“The Time to Speak Out Has Come.” Khodi Dill Launches New Anti-Racism Public Speaking Endeavour

Ever since Breathe In; Speak Out dropped, I’ve been hung up on the last two words of the poem’s title.  They were my own words, and they were a call to action.  It’s recently dawned on me that I can’t continue allowing only a modest YouTube presence to be my only avenue for answering this call myself.  That’s why I’m announcing today the official launch of my next endeavour – public lectures on race and racism.  This is by no means a new endeavour for me; I’ve long been a public speaker, especially of poetry, and regularly of lectures too, but I want the world to know that I will answer the call to fight racism with my words in a multitude of ways: spoken word, writing, and through academic, or shall I say Blackademic public speaking engagements.  

Please visit the newly launched Bookings page on my website, and please consider reaching out on behalf of your school or organization for a blunt talk with me about racism in North America, and how to fight it courageously.  

**Please note: this announcement comes with a surprise hidden announcement about my writing career that you’ll find in bold on my Bookings page.  

Many thanks to all my educators, family, and friends who’ve supported me in my learning, writing, spoken word, and public speaking endeavours through encouragement, feedback, pushing, prodding, providing testimonials, guiding, correcting, educating, teaching, and straight up just believing in me over the years.  I have taken the time to learn and grow.  I have taken the time to breathe in.  The time to speak out has come, so please join me.  Let the Breathe In; Speak Out tour begin.

Breathe In; Speak Out (Spoken Word)

Following the news of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police on Monday, May 25th, 2020, I held my breath for a while.  The reminder I gave myself to breathe was one that I’m now growing accustomed to after the repetition of so many incidents of police racism in the news.  I wouldn’t call this now-custom a result of desensitization; I still get flashbacks of the first video portraying such a travesty that I ever watched.

This time, I couldn’t stay silent.  I feel I’ve been silent (read: silenced) for too long.  I was hesitant to even post this poem considering that the recording captures my voice failing.  And then I realized, that as I felt my voice failing, I could also feel my heart succeeding, trumping fear.  So here we are.

My poem (audio and text below), is titled Breathe In; Speak Out.  It is written in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter, and recalls the murders of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, and many, many others.  RIP.


– KD

Poem Text Below:

Breathe In; Speak Out

They got their arms all around my neck and I can’t breathe,
Arms all around my neck and I can’t breathe.

Can’t breathe like smotherin’
From years, decades, and centuries of otherin’
They either got us locked up behind bars
Or pinned down behind cars
Another day, another dead. It turns the force to a farce.
Protect and serve;
Reject and sever
any of the ties that ever bound us together
Or should I say chains?
Or should I say cuffs?
Cuz they only hold us harder when we huff and we puff.
I guess we’re big bad wolves
when we’re riding through the hood.
It’s a wonder with all this bad that we’re still fighting for the good.
Fighting for justice?
I need that out of my system.
They took the roles of the cops and the robbers and they switched ’em.
Game over.
Full grown, still lookin’ over our shoulder
For the ones who should save us?
Look at what they gave us.
Another man down on the ground.
It’s like they crave us.
Like they need bodies in bags.
Need to strike a windpipe for every stripe on the flag.
This is breakin’ me.
This is not what we meant when we said we’d TakeAKnee

They got their knees all up on my neck and I can’t breathe
Knees all up on my neck. I can’t breathe.

Can’t breathe like drownin’.
Out in the street, out with people all around and
We’re still goin’ down,
From a bullet, from a gun.
Cuz we were goin’ for a run
In a white neighbourhood and now our life is done?
It makes no sense for me to even be sayin’ it.
If this is our world, why the hell would we stay in it?
Dark people.
Dark thoughts.
But the dark deeds stay comin’ from our cops.
He was reachin’ for ID and all he got was five shots.
It puts your stomach in knots.
With his four year old girl in the car, in the back
She had to see it all happen; I guess that’s just bein’ black.

They got a gun all up in my back and I can’t breathe.
They got a gun all up in my back and I can’t breathe.

Can’t breathe like anxiety,
like a panic attack
cuz the man in blue is the man that attacks.
How soon the gun clicks.
It’s true, only bruises ensue when black and blue mix.
Every new murder just feels like suffocation
cuz death weighs heavy when there’s no justification.
So please excuse a negro if he’s growin’ impatient.
There is no measure to the size and scope of black indignation!
Some call it black rage.
Some call it land of the free, home of the black cage.
Well, some might be dead, some might be in prison.
Some might be scared but yo, it’s one life we’re given.
And we’re still here!
Still tryin’ to survive.
And we’re still here!
Still, like air we rise.
Yeah we’re still here!
Sometimes gaspin’ for air
but we’re still here
even though they blastin’ us out there
We are still here!
Still livin’,
still breathin’,
still tryin’ to make a world for our kids to believe in.
Breathe in…
while you can.
It could be your last breath.
Better use that to speak until we see the last death.
Yeah, we’re still here.
Breathe in. Speak out.

They got their arms all around my neck and I can’t breathe.
They got their arms all around my neck. I can’t breathe.

– by Khodi Dill




Dangerous Space: How Safe Spaces Enable Racism – Part 2 of 2

This post is a continuation of Part 1, found here.

The largely white, middle class-backed safe space movement has reached more than just the national spoken word poetry scene.  It is in our schools, on our campuses, and in our workplaces, where equally white-washed anti-bullying campaigns have exploded, creating a Pleasantville effect, in which they leave social power critiques and discussions of systemic oppression tragically by the wayside.

Nationwide, cases of online sexual harassment and extortion that ended in youth suicide have been taken up primarily under the acritical banner of “cyberbullying”.  Meanwhile, discussions of sexism and toxic masculinity in formative educational spaces remain sparse.  While I of course agree with and applaud the intention of anti-bullying and safe space campaigns alike, under their current implementation models, both ultimately reproduce systemically racist and classist side effects, by adding significantly to the silence that enables the status quo.

Intended or not, one major result of safe space is tension and infighting among the left.  In the very climate which they have created, the collective left, who are exceedingly intersectional and multi-faceted in both identity and ideology, cannot begin to agree on which topics and subjects of discussion are taboo or allowable, and in what manner, or to whom, and under what personal or creative license.  Incessant call-outs and banishment for problematic position-taking, often related to appropriation, plague the left, locking its masses in almost cyclical discord.  Ironically, marginalized people, who have been denied access to anti-oppressive and higher education, which others can easily pursue, are often banished from safe spaces in light of holding sometimes problematic views that stem from that very lack of education. Subsequently, the mainstreamers who remain in the safe spaces lose access to the real-life anti-oppressive teaching that marginalized people have to offer.

And so the safe spaces cleanse themselves of non-white, non-middle class participation and perspectives. This, while Indigenous youth and women continue to go missing or be murdered, while unarmed Black men in the US continue to be executed at the hands of police, and while water protectors in places like Standing Rock face government sponsored tear gas, bean bag bullets, dog attacks, and water cannon blasts reminiscent of the 1960s.  As much as we’d like, our safe spaces cannot help blanket these victims.  Nor can we assist in their resistance from those far-removed places of comfort and protection.

The “progressive” approach has backfired here; our constant infighting brings to mind a quote from Black Panther Party leader and revolutionary Fred Hampton: “We said all power to the people. We said no matter what color you are, there are only two classes. There’s a class over here, and there’s a class over there—this is lower, this is upper; this is the oppressed and the oppressor; this is the exploited and the exploiter. These people in this class over here have divided themselves, they say ‘I’m black and I hate white people,’ ‘I’m white and I hate black people,’ ‘I’m Latin American and I hate hillbillies,’ ‘I’m a hillbilly and I hate Indians’; so we fighting amongst each other.”

For true radicals like Fred Hampton, who was killed by police while asleep in his own bed, there could be no such thing as a truly safe space (speaking to the level of privilege that our current safe spaces embody).  In fact, Hampton advocated for organized education and for open dialogue about experiences of oppression specifically to avoid an uncoordinated and thus ineffective resistance, which he forebodingly referred to as a “motionless movement.”

Safe spaces are certainly ideal, but perhaps a touch idealistic at times.  I do dream of a day when marginalized people can enter a school, campus, or poetry show with their identities and viewpoints affirmed and valued, and where their stories are validated and believed.  But to skip ahead to this imagined ideal through self-sequestering, coerced exclusion, and policy-aided silencing is to ignore one ultimately crucial step: the work of changing people’s minds – the work of fighting oppression.  Unfortunately, such work requires unmitigated diplomatic dialogue among opposing groups – the oppressed and the oppressors – something nobody enjoys, but that is perhaps a necessary evil at the right time and place.

If the recent climate in Canadian race relations has been any indication, there is a lot of mind-changing yet to be done. Public education is an effective resistance strategy that anti-oppressive leaders such as the founders of the Idle No More movement (Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam, and Jessica Gordon) have long been using and advocating for.  Their frequent and widespread teach-ins have arguably created some of the most impactful social change in recent decades. And following the recent murder acquittals of Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier, both tried for the homicides of young Indigenous people, we have seen a resurgence of mass Indigenous-led protest and public education efforts; unfortunately these have been met with some of the most brazenly overt racist responses in recent memory.

The trend is continental; indeed the climate in the US has also been shifting back toward acceptable, open racism following Trump’s “surprise” presidential election victory.  People in both countries, across the political spectrum, are tired of being quiet, or feeling muzzled, and basic psychology confirms the futility of placing a gag order on people’s searing emotions. Remarkably, in many cases, even marginalized people are tired of feeling over-sheltered from the everyday reality of oppression, which persists in spite of (and partly because of) safe spaces.

If these are among the most salient outcomes that safe spaces have produced, have they really been advancing our society? What becomes clear now is the need for a return to civil, open dialogue between social factions. At the least, it would be better than the firestorm of anger in which we now live, fueled partly by the futility of safe space ubiquity.

Conservative and neoliberal white men whom I’ve met in public, for the first time, have told me that they know which places in my town to avoid, places where they wouldn’t fit in, and which places to frequent instead.  While a part of me smirks in light of the fact that they are only now being forced to learn life skills that BIPOC folks have grown up learning for their own physical safety, I remain conflicted.  Unfortunately for these white men, and for society at large, their physical avoidance ensures an ideological avoidance as well. They have learned only to insulate themselves from opposing viewpoints completely, to wander through life with their views and actions unchallenged, forever reproducing systemic colonialism, racism, classism, ableism, and sexism as they go (much in the same way that social media can help us to create our own now archetypal ideological echo chambers).  And, as privilege would have it, these men will likely go on to become the bulk of our elected officials, doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, and police (fields in which their existing values will likely only be affirmed and perpetually solidified).  Further to the irony of this situation, we can begin to see how by sequestering ourselves in our own safe spaces, we have created opposite and much larger safe spaces for those whose views we are seeking shelter from, thus only empowering them further.

Public education is messy work that no one enjoys.  Perhaps this is why safe spaces have been rolled out as widely and enthusiastically as they have, because people are tired of that gruesome messiness.  And safe spaces do spare us that.  But we know from social research that emotional or mental discomfort (the mess) is not merely an avoidable inconvenience associated with taboo discussion, but rather an essential element of progressive human change.  That is to say that people’s principles must be challenged, even to the point of cognitive dissonance, before personal change can begin.  Unfortunately, in our modern safe spaces, neither discord nor dissonance is allowed.  And those marginalized people, whose counter-narratives of systemic victimization warrant our listening, are met not with deaf ears, but, absurdly, with ones that we have voluntarily covered in the name of justice.  For this reason, BIPOC and working class people can often feel that their experiences are not validated in modern safe spaces, leaving them paradoxically at peril among well-meaning allies.

Again, I want to stress that I believe in the limited use of safe spaces, and I certainly believe in their original intent, largely aimed at preventing harassment and oppressive bullying, providing opportunities for self-segregation, and protecting marginalized individuals’ emotional and physical safety.  To this day, a safe space poster hangs on my office door at work because I believe in these aims.  But I lament the cost of misusing and overusing these spaces to prevent important (if at times problematic) discussions about oppression, in which the scourge can be confronted, refuted, delegitimized, and done away with.  In the current era, leftists will often wag their fingers at appropriation, even to excoriate minutia (at times silencing and discouraging would-be cause supporters), but the ongoing misuse of safe space may be one of the unsung but more damaging examples of appropriation in recent years.  Those whom we exclude from safe spaces are consequently excused from personal accountability, responsibility, and from unlearning their problematic perspectives. I suggest that we intervene using a community teaching response when problematic perspectives are shared. After all, the problems underlying these perspectives typically pale in comparison to the unfiltered racism that we now see publicly on an increasingly alarming basis.

Somewhere along the line, conservatives and neo-liberals alike ran with the ideas of political correctness (another initially well-intended but since misappropriated venture) and safe space, and mashed them together, decreeing collectively that no discussions of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, or other forms of human difference would be allowed in public discourse.  Hegemonically, the left has since obeyed and then cyclically reified this decree over time.

But, today, one needn’t look much farther than their own social media news feed to encounter open displays of racism, often posed more hurtfully and with more hateful pride than ever before.  These contemporary displays of hate are remarkable, but only mildly more damaging than the exceedingly widespread problem of ignorance, which is often silent and insidious simultaneously.  As luck would have it, discussions of race and difference in public fora has done nothing to change people’s lack of understanding and entrenched attitudes toward marginalized groups.  That is, it’s done nothing to change racism, which has only festered hotly in North America until recently boiling over.  Right now, the racist vitriol is sparking, and our institutions ought to be ground zero for this firefight. But the warm blanket of safe space may just be viable tinder instead.

Subtle, systemic racism thrives also.  I for one was saddened, though not surprised, to learn that the recent Stanley and Cormier murder acquittals would both not be appealed by the Crown.  The question is not whether or not there were trial errors constituting grounds for appeal, but rather how and why the justice system, which operates on Indigenous treaty lands, is designed to consistently allow the wrongful deaths of Indigenous people to go unaccounted for.  In the case of Gerald Stanley, this question applies to everything from the RCMP’s handling of the investigation and evidence, to the jury selection and verdict, through to the lack of appeal, which, coming from the Crown, feels like little more than an apathetic pass.  Adding insult to injury, following the Stanley acquittal, the RCMP in Saskatchewan have begun hosting town hall meetings across the province to address rural property theft concerns from primarily white farmers.  It seems the RCMP in Saskatchewan are focusing on reconciliation, but, in this case, with non-Indigenous people.

At our own University of Saskatchewan campus, the Indigenous Students’ Council (ISC) has recently protested that university’s reconciliation efforts by encouraging non-participation from Indigenous students in university-led reconciliation events.  It’s apparent that the university had planned, like so many of our institutions, on moving forward with a “safe” version of reconciliation, without engaging in what Pam Palmater has called “the hard work necessary to make amends.”  Again, this type of idealistic jump is not possible. Not as long as it’s evident that colonialism and racism are still burning so brightly in this country.  In this self-preserving model of reconciliation, our institutions are comparable to Hamlet’s Claudius, who famously sought forgiveness for his sins while still benefitting from them. The ISC have embarked on what I believe is one of the most important solutions to the violent racism we’re currently facing in this country, and that is to hold institutions to account.  Considering the issue of racism is systemic to our society and goes far beyond the individual, sequestering ourselves in comparably tiny safe spaces beyond the reach of racist ideology would seem short-sighted.  Especially as, outside of those privileged safe spaces, people like Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine continue to be killed without repercussion.

In our society, the amnesty for oppression is ubiquitous.  Safe spaces have been misappropriated to the extent that, through their silencing effect, they now serve to protect oppressors from feeling like they are oppressing, rather than protecting the everyday victims of oppression.  Only this month, a Canadian anti-racism educator (whom I’ll not name here) received hate mail and personal threats after delivering a lecture critiquing systemic racism at a university campus.  Ironically, much of the backlash has positioned the white lecturer as a racist himself.  This notion would represent an incredible new twist on internalized racism with which I’m not familiar.  At any rate, it would seem that neo-liberal colourblindness, the PC movement, and safe space have gone so far as to bar even basic anti-racist discussion from reaching the public discourse.  In this peculiar version of social progress, racism itself is not taboo, but calling it out is.  See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, I suppose.  But alas, we know that the evil of racism and oppression thrives when unseen.

We need to see that evil.  We need to fight it.  And we can’t fight what we can’t see.

– KD


Dangerous Space: How Safe Spaces Enable Racism – Part 1 of 2

One effective way to educate well-intentioned but misguided people on issues of oppression is to illustrate the often remarkable difference between the intention and impact of their actions.  I’ll use a personal anecdote as a starting example.  When I first began my teaching career, and was the lone Black teacher on a small staff in a rural Saskatchewan high school, the staff and students began planning a mock “slave auction” in order to raise money for charity; this was apparently tradition at the school.  After some reflection, I decided to raise issue with the auction, addressing the school’s vice principal in private.  The mortified response I received was that it was never anyone’s intention to offend, and that they hadn’t thought about it from my (Black) perspective before.  People often take this position in situations like these, and it serves one main purpose: the maintenance of their own innocence.  But the offending parties remain culpable of having had a negative impact on those with less power in the situation.

I’d sat through a mock slave auction as a student in elementary school already, that one having been aimed at somehow teaching about Black slavery itself.  The jokey atmosphere and sexualizing elements (yes, even in elementary school) did not make me feel like the right type of learning had taken place, nor that the experience of my slave ancestors had been validated – quite the opposite.  I felt as if it, and I, had been trivialized, forsaken, forgotten.  As an eleven year-old boy, I didn’t quite have the full analysis at the time, though I certainly had the rotten feelings, and nor did I have the power to speak up, only the courage to endure.  As an adult working professional, I was not about to let my peers put me through the same rottenness, though they almost did.  In the end, the more recent event was re-branded as a “student auction”.  Baby steps.

Open conversations like the one I had with my vice principal are important.  In retrospect, I wish I might have had the chance to address the whole staff and student body about my reason for the complaint.  Although, a conversation of that depth and magnitude may have been too progressive even for 2006.  I should hope that such conversations might be acceptable, encouraged even, in the “safe spaces” of 2018, but I have my doubts.  What is needed now is a large scale discussion of intention and impact within the broader so-called anti-oppressive community itself.

There are many factors that play into the currently cold climate within the multi-faceted progressive wing of this country and continent: liberal multiculturalism, the misuse of the safe spaces, the appropriation of political correctness, and the ongoing institutional silencing of the oppressed, among others.  But what these inter-related factors have collectively amounted to is an unfortunately self-destructive, disorganized, and anti-intersectional left, which has, in light of all its infighting, become easy for those on the right to critique, or, worse, ignore.

Infighting within oppressed communities has always bolstered the position of the oppressor.  One needn’t look farther than Tupac Shakur’s poignant analysis of state-assisted Black on Black crime in his song Changes for a striking example: “Give ’em guns, step back; watch ’em kill each other.”

Let us look to the microcosmic national slam poetry scene for insight.  Formerly regarded as one of the most compelling, progressive, critical, and radical art scenes in Canada (see my thesis, coincidentally titled “the safest place”: Anti-oppression in Spoken Word Poetry), the once afri-centric genre’s popularity and anti-establishment reputation are currently waning.  A well-intentioned, hardworking group of mostly white liberal organizers began making efforts to ensure the safety of slam poetry participants and spectators beginning shortly after the scene’s resurgence across Canada near the turn of the century.  The advent of trigger warnings for potentially upsetting content began to gain popularity shortly thereafter, opening a floodgate of other presumably progressive community actions ranging from coordinated audience protests of stage content, to informal excommunication and public shaming of poets, whose social crimes ranged from the very serious (i.e. actual crimes) to the mildly questionable faux pas.

The overall impact: a gradual decline in participating poets and spectators of colour, in anti-racist stage content, in literary merit, and in national interest in the once powerfully anti-oppressive genre.  Regarding trigger warnings, it would seem poets of colour generally didn’t like having to warn people that they were about to share their life experiences onstage (you know, in case anyone should like to leave and avoid hearing about them).  And since people of colour are statistically more likely to experience trauma, they are disproportionately affected by trigger warnings and other censoring mechanisms.  As Kendrick Lamar states on his track DNA, “Shit I’ve been through prolly offend you,” later clarifying for Rolling Stone that “I can’t tell you the shit that I’ve been through without telling you the shit that I’ve been through.”  I would posit that more offensive than sharing, without warning, what one has been through, is deciding that one’s life story and experiences of oppression ought to come with such warning to begin with.

Perhaps this is part of why here in Saskatoon, a more recently formed Indigenous Poets’ Society, separate from the mainstream local scene, has arisen, creating a truly safer space for Indigenous experiences of life to be freely shared and affirmed.  This freedom may have something to do with the tendency of dominant groups to informally (or, unintentionally, they may say) boycott minority events, sadly thereby avoiding potentially mind-changing and life-changing stories.

Of course, the intentionality behind trigger warnings is righteous.  And certainly, they do serve effectively to avoid re-traumatizing people with certain mental health conditions and past trauma.  Unfortunately, the bolder impact, or side effect, has been a continuation of the historical silencing of marginalized groups.  Indeed, a number of Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Colour (BIPOC) who are poets in Canada have been disenfranchised and have felt devalued by the spoken word community, many of them eventually disengaging with their local scenes and with the art form itself.  The irony here ought not to be missed: spoken word is, after all, a modern extension of the oral traditions unique to the histories of Black and Indigenous peoples.  Their recent disenfranchisement from their own art form is not the fault of organizing committees alone, but rather of inherently oppressive systemic changes to the organizational format of spoken word, and socio-cultural changes that have permeated the national culture, the slam scene, and the spoken word community.

What has been lost is not just the important onstage presence of several BIPOC performers, but the radical anti-racist and decolonizing themes that they brought to the fore of the public consciousness through their art.  The ultimate result is their silence; once an outcome ensured by the oppressor, it’s now taken up via an inside job.  It seems the colonial reach is deeper and farther now than it was just a decade ago, which would suggest that those among the resistance ought to quickly change course.  Organizers everywhere must ask, safe space for whom and for how many?  And this extends far beyond slam.

Continued here

It Happens Here Too: #TakeAKnee and Racism in Rider Nation

When a black man in North America responds to racism by lashing out, justifiably, in anger, he is doing what no black man really wants to do – fulfilling a racist stereotype.  Unfortunately for him, the stereotype of the angry black man, then, removes the wind from one of the only sails he may have in this society: his passionate discontent for its horrific racism.  For a black man, to be outraged at racism does not draw attention to the problem, but rather only confirms the dominant culture’s view that black men are angry, violent, and dangerous – therefore reifying the very racism he seeks to destroy, hardening the very problem he seeks to overcome.

So what, then, when one decides to enact an inherently peaceful protest such as #TakeAKnee?  The protests, which started a year ago with the now unemployed superstar Colin Kaepernick and have since spread vastly in reach, have touched even our home, Saskatchewan, where the Roughriders football team linked arms in solidarity with #TakeAKnee protestors during the national anthem before their game on September 24th of this year.  Is it possible to imagine a more inherently non-violent protest than this?  This silent, sombre, personal reflection on the state of things?  Clearly not.  Ironically, what is possibly the world’s most peaceful protest has been met with bitter outrage from many members of the dominant white group, including its most powerful leader, the president of the United States of America.  Prominent black American political commentator Van Jones has referred to this type of reactionary anger as a “whitelash.”  Yet so far, no one has implicated this anger as an inherent aspect of essential male whiteness.

Quite the contrary, in fact; the outrage targeting those who kneel in protest during the US national anthem serves chiefly to maintain the innocence of those who express it.  If the flag is to be a symbol of white American identity (and supremacy) then it must be upheld as infallible, venerable, and great.  The stalwart efforts of many conservative Americans to defend it as such solidify its exclusivity, which is the very aspect of it that black NFL players are protesting in the first place.  It’s no wonder then that the #TakeAKnee protests have caused such a stalemate in the US racial-political sphere, in which only those who defend the flag are allowed to share in its infallibility, veneration, and greatness.  After all, they believe it presently represents them well, and they are presently right.  They are wrong, however, to believe it represents black America with the same sort of prideful nuance in the current context.  For much of black America, to defend the flag as infallible is to erase the terror, inhumanity, and atrocities that the America it represents has perpetrated and continues to perpetrate.

Unlike the country’s white ancestors, the ancestors of most black Americans did not come to the United States by choice.  They did not choose to “join the union”, so to speak.  Their interest in saluting the flag of a country to which they’ve been assigned by ancestral kidnapping ought to be shaky at best.   To have such an interest be an admission of forgiving and forgetting, which, it seems, is what people want blacks to do.  To forgive and forget is difficult though, in light of the ongoing aftershocks of slavery that the US continues to experience: racism, police brutality and lynching, and the ongoing exploitation of black bodies through physical labour as in, you guessed it, professional sports.  Forget that the NFL team “owners” are predominantly white and the players they “own” are predominantly black.  Forget that the NFL has been legally implicated for negligence in the repeated traumatic brain injury of its players.  Forget that professional athletes in the US can still be victimized by police brutality in cases of mistaken identity (see tennis player James Blake).  The “shutup-and-play” mentality held by predominantly white sports fans smacks of an earlier more evil era, in which blacks were to be valued for their physical labour only, and not at all for their personhood.

In our own small, predominantly white province of Saskatchewan, Canada, we’re known for our “Rider Pride”, referring to our ongoing love affair with our professional football team, aforementioned: the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.  Many of the team’s players are black Americans, beloved here in Canada for their incredible athleticism on the field.  The enthusiastic people of Saskatchewan come out in the tens of thousands to support their players in live football match-ups in Regina, Saskatchewan.  The atmosphere at live games is often celebratory, rowdy, euphoric even.  However, when unarmed Roughrider Joe McKnight, who was black, was fatally shot by Ronald Glasser, white, in a road rage incident in Louisiana in 2016, nobody in the province said boo.  This, even though police in Louisiana released Glasser from custody despite finding him at the scene of the crime with a gun in his possession.  Glasser would not be arrested for manslaughter until four whole days later.  Police cited Glasser’s cooperative nature as part of the reason for his delayed arrest.  Sadly, in Saskatchewan, McKnight seems to remain nothing more than a forgotten footnote on a CFL stats sheet.  There was zero public conversation of note, let alone outrage, regarding his death or the implications of race inherent to its circumstances.  Zero.  It would seem that McKnight’s death and the questions of race surrounding it were outside of the local public consciousness.  But at the same time that McKnight was killed, the Roughrider flag flew proud in many a man-cave.

In our province, there has been no acknowledgment within professional football circles (and no doubt, few others) of the ongoing effects of anti-black racism in sports and society, save for a new celebratory “Diversity is Strength” campaign, involving no discussion of power or institutional racism. Meanwhile, black quarterbacks and coaches in the province and country often face vehement and racially motivated opposition from the so-called fan base.  Here in Saskatchewan, when we fly the Rider flag, we are indeed professing publicly a certain kind of love for our black brethren, but all too often, we risk ignoring, covering up even, any implication of racism in our province.  That is what symbols can do.  That is the power they have.  And so, sometimes, we must take a little of their power away.  And redistribute it, as justice would have it.

So power to those who will not just shut up and play.  Power to those who protest.  Power to those who question. And all power to the people.

– KD

Cold Condolences: On Trump’s Epic Failure to Help Heal Las Vegas

President Trump Delivers Remarks On Mass Shooting In Las VegasPhoto courtesy of TIME magazine

Direction: it’s what we look for from our leaders when times of great tragedy leave us feeling lost and without hope.  Sense: it’s what we hope for from our figureheads when senselessness strikes so profoundly.  Unity: it’s what we crave in dangerous times as potentially the last bastion of security and comfort in a chaotic world.  After the horrifying act of terror in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and hundreds wounded on October 1st, 2017, US president Donald Trump may have spoken of unity, but painfully, he did so in a particularly senseless and empty way: one that actually directs us away from each other, away from unity, and tragically, only toward greater division.

Senseless enough, perhaps, is the president’s marked failure to characterize the acts of October 1st as terrorism in his address.  This, despite the Nevada state legal definition of terrorism encapsulating the Las Vegas massacre to a T:


NRS 202.4415  “Act of terrorism” defined.

  1. “Act of terrorism” means any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence   which is intended to:

(a) Cause great bodily harm or death to the general population; or

(b) Cause substantial destruction, contamination or impairment of:

(1) Any building or infrastructure, communications, transportation, utilities or services; or

(2) Any natural resource or the environment.

We know why this happens.  We know why Trump intentionally misinforms the public here despite his very public and ongoing tirade against the “fake news” media.  He knows that the word “terrorism” must be reserved for the Islamic extremists, for “the other”, whose shootings have never in history amounted to the level of destruction seen in Las Vegas on that terrible night.  The reserving of “terror” as that which “the other” perpetrates leads our society to categorize those who would do us harm as either the mentally unstable and white lone wolf, or, almost exclusively, the angry Muslim outsider.  Oddly, the distinction does seem to provide the dominant social group with some comfort, presumably through the maintenance of collective innocence that it ensures.  After all, several prominent media outlets have characterized the Las Vegas attacker as a rather “normal guy” who liked music and Mexican food, ascribing to him the type of nostalgic memorialization often reserved for victims of these types of attacks.

Also notable in Trump’s address is the president’s failure to even hint that his country may be falling ill to an ever worsening gun problem that has seen the republic face 273 mass shootings in the last 275 days. Obama regularly promoted gun control reform in his grief speeches, which have become so common for presidents, governors, mayors, and even comedians to deliver.  As talk show host Conan O’Brien noted, it is remarkable to think that he, as a comedian of all things, now has a file in which to house his several mass shooting reaction transcripts.  Senseless is indeed the word.

On October 2nd, the president surprised many with his air of sincerity during the address, despite relying solely on teleprompters for the duration; it seemed the normally egomaniacal man had managed to find the humility to join the shocked Americans at their very downtrodden, very broken level, in order to try and be a source of comfort.  But was he really joining “all Americans” in their mourning and their grief?  Mr. Trump’s speech was not just senseless and divisive because he failed to mention terrorism or gun control.  The calm, calculated address incorporated several subtle signposts of white supremacy between its so-called “presidential” lines.

A quick discourse analysis of Monday’s remarks shows an inherently elitist, xenophobic, and nationalist slant to his tone.  Despite Trump’s initial statement that he and his fellow Americans were “joined together” in sadness and grief, his purposeful allusions to Christianity saw many mourners feel left out.  Trump remarked, “We call upon the bonds that unite us: our faith, our family, and our shared values.”  When Trump says “faith”, we know that he is talking about one faith, one religion, and one God, in fact, whose name he goes on to invoke six times throughout his speech, even going so far as to quote scripture from the Christian Bible during the address.  What is striking is not only Trump’s suspect piety, which the admitted crotch-grabber displays here for seemingly the first time in his public life, but also striking is the broadly swiping divide that he instantly creates by the mono-religious referencing.  Trump shows a clear disregard for the separation of church and state in this address, assuming self-centeredly that all would be comforted by the God of his personal dreams, and none other.  Herein lies a purposeful exclusion of the multi-faith and atheist victims of the ill-fated night, their bereaved families, friends, and loved ones.  The veiled directive: be a Christian or go on suffering.

Throughout his remarks, Trump also thrice invoked the notion of citizenship, his other apparent God, positing it as one of those “bonds that unite us” referenced earlier.  We must question, is this trope of white America really such a bond?  When he addresses the people of Las Vegas and mentions that “hundreds of our fellow citizens are now mourning,” he must know that he is excluding any number of the reported 170 000 undocumented immigrants living in the Las Vegas area.  It is a given that these American residents may comprise at least some of the shooting victims or the bereaved.  And sadly, it is also a given, that their lives, their deaths, and their humanity will not be acknowledged by this commander in chief, whether they arrived in the US illegally of their own volition, or not, as in the case of the much talked about DREAMers of that country.  Further to this point, we know that the international tourist hub that is Las Vegas saw the deaths of several visitors to the country that night, including four confirmed Canadians.  What of their lives and families?

The act of terror that occurred in Las Vegas on the night of October 1st, 2017 sent a shockwave throughout the United States, Canada, and much of the world.  As Global News reporter Mike Armstrong put it, the misery feels “as thick and heavy as a wet blanket.”  Today, in my family, and many others, our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the victims in Las Vegas, no matter what colour or creed or nationality.  There are things for which we all yearn when tragedy strikes: a sense of direction to help guide our hope, a way to try and make sense of the chaos in front of us and within our hearts, and a feeling of community and safety within our own small worlds.  Unfortunately for us and for the families of the fallen – direction, sense, and unity, a divisive leader does not make.

May we turn then to all that is good in our lives, toward all those people who are good in our lives, and let them be the guiding light toward the sensibility and unity for which the world is now desperate.

May those who were lost rest forever in peace.

– KD