BSN Statement Regarding Lawsuit Against a McGill Student and Professor

BSN Statement Regarding Lawsuit Against a McGill Student and Professor

On July 5th, 2018, the CBC broke the news that a professor from McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies, Ahmed Fakry Ibrahim, filed a $600 000 defamation lawsuit against two individuals: a student and a professor from the Institute. The lawsuit claims that these individuals launched a “smear campaign” to have him dismissed by circulating allegations of sexually predatory behaviour by Ibrahim towards students.

The Black Student’s Network of McGill (BSN) would like to formally express its support to both individuals persecuted by Ibrahim. It is obvious that the lawsuit filed against them is a desperate attempt to coercively silence a student and colleague through legal and financial tactics. We, at the BSN, recognize that this targeting stem from a long history of institutional failures to effectively address gendered and sexual violence.  This dynamic has created a toxic climate which disproportionately harms and silences BIPOC women, and more specifically trans women and gender non-conforming folks. Furthermore, this institutional and interpersonal abuse is inextricable from the violence that has been routinely enacted against Muslim women on this campus, and in North America at large.

As an organization governed by the principles of Black Feminism, we want to make clear that we condemn this lawsuit. Predatory behaviour in any form is antithetical to our mandate of, “[promoting] the interests of Black people and to sensitize McGill University and the wider Montreal community to issues concerning these peoples”[1].

Furthermore, we are disappointed by the CBC’s decision to recirculate Ibrahim’s narrative with minimal context or criticism, and to publish photos of the individuals under attack. We find these actions reprehensible, especially when coupled with the anti-survivor rhetoric of Ibrahim’s legal representative. The article furthers a long history of the misrepresentation of student activism by the mainstream media through its consistent failure to centre student voices in its reporting.

We are motivated by the manifesto of the Third Eye Collective, which declares “[w]hen we harm one another, we must not be allowed to use intellectual spaces as a space to retreat from accountability. As activist scholars, we will no longer allow violence and rape to be pushed away to the private sphere”[2]. The BSN wants every member of our community to know that we will not be standing on the sidelines as we watch members of the McGill community be punished for speaking up against violence.

In Solidarity,

The BSN Executive Team 2018 – 2019

 

 

Here are some resources for those who may require them:

  • Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) sacomss.org
  • Third Eye Collective (This organization is intended for Black women survivors)wordpress.com
  • McGill Counselling Services ca/counselling/

 

[1]https://bsn.ssmu.ca/about-us/

[2]https://thirdeyecollective.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/fear-of-a-black-feminist-nation/#more-220

Sir William Arthur Lewis

Sir William Arthur Lewis, was a Saint Lucian economist and a Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics. He was born to Antiguan parents in Castries, Saint Lucia on January 23, 1915, then part of the British Windward Islands federal colony. Lewis completed his primary and secondary education in Saint Lucia at the age of 15 and worked until he wrote the university entrance exam granting him entry into the London School of Economics where he earned a B.Sc., a Ph.D. degree and worked until 1948. In 1954, he published his most influential work where he introduced the dual sector model, also known as the “Lewis Model” and in 1955 published The Theory of Economic Growth. He later lectured at the University of Manchester, became Ghana’s first economic advisor after the nation gained independence in 1957, and was knighted for his contribution to economics in 1963. He then worked as Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies and later on as the first President of the Caribbean Development Bank.

On top of this, he worked as a University Professor at Princeton University for 20 years until his 1973. In 1979, Sir Arthur Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979, becoming the first black person to win a Nobel Prize other than the Nobel Prize for Peace, the first person to win a Nobel Prize in the Caribbean, and the first Nobel Laureate of Saint Lucia. He remains the only black person to win a Nobel Prize other than for Peace or Literature. Sir Arthur Lewis died on June 15th, 1979 and is buried in the grounds of the only national tertiary-level educational institution, named in his honour.

 

Blackface Incident at Dawson College

On Wednesday December 6th, 2017, a white student in the theater program of Dawson College was found in Blackface. He applied make up with dark pigmentation on his face, neck, and hands in an effort to appear Black for a role that he was interpreting for his theater class. The student was filmed by peers and members of The Legacy, the oldest student-run club which has been promoting diversity and equity at the CEGEP. [1]

It was reported by both the college and the student performing Blackface that it was not their intention to cause harm. A theater teacher who wanted the student to fully immerse himself in the character of being a Black man encouraged this performance.

But what does that even mean…?

Artists used blackface in the past as a way to mock Black people in theater spaces, which were of course spaces forbidden to Black people. This phenomenon is known as Blackface minstrelsy, which was very popular in the 19th century and during the earlier part of the 20th century as well. Dr. Charmaine Nelson, an Art History Professor here at McGill University, states that “Blackface minstrelsy was a popular, nostalgic site through which whites lamented the end of slavery using dark ‘humour’ delivered in song, dance, and jokes that celebrated white fantasies of violence against black bodies”.

Therefore, this event does not act in isolation. This event acts under a context of historical and institutional anti-Blackness. As Dr. Nelson so eloquently says, “…For many blacks it is a disturbing reminder of the heinousness of slavery and a symbol of anti-black racism.”[2]

Blackface, as defined by Dr. Philip S.S. Howard, from the Department of Integrated Studies of the McGill University Faculty of Education, is the “act of unnaturally darkening one’s skin in an attempt to impersonate and most often to parody Black people”[3]. Dr. Howard’s research investigated how instances of Blackface persist in contemporary society, consequently, demonstrating that despite the myth of post-racialism, anti-Blackness persists. Dr. Howard argues that this “phenomenon is deeply rooted [in] Canadian settler-colonial relations in their anti-black iterations”.

What is so violent about Blackface is the fact that it appropriates black bodies, and treats them as objects which can be invaded through imitation. What is important to learn from this event, is that the initial intentions, even though they were not harmful, generated harm. The impact of having people recreate an activity that historically perpetuated stereotypical notions of our bodies should not be undermined, or washed down by the idea that it did not have malicious intentions behind it. It is important to be accountable to the history and context in which we operate in. Not only as a way to prevent harm, but also as a way to move forward into positive changes and potential dismantlement of institutional anti-Blackness and white supremacy.

 

– BSN’s V.P. Political 2017-2018

[1] https://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/dawson-college-student-blackface

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/charmaine-nelson/blackface-in-quebec_b_3348561.html

[3] Arts Against Postracialism 2017 https://mcgill.ca/aapr/blackface-canada

S.W.A.T. TV Series

A black man as a SWAT team leader is much of the storyline of CBS’s new show S.W.A.T., starring Shamar Moore. This quick paced drama on the life of a Los Angeles SWAT team also follows the daily challenges they face as a main part of the plot. The show, however, very openly considers the interplay between race in terms of police versus black communities, as well as the dichotomy when Black people end up in these positions of leadership and authority as is Hondo (Moore’s character).

He must not only deal with being given the position simply because of the colour of his skin, but also with being from the same inner-city community that he is tasked with policing. The balance that he must strike between being an ally and being viewed as the enemy or a sell-out is difficult and one that is harshly judged. However, the addition of said complex dynamic is important especially for a police series because often times black people in these positions of power are depicted as being sell-outs or not working for “their people,” and while these critiques may or may not be substantiated, in certain cases they may end up being true. In the case of Hondo the psychological strain this has on him and the very real life impact his position implicates him in is well depicted through his one-on-one encounters with old friends, elders in the community, as well as him pushing for his team to treat those they must protect as family – be it by gaining information at your local barbershop and salon through ways of gossip or hitting up the local hot dog salesmen. The imagery is very much one that is familiar for many African-Americans. The one issue, however, is that of the cliché “came from nothing to something” storyline.

While it is great to have a character that is from the hood and fought his way out of the gang life to become a SWAT leader, that story seems to be the only way we can see black men in positions of power. There is a stagnant narrative that black characters have to have had a hard life or came from nothing. These implications that criminality is always in the past of black people in some capacity is detrimental to perceptions of success and can be alienating for many Black individuals. The show, however, has its positives as it touches on important topics such as historical racism. For example, when a retired SWAT team member made a comment about how black men could not be SWAT leaders because that is just not how SWAT does things, there is a discussion around the implications of said statement in the show.

The show overall, is great at bringing forward important discussions regarding race and success, race and communal ties as well as institutional racism, all the while being action packed and having a well-rounded cast. I would highly recommend the show to all.