As Black History Month comes to a close, members of Montreal’s Black communities are reflecting on how things have changed since the 1960s.
In the wake of the George Floyd killing, the Black Lives Matter movement and recent incidents of anti-Black racism in Montreal, some, like Dr. Clarence Bayne of Caribbean descent who came to Montreal in the 1960s, insist that while there is progress, there are still significant problems.
“I mean it’s not as bad as the United States, maybe,” he declared outside his home in the borough of NDG, “but it is bad.”
Bayne said he was shocked at the level of anti-Black racism he witnessed in Montreal when he moved to the city.
“Essentially the community was somewhat depressed from racist exclusion,” he told Global News.
Even now, according to him, too many Black people are earning less than their white counterparts. As an example of the disparity, he points to studies which show Blacks in Canada being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts have pointed to things like low income and poor living conditions as factors.
Sharon Nelson, who grew up in Montreal in the ’80s and ’90s, admitted that she is happy more Black faces are now in positions of power.
“It’s wonderful and I think there has to be more,” she stressed.
Still, Nelson expressed worry about the exclusion that Bayne pointed out, mostly among Black youth.
“That’s what I’m hearing, even today,” she said, “that they’re feeling that this is not their space.”
On top of that, Nelson noted that racial profiling by police has caused much fear and mistrust of law enforcement.
“It’s a part of the Black community,” she insisted, “particularly the men, the idea of driving while Black.”
Bayne wants police services to be overhauled because he believes officers have too much power.
“They have taken advantage of the fact that we are dependent upon them to look after our fundamental security,” he stressed.
Nelson said she saw what she thinks are the first signs of progress, when Montreal police chief Sylvain Caron publicly apologized to Mamadi Fara Camara earlier this month, after Camara was wrongfully accused of the attempted murder of a police officer.
“I’ve never seen that before in Montreal — a public apology to a person of colour,” Nelson said. “That was significant for me.”
Twenty-three-year-old Alexandre Vachon, who grew up in Montreal’s West Island, believes the biggest challenge is a lack of Black history education.
“A lot of people will still think or assume that Black Canadian history is very recent,” he said, pointing out that the history of peoples of African descent in the country did not begin with immigration in the ’60s.
He added that the civil rights struggle in the ’60s and more recent movements like the Black Lives Matter are similar.
“It’s not even two separate movements or two separate fights,” he said. “It’s the same fight continuing.”
Bayne pointed out that the main difference between the two is that it’s not just Black people speaking out now.
“Now it is (us) plus all the people that we’ve influenced over the last 50 years,” he laughed.
All three say they are optimistic about the future of racial equality and believe it will eventually become a reality.