Monday, July 4, 2016

Black Lives Matter protest at Toronto Pride provokes backlash

The demands of Black Lives Matter during Pride 2016 protest
There has been much debate in the last 24 hours since Black Lives Matter-Toronto held a sit-in protest during Sunday's Toronto Pride parade.

The surprise protest shut down the parade for about 30 minutes yesterday, causing confusion and frustrations for many others along the route, myself included.

The group had been invited to participate in the parade as honoured guests.  Pride Toronto stated it hoped to show unity between the similar causes of LGBT and Black liberation.  Black Lives Matter (BLM) reportedly did not give advanced warning of their planned sit-in during the parade which included a touching tribute to the 49 victims of the recent Orlando mass shooting.  Instead, they took the opportunity to promote a fairly modest list of demands for better inclusion of people of colour in Pride festivities, claiming Pride Toronto is "anti-black" and has routinely threatened funding for people of colour-inclusive spaces during the festival.

Those arguments are, at best, debatable.  Reviewing the many years of inclusive programming, including the 17th year of Blockorama this year, not to mention the invitation of Rupaul to speak last night, there's no doubt that Pride Toronto has gone to great lengths to make itself an inclusive space for all in the diverse LGBT community.

Is it enough?  For many, yes.  For everyone?  Clearly not.

If Black Lives Matter believed that Pride Toronto has been "anti-black," one has to wonder why did they agree to participate in Pride Toronto's parade?

While Black Lives Matter clearly has important and extremely valid points to make about police violence and racism in our society, there's no doubt some of their tactics are controversial.

I've read comments from many LGBT folks in the community online in the last 24 hours, ranging from knee-jerk support, to thoughtful support, to indifference, to great frustration, to outright racism.

I have to say that I've been torn about how to react to this.  But for the most part, I do sympathize with the Black Lives Matter activists and find there was nothing wrong at all with their decision to do what they did.

As has been stated by some, the Pride parade, itself, was originally an unpopular and radical protest against widespread ignorance and homophobia in society.

If BLM felt it important to hold a sit-in during the parade to get its points across, they had every right to do so.  The occasion seems wholly appropriate for such an action considering its history.

Were all of their demands important enough to bring the parade to a halt?   Looking at their list - including more funding and community control over diverse spaces during Pride, more diversity in Pride Toronto's staffing, to banning official police floats in future Prides - I'd say no.

Shouldn't have Black Lives Matter made these demands of Pride Toronto before accepting the invitation to be honoured guests?   I'd say yes.

But clearly, BLM had other things in mind and planned to use the platform they were given to cause an action and start a huge public debate.  To that end, they have succeeded enormously.

However, in doing this, BLM has risked a huge backlash.  I would suggest that most of that backlash is coming from folks who are largely indifferent or even hostile to the core issues raised by BLM.

But of course, we can't write off all negative reactions to yesterday's actions as just racist.

As one fairly progressive person (race unknown to me) on Facebook stated:

"This was an epic fail. Sure, the ambush worked but so what? A symbolic banning of the police from having floats at Pride does nothing to curb police racism and violence. 

"I generally support guerilla tactics like the sit in, and were BLM merely one of many groups marching, I would have been 100% fine with interruption of the parade. But BLM accepted the offer of being the Honoured Group at Pride. Turning on one's host -- another group with a long history of fighting institutionalized violence and intolerance -- is more than being simply rude. It spurns the attempt to build bridges and it betrays trust."  

I do support most of the demands that BLM made of Pride Toronto yesterday.

But the blanket demand that police floats be banned from future Pride Toronto parades is unacceptable.  It didn't even have a time limitation on it, such as "until the Toronto Police Service proves to the community that it is taking serious action against systemic racism," or something else more quantifiable.

Even Donald Trump put a time limitation on his ludicrous and racist promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. until he can "figure out what the hell is going on."

But BLM seems contented to ban police from Pride parades forever.  That's anything but a productive suggestion.

Both LGBT people and people of colour have had much reason to mistrust the police based on how they've been targeted in the past and present.

But outright bans of the police from participating in the parade sends the wrong message.

As one openly gay police officer has stated today in reaction, "Exclusion does not promote inclusion."

All in all, BLM used the platform they were given to ignite a firestorm of dialogue, most of it not overly positive or helpful to their cause.  They will have to live with these consequences, which might include further isolation as a group from would-be ally organizations.

Did they have a right to do what they did?  Absolutely.

Was it the best way to promote their cause?  I have serious doubts.   But time will tell how effective or unproductive their actions were.

Is most of the ongoing backlash against BLM justified?   Some of it is, but a good chunk is not.

At this time, I'm reminded of the eloquent and powerful words made by Jesse Williams recently at the BET Awards:  

"If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression...If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do."

I have considered myself an ally of the black community, as well as all people of colour communities in fighting racism and discrimination in our societies.

There is no doubt that the LGBT community needs to do more to promote diversity and fight racism within it.  Sadly, many white LGBT people can be as racist as white straight people in our societies.  All of that has to change.

It's possible that yesterday's events, while chaotic and controversial, might have done some good to that end.  I certainly hope so.