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Survivors and Advocates: Anti-Black Racism, Advocacy, and Academics

[Editors' note: This blog post was drafted prior to an increasing number of recent incidents of overt anti-Black racism, and several other deplorable discriminatory conduct, at the University of Windsor. Although they are not explicitly included in this article, they are inextricably relevant to the topic at hand, and have caused further harm to the co-authors and other Black students.]

We are in the fifth year of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), which was established to recognize, promote, and protect the human rights of people of African descent [1]. In 2018, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, officially recognized this decade as the International Decade for People of African Descent [2]. Despite this declaration and the program proposals put in place, as seen in the Government of Canada’s Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019–2022 [3], Black folx are still faced with challenges that threaten their protection and well-being. Black folx are still victims of endemic systemic and institutional anti-Black racism. Colonialism and slavery structured the initial relationships of Black Canadians with the Western state and its institutions [4]. “Slavery was a form of biological discrimination that resulted in ‘pervasive and myriad social forms of anti-Black racism’” [5]. The negative treatment of Black folx by these institutions, and the disparate outcomes Black folx experience within them, are cyclical and compounding, due to the intergenerational impact of systemic racism [6].

As second year law students, we pause to reflect. We started law school at the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law in August 2019. A number of incidents of anti-Black racism occurred. In our view, the most striking incident occurred just four months into the first semester, when a non-Black guest lecturer repeatedly uttered derogatory racist remarks about Black people. There were four Black students in the classroom that were subjected to discrimination and discomfort [7]. This moment, and the events that followed, were hard to grapple with. This incident, and a few others, were brought to the attention of the administration. As Black students subjected to anti-Black racism, we advocated for dignified treatment and respect within the academic space.

A few months later, we watched the video of the violent killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer, which shocked the world, and we learned of the tragic death of Breonna Taylor and the lack of state accountability in her murder. While these American incidents rose to the attention of mainstream media, we were privy to several similar Canadian incidents as well. As executives of the Black Law Students’ Association, while balancing full-time summer jobs, in conjunction with the mental and emotional shock of the senseless killing of Black bodies being ever so present before us, we assisted with drafting and finalizing open Statements on these incidents for BLSA Windsor and BLSA Canada. All of the circumstances outlined above impacted our mental and physical wellbeing. We are confident that our experiences as Black law students in this regard are not unique. Several of our peers within Windsor Law, and across the nation, have had similar experiences. So, the question then becomes: Given the impact on Black law students when we advocate against anti-Black racism while being ongoing survivors of it, why do we bear this burden i