Ever since city councillor Kemi Akapo first moved to Peterborough, Ont. in 2005, she says she’s dealt with microaggressions on an almost weekly basis.
“One that I get a lot, and one that I still get till today is ‘Oh wow! You speak English really well,'” she said.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Akapo is a member of the Black community. Like her Black peers, she said she’s been subjected to these hurtful incidents so often, it’s become tiring.
“I get a lot of comments about my hair, which really is quite exhausting to be honest. ‘Oh it’s different today! Why does it look different? How do you do your hair?'” Akapo said.
“Oftentimes people think it’s coming from a good place, and I can appreciate that, but it’s exhausting. Particularly when people go to touch it without asking my permission.”
Trent University student Womba Banda has been in the same boat countless times. She moved to Peterborough just two years ago.
“Sometimes you get followed around in the shops, because people think that you’re stealing. Or like, the little eyes that they give you because they think that you can’t afford something,” Banda said.”Or when people in the store will stop you and say ‘Can I touch your hair?’ ”
Banda recalls a time when she entered a convenience store on Monaghan Road., and a white woman approached her and began to question where she was from.
“People would be like, ‘Oh I haven’t seen you in here. Are you from around here? Where do you live? What are you doing here?'” she said.
“They’ll ask you all these questions. Like, mind your own business.”
According to a 2018 Statistics Canada report, 93.9 per cent of Peterborough’s population (around 82,000 people at the time) is white.
“It is new for a lot of people in Peterborough to be with a person of color… to be with someone who is Black,” said Charmaine Magumbe, chairperson at Community Race Relations Committee of Peterborough.
“When i’m in a setting with all-white people, you can feel that they’re not comfortable with me. I am comfortable with them, but they’re not comfortable with me, ” said Magumbe. “So there is a hesitation — or a lack of wanting to get to know who I am as a person.”
“I really, at times, feel invisible,” said Magumbe.
According to a 2018 report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, members of the Black community were nearly 20 times more likely than white people to be fatally shot by Toronto police between 2013 and 2017.
Ontario has not yet banned the highly controversial practice of carding, despite years of opposition, and proof from Toronto police data that the practice can often be racially motivated.
Recent events across the world, mainly in the United States, have pushed the fight for Black lives to the forefront of many conversations held in the past two weeks.
After the killing of North Carolina native George Floyd on May 25, international protests erupted calling for his justice, and justice for all Black lives that continue to be lost at the hands of police and racist individuals.
The protesters are also demanding an end to the systemic cycles of racism.
In Peterborough, hundreds gathered at a rally on Tuesday, starting at Millennium Park and ending at Confederation Square.
This is certainly not the first time that the Black community has spoken out against the atrocities they face daily. But the traction that the movement has been getting is shedding light on what it means to be an “ally”.
“It’s more than just attending a rally. It’s more than just saying ‘I can’t breathe,’” said Magumbe.
“It’s not enough to be not a racist. You have to be anti-racist… All the people that came out to that rally a few days ago, it was great, it was the most we’ve ever had, but they need to go further.”
A huge step towards change, according to Magumbe, Banda and Akapo, is educating yourself with the resources available to you, instead of laying the burden of your education on your Black friends and colleagues.
Racism, according to activists, is not an isolated incident, but the product of years of crippling regulations systemically embedded in court systems, education systems, policing, and even hiring practices.
“Educate yourself on the matters, keep up with the news, and then spread awareness,” said Banda. “You can donate money. You can sign petitions.
“When you see these injustices happening, speak out about it. Right then and there. Defend the person that this just happened to. Don’t just keep quiet about it. Because the more you keep quiet about it, the more you’re allowing it,” said Banda.
Another step you can take, according to Magumbe, is to simply be quiet and listen.