And so we say to you, “Y’all better quiet down.”

Because Toronto couldn’t understand black presence, after Blocko, after World Majority Lesbians, after AYA, after GLAD (Gays & Lesbians of African Descent) after all the groups of POCs before us who made sure Pride was political.

And after the demands were agreed to and the parade continued, Mathieu spoke over our heads, as a parent talks to the other adults over their children’s heads, “Don’t worry, this won’t stick. We know this. Wink-wink.” For this is always an Us and Them situation. They see themselves as the parents of this movement. But we know a different lineage. We know that Marsha is our mother and that pride was built on her back. Our black queer and trans lives are not considered by the general narrative to be part of pride. Even when we are celebrating 18 years of Blocko. Even when we are leading the parade.

After the parade that Sunday, we went back to our stage. And we danced and cried and celebrated and laughed and raged. We danced under banners that read “Black is black” and “All that you touch you change.” We raised our voices in song in the very spot where we began, 18 years ago, amidst a sea of black and brown queer and trans people. We had BlackCAP and Women’s Health in Women’s Hands doing on-site HIV testing. We had performances, we had art. We had love.

We went home feeling free, feeling hopeful. We woke up to hate and terror. We woke up to messages decrying our work. We work up criticism and verbal abuse. We woke up to news of more police violence while being inundated by messages telling black folk to “move along” back to our side of town away from Pride, away from our people. Because we apparently are not allowed to be both black and trans, black and queer – not in the eyes of white queer and trans racism. But we are. Marsha was. And Bayard Rustin and Billie Holiday and James Baldwin and Wanda Sykes and Diana King and Alice Walker and Miss Major. We are here and we are queer and we are black and black is beautiful.

We are enraged at the audacity of the very organizations that want to use us as public proof of their (neoliberal) diversity policies – that they can then turn around and weigh in negatively on on our demands for justice. We cannot celebrate these organizations that choose to “honour” blackness (for one year, or one month a year), yet that also choose to uphold the belief that we as black people are somehow not also human, and thus not allowed to show any aspect of our humanity. We are thus not in any way surprised by these recent allegations about the executive director, nor about a workplace culture that had deep issues of racism and sexism and transphobia.

We would like to say to these brave queer and trans folks who have been putting themselves on the front line and thus the target of media-led systemic white supremacy that we got you, and that we scream in a chorus of voices what Marsha P. Johnson reminded us all so many years ago – “Pay it no mind, honey. Pay it no mind.” And to the white queers with white tears we remind you, “We’re still fucking here.”

Until we are all free,
Blockorama & Blackness Yes

Footnote

† This past winter, when Black Lives Matter Toronto set up a tent city in front of police headquarters (or, as we will always refer to it, based on the love in our very full hearts, #blackcity), Blackness Yes settled in for the long haul to fight together with our black family. Because we want self-determination for all people, because we want an end to the systemic structures and white supremacy that allow anti-black racism to flourish, growing uncontrolled in a petri dish of hate.

It is important to note that Pride did not support #blackcity at first, but when they did come around, we made sure they knew that they must support BLM and the organizers camping out. We called out Pride Toronto on social media and we called in with face-to-face conversations when they finally arrived at tent city.

It is also important to note that they participated in the violent media attack on a Black Lives Matter Toronto organizer based on her alleged Twitter feed, furthering an Islamophobic and sexist backlash that was already swarming.

We noted at that time that Pride Toronto’s own social-media feed had been a series of racist missteps – articles posted that suggested loosely that blackness and queer identities were always already separate, poorly phrased headlines that were “subtly” racist and for which they were repeatedly called out. We also noted their social-media absences – no posts sharing our city’s horror at the murder of Andrew Loku, no posts about the death of Sumaya Delmar in the days following her passing.

Pride Toronto’s actions, and their words, speak volumes about their lack of support for a growing movement calling for justice and freedom for black people – despite their naming of Black lIves Matter Toronto as an honoured group at the festival.

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