Editor’s note: The following article includes the use of uncensored racial slurs. Global News, in consultation with various stakeholders, has decided to include these words in our article as the words reflect the lived experiences of those individuals interviewed for the story.
Members of a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Toronto are sharing their own experiences of racism as communities across North America speak out against stigma and discrimination following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in police custody.
“The city has forgotten us; they’ve forgotten about these people,” said Rev. Delroy Sherman, standing in the middle of a large 100-unit townhouse complex in the Jamestown neighbourhood of Toronto.
“I’m glad you came here to tell their stories.”
Sherman invited Global News to the residential area, near Jamestown Crescent and John Garland Boulevard in north Etobicoke, which he said has an almost entirely Black population. The objective of the visit is to hear the stories of everyday racism.
It’s a neighbourhood the reverend said has historically experienced anti-Black bigotry and one that continues to see it.
“You’re going to call them bums, you’re going to call them no good, you’re going to call them scum of the earth and you can’t be calling them those things — they’re human beings trying to survive, just like everyone else,” said Sherman.
Maureen Archibald, 59
Maureen Archibald moved to Canada from the Caribbean about 30 years ago and said that in her experience, Toronto has become more racist against Black people over the years.
“It’s worse,” Maureen said. “It’s a nightmare. This is not the Canada I know from before.”
She said living in Jamestown has a lot of drawbacks because people associate it with crime and violence — and automatically assume the worst if they hear you’re from the area, especially if you’re trying to apply for a job.
“I tried to go everywhere for an interview,” Maureen said. “As soon as they meet me and see that I’m a Black person… and my address says Jamestown, then before you know it they rip up (your resume) as you leave because they’ll never ever call you back.”
She recalls one experience when she heard two people say there weren’t going to hire her because of her race.
“She looks at what I have on, she looks me up, she looks me down, and before you know it, she goes to the other lady — in her own language “nigger”. Archibald did not understand the rest of the phrase, but knew she heard loud and clear the racial slur.
“I was so disappointed, very, very disappointed.”
Even now, she said she faces anti-Black racism.
“I heard the n-word even at the bank the other day,” said Archibald.
“I was in the line and I was walking with my walker and then a white woman goes ‘Oh, f—ing niggers’… She said, ‘These niggers, you can’t come in front of me, I’m in the line.'”
Now, she’s concerned about how future generations of Black community members from Jamestown will be treated while trying to find employment.
“These young people that try so hard — but they just get slapped in the face if you’re Black or if they hear where you came from, and so because of that, majority of them give up.”
Shedrach Henry, 16
Maureen’s grandson, Shedrach Henry, is in Grade 11 and said he faces anti-Black racism daily.
He said almost every time he walks into a store, he’s followed by employees who are suspicious of him stealing goods.
“You have to pull out your bank card just to show them you’re paying for something,” he said.
“I feel tense, I get nervous, anxiety — because these guys are trying to watch me when I’m just trying to buy something.”
Those near-daily occurrences hit a boiling point when Henry said a store employee wrongfully thought he had stolen something, chased him out of the store and even tracked him down with his car.
“I was riding my bike, and he sort of hit me with the car and damaged my bike and everything — because he thought I stole something because I’m Black, I guess.”
He said he can never go to the police about incidents like that because officers harass him frequently for other matters.
“I’ve had many experiences with police officers,” Henry said, adding that he tenses up every time he sees police drive by.
“You’re riding your bike, they pull you over and ask: ‘What do you have in your pocket? Why are you doing that? Why are you going around with so many people?’ You can’t get used to that; it’s frustrating.”
An Sesy, 51
A few doors down from Maureen and Shedrach, An Sesy lives with her young daughter and is concerned about the discrimination she’ll face from others growing up as a Black woman in Jamestown.
She said she doesn’t want her daughter to go through the racism she was subjected to when she first moved to Canada from St Vincent.
“I was working (for) a white woman, she (treated) me like a slave in her house, she made me work day and night and gave me less money,” she said.
An said that the woman would only pay her roughly $100 for the week while she took care of the woman’s children and cleaned the home.
She said she didn’t feel like she had a choice because she was a new immigrant and didn’t know if anyone else would give her work.
But An adds that even now, people won’t give her a job.
“I can’t get no good job,” An said. “Sometimes, when they see my skin colour, they turn me down. Black people go through a lot.”
Rev. Delroy Sherman, 64
Delroy said he’s been working to try and get the City of Toronto to help address community concerns around racism, but those calls have been largely ignored.
“We’re sick and tired of it,” he said.
“When election time is going on, we hear individuals say, ‘We’re going to defend you and defend the little people’ — but when they get elected, we don’t hear… from them.
“We have to speak up. We stress all the time, please come and work with the community, please come and see what you can do.
“It should be better, and we can step it up — we just have to respect each other, and there’s not a lot of that anymore.”
‘Psychological trauma’ caused by racism
Tomee Elizabeth Sojourner-Campbell, a human rights compliance, diversity and inclusion consultant, said racism isn’t always as overt as being called a derogatory term or being following around in a store — it can also be subtle yet just as psychologically damaging.
“Mostly what I hear from folks are instances that feel so subtle,” said Sojourner-Campbell.
“It’s going into a restaurant and not being served or being overlooked for the person behind you. If there’s an interaction with sales staff, that person may refer to you in a way that is rude or unpleasant, but the other person who may be a white individual will receive a ‘how can I help you, ma’am or sir?'”
Sojourner-Campbell said multiple instances of ‘subtle racism’ can cause psychological trauma over time.
“There is a detrimental impact on a person’s mental health, their wellness and it increases the difficulty of them securing work.”
She added that there are several groups, including Black Legal Action Centre and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, to help support people who have experienced anti-Black racism.