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Black Activists: Quiet and Gentle Canadians?

Black Activists: Quiet and Gentle Canadians?

In 1971, the Yale professor Robin Winks wrote that Black Canadians wanted “nothing more than to be accepted as quiet Canadians.”

In The Blacks in Canada, Winks claimed that Black Canadians were “unlikely to organize militant, noisy, pushy protests.” He considered Daniel Hill, the first full-time director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 1962, to be an exemplary model of quiet leadership.

Hill returned the compliment by praising Winks’ history of Blacks in Canada as a powerful tool in his campaigns against serious discrimination in housing, education and employment. Hill’s study of human rights in Canada for the Canadian Labour Congress in 1977 also denounced “aspiring leaders” in militant organizations who did not propose what he considered to be constructive action.

Yet whereas Winks was a rather unabashed elitist who had little time for “simple minds,” Hill translated the work he gleaned from “obscure historical journals” into popular histories. He would work closely with his friend Alan Borovoy, the longtime general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who defined his anti-racist campaigns against “ineffectual intellectuals with no concept of action.”

Hill and Borovoy may be described as Canadian “shy elitists.” They were uncomfortable with anything that they considered too elitist or radical for Canadian tastes. Yet they also encouraged the public to celebrate and defer to prominent, “respectable” figures in elite institutions.

Since we have not ended our dependence on shy elitism, there remains an understandable interest in celebrating Black men and women who have achieved recognition from the Canadian state.

However, we also need to recognize that Black Canadians are not problems when they do not conform to the model of a quiet leader. They are people who confront the problem of shy elitism in Canada.

Consider some of the challenges faced by the politician, social worker, human rights advocate and academic Rosemary Brown.

You can read the full article in The Conversation Canada.