On 21 March 1960, in the township of Sharpeville, South Africa, police opened fire on a crowd of Black demonstrators who had taken to the streets to protest racial segregation in apartheid South Africa. The police murdered 69 peaceful demonstrators and injured 180 others, including some 50 women and children. This atrocity became widely known as the Sharpeville Massacre.
Six years after the massacre, the United Nations declared March 21 the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Although 21 March 1960 has its roots in Sharpeville, South Africa, the fight for racial justice has travelled throughout the world, alerting people to the important work that must be done in their local communities. March 21st is an opportunity to remember the victims of the Sharpeville Massacre and to renew our commitments–both individual and collective–to creating a world free of racial discrimination.
In Canada, a recent StatsCan report revealed that, in 2020, East and Southeast Asian Canadians experienced a 301-percent increase in police-reported hate crimes compared to 2019. During this same period, hate crimes against Indigenous people and South Asians increased 152 per cent and 47 percent respectively.
These statistics offer only a small glimpse into the deep-seated racism in Canadian society. In addition to individual acts of hate, Canadians must reckon with the many long-standing White Supremacist systems and policies aimed at exploiting Indigenous, Black and racialized people.
The Ontario government has failed to redress the injustice to the Grassy Narrows community, which has been calling on both federal and provincial governments to clean their river of mercury and compensate them.
There has also been no action on defunding the police, which is a critical step towards addressing violence against Black and Indigenous communities. Funding for bloated police budgets should instead be reallocated towards mental health supports, affordable housing, public transit and a range of other services.
Throughout this pandemic, Black, Indigenous and Racialized communities have contracted COVID-19 at higher rates, as their members are disproportionately represented in the essential, low-wage workforce and face systemic racism in accessing affordable housing, employment and healthcare.
While there is still much work to be done, there are many examples of people and organizations fighting for racial justice. Amid the ongoing mercury crisis, Grassy Narrows continues to seek just compensation for community members and has won important commitments to improve care for mercury sufferers, reform the Mercury Disability Board, and clean up the English-Wabigoon River.
Similarly, thanks to efforts of TAIBU Community Health Centre in Scarborough, with assistance from Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson, Toronto’s Mayor John Tory acknowledged that anti-black racism has a profound impact on mental health. Hence, in March 2020 he declared March 11 Black Mental Health Day and, in 2021, it was changed to Black Mental Health week, which was celebrated on March 7 to March 11 2022.
On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we must remember that the fight against racism is far from over. We must re-double our efforts, in our communities, our workplaces, and in our union.
Aluta continua! (the struggle continues!)
Amandla Awethu! (Power to the people!)