Black History Month: Effective leadership

Black History Month: Effective leadership

By N Oji Mzilikazi

February 9, 2012

(Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 03)

For the 22nd edition of Montreal’s Jazz Festival (June 28 – July 8, 2001), it organizers and advertisers decided to revisited the racist past of America and re-present it as something culturally attractive.

The festival’s promotional posters and program guide advertising its 500 plus concerts featured the caricature of a Black man with exaggerated lips, dressed in African garb, and beating two Labatt Blue beer bottles as drums. Above the stereotype of the ridiculously happy go lucky Black was the tag “100% Jazz.”

In response to criticism from the Black community over the scurrilous advert, festival president Alain Simard was quoted in The Gazette saying, “It’s not my place to judge the good or bad taste of a sponsor’s ads.” And Black leadership allowed him to slide.

In protection of brand, Business will not ally itself with any event, advertisement or persons who would tarnish it in any way, shape or form. Rape accusations resulted in sponsors dropping Kobe Bryant. Tiger Woods experienced the same when his marital infidelities came to light.

In August 2011, Abercrombie & Fitch allegedly offered Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino of the TV show “Jersey Shore,” a substantial amount of money not to wear its clothes. They felt he “could cause significant damage to the brand’s aspirational nature.”

Swedish Christian terrorist and mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 persons loves French fashion brand Lacoste. His “manifesto” recommends followers wear the brand to facilitate blending in with the “well-educated European conservative pensioner type.” In September 2011 Lacoste asked police officials in Sweden to bar Breivik from wearing their clothing.

Print media makes it a point to declare they retain the right to edit, publish, or refuse to publish, advertise or promote anything they consider not in keeping with their ideology, in bad taste, offensive or demeaning to others and so on. It is routine for Op-Ed pieces to be accompanied by a disclaimer to the effect that the views of the writer does not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper/media.

Even criminal organizations protect their brand by being extra hard, to the point of killing anyone in the game who tried to punk them. Since the Jazz Festival is Simard’s brand, the brochure – as the calling card of that year’s festival, and an open display of racism had to have met with his approval.

Effective leadership would seek and protect Black interests. Effective leadership would’ve made a bigger stink and call on the community, anti-racist groups and those who believe in social justice and equality to go into the jazz festival, protest and be disruptive.

Imagine if protestors were to wear white t-shirts with “100% Racist Jazz Festival” printed on the front and back. Plus, for good measure, take its free program guide from their info booths, then tear and chuck them in the garbage only to return for more.

No one could refuse handing out the program guide. They are free. No one can tell a person what to do with it, and there is no law against how they’re disposed. Such an act would’ve been an embarrassment for the festival. Attendees would’ve been discomforted. The press both local and international would’ve taken note. Simard would’ve sung a much different tune.

Since Simard was allowed to get away with his display of racist arrogance, Les FrancoFolies De Montréal had no problems featuring on their program guide for 24 July to 4 August 2001, a cartoonish African beating two drums. Every time people of African descent allow others to get away unscathed with racism, it emboldens others.

Compare and contrast: In September 2007, Bell Canada apologized to the Jewish community and removed from Toronto’s subway and bus shelters all print adverts of a cellphone promotion ad. The ad featured a youth dressed in a punk rock style with a button on his clothing.

According to Mark Langton, vice-president of media relations for Bell Canada, “The button in the ad was so small, it wasn’t clear there were any words. But once blown up to mural size it’s easily readable.” The slogan read, “Belsen was a gas.” Belsen was a Nazi concentration camp.

On the other hand, that same year Bell had no problem distributing Tetes a Claques openly racist clip “Le Cannibale.” The clip featured a cannibal named Kunta Kinte trying to cook a white Quebecer couple. In response to community objections, Bell Canada’s position was they were not its creators just the broadcasters, and they would continue to air the video.

Michel Beaudet the creator of Tetes a Claques said the complaint was ridiculous, the name Kunta Kinte was something he picked out of the blue, and they won’t be pulling the clip. A message of thanks for thousands of supportive emails was posted on its website.

For the record: Alex Haley’s 12-year search into his African ancestry resulted in the book “Roots,” whose main character was named Kunta Kinte. In 1977 “Roots” was a highly-acclaimed television mini-series, and shown here in Quebec.

Jewish activism and fear of Jewish interest groups forced Bell Canada to act on something that couldn’t even be read with the naked eye. It had to be enlarged for an offence to be found. That is effective leadership, and it points to the monitoring of others by the Jews to ensure “never again.”

Offence will stare people of African descent straight in their face, and all we do is mutter among ourselves. Leadership pretends…and the community continues to be raped.  Effective leadership would’ve made the issue a federal case.

Effective leadership would’ve used radio and print to publicly call on the Black Community in Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia to cancel whatever services they have with Bell. The threatened loss of revenue and its loss have always prompted ideological changes. Effective leadership would’ve organised a protest march into Bell’s Quebec headquarters.

Nèg is a racist insult. It is the French term for nigger.  In 2002 Robert Morin released a film called “Le Nèg,” whose adverts – posters were equally racist and offensive. In spite of community objections and request for a change of title, Morin, along with the film company and distributor were resolute about not changing anything.

Can you imagine if Robert Morin had made a film call “Le Kike?” Chances are the government would’ve intervened before Jewish organisations did. Morin and those of his ilk would never try and mess with the Jewish community. Impotent Black leadership leaves the community to be ravished.

There was no civil disobedience – demonstrations outside and inside the cinema showing the film, no disruptions during the showings, and not even a stink bomb or a smoke bomb going off in the cinema. You cannot fight a battle and not take casualties. Racial dignity demands its pound of flesh, and leadership has to be first in line. Racial dignity demands you call people on their B.S.

In January 2012, Mayor Gerald Tremblay, Montreal Police Chief Marc Parent, and STM chief Michel Labrecque announced new policy to tackle racial profiling. For all the applause, no one took them up on their hypocrisy and B.S., given how many times we’ve been down this road.

Mayor Tremblay/City Hall has consistently fought racial profiling cases. As Gaétan Cousineau, president of Quebec’s Human Rights Commission publicly expressed, “systematically blocking complaints of racial profiling against the police force” Media houses have been supportive and complicit.  

The Gazette Editorial: “Thin evidence of profiling” (21/1/08) took offence with the findings of the Quebec Human Rights Commission against the police and the financial compensation allocated to the victims.

As if Blacks do not pay taxes – contribute to the public purse, the Gazette insultingly lamented how the financial judgement would be borne by taxpayers. It applauded the City’s refusal to pay, and hoped the Human Rights Tribunal upheld their position.

In February 2010, Councillor Marvin Rotrand, vice-chair of the STM response to racial profiling complaints was, “The STM does not tolerate racial profiling and as far as we know, there is no racial profiling.” In January 2012, the STM was ordered to pay $23,000 to a 57-year-old Black man for a Feb. 3, 2010 profiling case.

When Roland Bourget became Montreal chief of police in February 1985, two of his priorities were addressing the complaints of police brutality and harassment against Blacks, and improving the relations between the police and Montreal ethnic minorities. He promised to crack down on police officers who mistreated minorities. And guess what? It never happened

In March 2004, Montreal Police Chief Michel Sarrazin sent a memo to his 5,000 officers declaring that racial profiling was officially against department policy. So why is that eight years later the police are still treading water on the issue?

Consider Chief Marc Parent detailing a three-year plan to deal with profiling.

In December 2006, Montreal Police Chief Yvan Delorme stated that in early 2007 his department will be presenting a three-year plan to combat racial profiling. The plan was never implemented otherwise profiling wouldn’t be the issue that it is. I guess Parent’s plan is a brand new second hand plan.

One of the plan’s initiatives includes racial sensitivity training.

Twenty-four years ago; in April 1988, MUC Police Officer Det. Sgt. Gaston Roussin booked off sick rather than take the department’s two-day race-relations course. He previously avoided the course by taking a three-week vacation. Profiling persists because the police culture hasn’t changed.

As to Parent’s assertions of discipline and punishment for officers engaging in racial profiling. When Bill Blair was installed as Toronto’s chief of police in May 2005, he promised the same. In 2009, Blair let it be known that police lawyers were taking the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to the Superior Court of Ontario, over its ruling against Constable Michael Shaw.

With City Hall and the police, it’s not about doing, but giving the appearance of doing. For all their posturing, City Hall and police brass have no power to affect change.

Power lies in the hands of the police union, and they have never thrown their weight against racial profiling.

Effective leadership would find ways to monitor the police, keep them honest, and make them accountable.

Beyond Sangre Grande: Caribbean Writing Today

Edited by Cyril Dabydeen

February 8, 2012

Caribbean literature has always been exciting and diverse, including over the past decades some of the world’s most regarded writers. Beyond Sangre Grande: Caribbean Writing Today brings together a contemporary selection from key poets and fiction writers living in Canada, the US, the UK, as well as various countries of the Caribbean.

Reflecting a changing world, and admitting diverse cultural influences and generational differences, these writers maintain a distinct Caribbean-ness in their acute historical awareness and in the cadences and rhythms of their language. This collection represents a range of voices, from the established and celebrated–Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, Sam Selvon, Austin Clarke, Olive Senior—to the new and no less exciting moi- N Oji Mzilikazi.

Pick Up a copy today.

My contribution is a poem entitled: “Shards of Glass.”

Beyond Sangre Grande: Caribbean Writing Today

Publisher: TSAR Publications

ISBN: 978-1894770668