Columnist’s words have unfortunate impact
I am a friend of Irene Moore Davis, and have had the privilege of reading her scholarly work and hearing her talks about the history of this region.
I wish columnist Laurel Beechey (Norfolk & Tillsonburg News, Sept. 3) had also done so.
She would perhaps have noted that for many of our neighbours who are Indigenous and/or Black have extensively researched their own ancestry, only to be challenged when identities of enslaved people have been wiped out by white policy and attitudes such as we see in her column.
There was and is nothing “normal” about abducting people from another continent, and forcing them and many of their descendants into carrying out hard labour while under the threat of violence and rape by enslavers. Even white abolitionists of the time knew that.
I would ask Ms. Beechey to consider the impact of these words on all of her readers.
I may not be a direct descendant of William Jarvis of Toronto, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we share DNA. I was thrilled to see the photographs of the plaques that expand the history of Jarvis Street, and wholeheartedly endorse finding a permanent solution to making sure that these facts are made known. I find it appalling that one or more of my ancestors inflicted this violence on other people. There is no “good and bad on both sides” here. Such information should be indelibly noted in ancestry sites and in our own family history so we can teach future generations.
A short search will bring up the learned research and many more media interviews by Ms. Moore Davis and her colleagues.
It’s time for people like Laurel Beechey and I to hold space and start listening.
Column was ‘cringeworthy’
In her column (Sept. 3, 2020), “Do we remove the past or learn from it?” Laurel Beechey begins by referencing comments made by local Black historian, author and activist Irene Moore Davis.
But it is soon apparent, upon reading a few paragraphs in, that she has chosen to co-opt Irene Moore Davis’ words in addressing white folks everywhere, urging us to remember that slavery was legal at the time our white ancestors engaged in it.
It’s one thing to pursue such an agenda, but it’s absolutely cringeworthy that Beechey would avail herself of a Black activist’s words, feeling a sense of entitlement to take and twist them in service of her own worldview.
North Little Rock, AR
Columnist reveals inherent bias in her words
Your recently published Laurel Beechey column (Sept. 3, 2020) posed the question “Do we remove the past or learn from it?”
Let’s begin with the erroneous assumption that anyone asking for a name change is guilty of “erasing the past.” This is not tree. No one is asking for the names of these perpetrators of slavery and genocide to be removed from the history books. We are simply asking that they no longer be glorified with statues and street names.
In fact, what many people are asking for is something Beechey already applauds in her column, the enriching of the historical record.
When we learn about people such as Sir John A. Macdonald, we can learn that he was our first PM, but we also get to learn how his actions had a deleterious impact on Indigenous and Asian communities.
Now that we are fortunate enough to have a more fulsome picture of what historical figures such as Macdonald, James Baby and Henry Dundas among many others were responsible for, how in good conscience can Canadians allow these names and monuments to stand today? Simply because these names are familiar to us, is not an acceptable answer.
Further, asking for statues to be removed and names to be changed is not even dealing with an issue of the past. It deals with a very real issue of the present and future. These names are constant reminders to people of power structures that continue to persist to this day to the detriment of BIPOC communities and really to the detriment of us all as Canadians. These communities, and their allies and friends are asking loudly and clearly for these changes. All Canadians have an obligation again to listen and act on these proposals if we are serious about beginning a process of healing and reconciliation. Again it is the barest minimum we can do in a process that will take lifetimes beyond ours. It won’t solve all our problems and no one is pretending it will but it’s definitely a part of the solution.
But what is even more offensive than Ms. Beechey’s disingenuous characterization and misunderstanding of the calls to rename streets and remove statues, is her assumption of a white settler audience for her piece. When she writes: “In your own family genealogies do you want to remove forever the forefather who came to Canada and pioneered your own dynasty and destiny because he owned a slave?”
This language betrays a bias. It ignores the fact that many people around Tillsonburg and in Southwestern Ontario have very different experiences of how they arrived in Canada, and particularly disparages, through the language of erasure, the experiences of those whose ancestors were brought here unwillingly and who do not as Dr. Melanie Newton of the University of Toronto has articulated, have the privilege, of recognizing their ancestors name in an historical archive.
Lastly it does not matter one bit, if slavery was legal, or if “everyone was racist back then”. Our values as a society change, and in the end if we wish to be a society that celebrates diversity and tolerance, than these monuments must fall and these place names must change.
If we decide we must erect something at these sites I’d suggest we reflect on the words of Dr. Jessica Naakamal, who in writing on a petition to change the name of Lake Calhoun in Minnesota says: ” Re-naming never erases history; it only makes the historical record richer. Many involved in the petition to rename Lake Calhoun have suggested changing the name but including a historical marker that explains the legacy of the name and the movement that arose amongst the people of Minnesota to change it. That is, in my opinion, one excellent way to make history.”