Pruitt Igoe

I had the opportunity to watch a documentary on Pruitt Igoe, a failed social housing projects in the United States that was created through racism and anti-blackness. A lot of my peer had a difficult time understanding how anti-blackness and racism led to both the construction and the demise of this project. Some of my peers believed that failure of this project was due to bad population projections or that many residents were migrating to the suburbs, but that simply is not the case. Here is a review I wrote on the Pruitt Igoe Myth

 The Pruitt Igoe Myth is directed by Chad Freidrichs and provides detail on the construction of this social housing project and its demise. Pruitt-Igoe was an example of fordist housing in the United States, it was large-scale homogenous high-rise to solve specific issues related to slum housing in the downtown area. Not only was Pruitt-Igoe used as a form of downtown renewal, it was also used as a tool for segregation. Pruitt-Igoe spread over 57 acres in St. Louis, Missouri, it housed mostly lower to middle class income families in the community. At the beginning of the development the housing solution seem as if it was a success, the residents were pleased and the units were well maintained. However, that quickly changed due to white flight in St. Louis in many other Northern cities in the United States. As Frey (1977) argues “racially motivated movement patterns and discriminatory housing practices, when superimposed upon market forces of the period, served to exacerbate the selective mobility of whites to the suburbs (p. 426).” With the whites and industries leaving the city center heading towards the suburbs there was a dramatic drop in the city’s population and tax based. They could no longer afford to maintain these units. The film succinctly demonstrated how both institutionalized racism and white flight impacted urban planning in St. Louis, Missouri. In particular, it highlights how racist policies related to housing led to Pruitt-Igoe to become derelict over time.

It is critical that we acknowledge the creation and failure of Pruitt-Igoe is centered around anti-black racism. During this time in the United States the Civil Rights movement was still occurring and the pivotal case of Brown v Board was decided, where schools could no longer be segregated by race. A lot of the policies created during this time were de facto segregation, this was segregation not by law, but by fact (Hall, 2005, p. 1251). Slum clearance and public housing where tools used to redistribute land to suit those in power (Friedrich, 2011). As the film highlights, urban renewal was use as a form of displacement to remove African-Americans from the downtown core. At that time, African-Americans did not have the same privileges as white-Americans. As Hall (2005) outlines zoning boards made these communities undesirable, real estate agents controlled who was allowed to buy property and at what prices, banks denied mortgages to African-Americans, and the Federal Housing Administration had lending policies that favoured segregation (p. 1241).

As mentioned earlier, population change greatly impacted the community, through data the city believed that the population would grow, so the development taking place in St. Louis was appropriate. Growth defined the war years and was expected to continue on. However, this was not the case. Although migrants from the South were coming into the city, and should have added to the growth. As we know this was not the case, the city population decreased due to residents moving out towards the suburbs.

The federal government had subsidies to make the suburbs affordable to the white middle class. So, whereas we saw funds from the government for slum removal, there was also funds for creation of an urban utopia for the middle class. These subsidies by the federal government eroded the tax base that St. Louis had which led to demise of Pruitt-Igoe. Without that large tax base in the city, the municipal government could no longer afford to provide services to all of its communities, this included the maintenance of Pruitt-Igoe. The same unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions the city was working to eliminate through slum clearance and public housing returned due to affordable suburbs. They city and city officials were working against themselves.

As noted in the film, the creation of Pruitt-Igoe and dealing with the influx of migrants in St. Louis were all top-down decisions. This is what city officials, planners, architects, and elites thought would be best for the city. Developers and investors enjoy the idea of slum clearance since it allowed for profitable re-development, they became the decision makers not those in need of affordable housing. Fordism often looked at solving issues at the macro scale, through large developments. But often not taking consideration of items at the micro scale, such as upward mobility, discrimination, and taxes. It is impossible to plan accordingly for community without engaging with community members, with top-down decision making the interests are created by the elites. In Bristol (1991), The Pruitt- Igoe Myth, George Kassabaum, a project architect for the building points out “you had middle class whites like myself designing for an entirely different group (p. 167).” Bristol goes on to argue “the implication was that low-income urban blacks constituted a tenant group with special needs: They were not instill with the middle-class value of taking pride in the upkeep of their environment, and they also brought with them certain destructive behaviours (p. 167).” Bristol argues that design and lack of consultation with the community was a factor that led to buildings to become derelict over time. Although, in the film the former residents discuss that they enjoyed the property and for some this was the first time of homeownership. Bristol highlights that many did not feel a sense of belonging, we saw this in the film with the widespread vandalism that took place.

Sandercock (2003) argues that diversity is part of the goal when planning in urban contexts and that we should plan for just cities, where everyone is treated with respect no matter their race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual preference (Sandercock, 2003). This is accurate, cities should be planned and designed that they are just for everyone. June-Manning Thomas (2008) argues for the need of the minority planner to create just cities, this is because minority race planners are perceived to be part of the community they are serving and are able to engage with the community differently (p. 239). Minority-race planners reflect the community they are serving and are able to sympathize with some of issues the community are going through. These are both planning practices that work today, but it would be difficult to use these practices in a segregated America of the past.

Was it possible to create urban policy to preserve social housings developments in the 1950’s? The short answer is no. We have to remember a majority of the policies that were in place were de facto segregation. Segregation was promoted through these urban policies at all levels of government and finance. To actually have policies to preserve social housing developments, we would have to have policies that were not discriminatory and racist. At that time most cities in the United States were not progressive, so Pruitt-Igoe and other social housing developments were bound to fail. In the film, they discuss the community of Blackjack and one of the first by-laws they created after they incorporated was to prohibit the construction of apartment buildings. As one resident states, they wanted to keep “trash people” out. Another resident states “if the colored move in and run real estate values down it is bound to create tension and you will have mixed-marriages and they becoming equal with whites.” From these sentiments alone, it is clear how people viewed African-Americans at that time. The entire system was against them.

Ideally, you would create policy that allowed everyone fair and equal access to social housing and ensure that all units are rent-geared-to-income. However, the Fair Housing Act was not enacted in the United States until 1968, just a few years before the destruction of Pruitt-Igoe (Yinger, 1986, p. 881). The act allowed that you could not refuse to sell or rent housing to anyone due to race, religion, sex, and colour. Meaning, a number of changes that could have possibility reduce white flight and allow for the equal home ownership for everybody did not take place until the project was already failing. If these laws were created earlier, it is possible that Pruitt-Igoe would not have failed as badly as it did.

I found it interesting in the way in which the state policed families living in Pruitt-Igoe, it was stipulated in the agreement that black fathers could be housed with their families. Meaning Pruitt-Igoe was home for mothers and their children. This stipulation of removing black fathers from the household added to the myth that there was a large percent of absentee fathers in the black community.

Pruitt-Igoe was a failed social housing project in St. Louis, Missouri that failed for a number of socio-economic reasons. We can highlight the hollowing out of the city’s population, eroding tax base, industries moving out, social housing as the end all solution for poverty, and incorrect growth calculations. The social housing project was a large scale project to allow for slum clearance and urban renewal, yet those in power never consulted the community what they actually needed. They created a solution that they thought would benefit the community. However, the main factor that led to the demise of the social housing project was institutional racism. If we examine the policies at the time, they were manufactured for segregation and only exacerbated inequality in the city.


Bristol, K. G. (1991). The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. Journal of Architectural Education, 44(3), 162-171.          doi: 10.1080/10464883.1991.11102687

Freidrichs, C. (Director). (2011). The Pruitt-Igoe Myth [Documentary]. United States: Unicorn           Stencil.

Frey, W. (1979). Central City White Flight: Racial and Nonracial Causes. American Sociological    Review, 44(3), 425-448. Retrieved from

Hall, J. D. (2005). The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past. The Journal        of American History, 91(4), 1233-1263.

Sandercock, L. (2003). Cosmopolis II: Mongrel Cities. London, UK: Continuum.

Thomas, J. M. (2008). The Minority-Race Planner in the Quest for a Just City. Planning Theory, 7(3), 227–247. doi: 10.1177/1473095208094822

Yinger, J. (1986). Measuring Racial Discrimination with Fair Housing Audits: Caught in the Act. The American Economic Review, 76(5),881-893.

Public Health Urban

Lack of Black Educators on University Campuses

A conversation taking place across many campuses throughout Canada and the United States is where are the black professors? Clearly, there are educated scholars and academics of colour, but why are they not getting hired and tenured by universities?

Reading over some comments by university presidents, deans and provost  they all argue the importance of having an inclusive faculty and what it brings to the university and student engagement, both academically and financially. Arguing that it is an economic necessity and can be used as a special feature for recruitment, funding, and ranking (James, 2009, p. 129). I always feel uncomfortable when the argument for diversity and inclusiveness on campuses is used for economic benefit they bring instead of bringing positive change to the learning environment. However, even with this argument, there is very little action being done to make faculties more diverse.

Carl E. James (2009) stresses that there is affirmative action or employment equity programs in place across most Canadian universities, yet there continue to be a low number of racial minority faculty members at universities (p. 132). There is no shortage of academics who are racial minorities or visible minorities, the main issue that is holding back the appointment of racial minorities in academia is institutionalized racism. James explains that critical race theory “names and discusses ‘the pervasive, daily reality of racism in society which serves to disadvantage people of colour (p.134).”  As it stands, some people have difficulty viewing racism as a systemic structure, most view racism as these one-off individual comments. As Stovall (2006) explains:

Racism, like capitalism, is an accepted structural phenomenon centered in maintaining the status quo. It is not, and never has been, the result of individual bigotry it is often reduced to. Instead of race as a category, racism (i.e., White supremacy) should be understood as a set of systemic structures that maintain a racial ruling elites as demonstrated through enforcement of policies and laws that govern the land (Stovall, 2006, p. 250).

Meaning there are structures in place to normalize racism in academia and in other fields. For real change, universities need to have improved policies that look at recruiting and hiring racial minority faculty members, at the moment most Canadian universities are lacking in this area. Even with diversity hiring officers and equity programs in place, they are just not enough. Les Back (2004) discusses the culture of universities and racism, they discuss that universities have always been a white hegemony from their inception. They argue:

The discourse is evident in the claims by institutions that the predominance of White faculty in unintentional – it is just that universities as the rationalization goes, are not able to recruit qualified minority members, for it goes without say that all ‘qualified’ individuals can apply and will be appointed. It is farcical that this constructed notion of ‘racial unintentionality’ remains and will persist as long as individuals continue to believe that minority members are ‘always welcome even though they are not there’ (Back, 2004, p. 252).”

It really makes you think, when you view universities campuses today in Canada, the student body is very diverse yet there is no to little change in the faculty members that are teaching these students. As mentioned earlier, a lot of it has to do with institutionalized racism and that some universities don’t want to have that conversation or believe that the equity policy they have in place will work and hire racial minority faculty members. James suggests that not only do universities need to have equity and diversity policies that ensure the recruitment of racial minority faculty members. But faculties and universities need to acknowledge “and [talk] about the identities of faculty members, noting who should be recruited in order to have a diverse faculty – one that not merely reflect the student population but also, and importantly, represents different perspectives (James, 2009, p. 141).”

Evidence shows that faculty members of colour bring much more to the university than their white counterparts. It is not just their scholarship and ability attract different funders and make the campus ‘unique’. Stanley (2006) reveals that they play a much more crucial role, they mentor students of colour, serve on the university equity and diversity committees, provide support to local communities, provide support to other faculty members of colour, and educate administrators, staff and students about diversity (Stanley, 2006, p. 719). Faculty members of colour bring a whole different experience to university campuses when they are hired, this aspect alone is a benefit to recruit racial minority faculty because there ‘reach’ is beyond the university campuses. However, the ‘reach’ that they have makes it more demanding to be a faculty of colour. Henry and Tator (2007) reveal that faculty of colour have more pressure on them than their white counterparts. They demonstrate that “there are inordinate demands placed on faculty of colour, for instance, minority students wishing to have them as mentors and role models, the broader students wishing to have them as mentors and role models, the broader student population seeking their expertise, their colleagues asking them to speak on issues of diversity and racism, and administrators needing their ‘physical presence on committees to prove that the committee is representative’ (Henry & Tator, 2007, p. 25).” This means that faculty of colour have an increasingly large role to play on campuses, which can also be a burden and result in them burning out. These faculty members have a dual role to play, not only do they have to meet their commitments related to their scholarship and contractual obligations, they have a series of other commitments mentoring students and educating others on racism and discrimination.

I was recently at a panel discussion in the Faculty of Environmental Studies on “Where are all the black professors?”, on the panel, there was a black professor from the Departments of Languages and Linguistics. He shared that it is difficult being a faculty member of colour because he has a lot of students that come to him for mentorship or discuss issues facing the Afro-Caribbean and Black community. This exemplifies the need for faculty of colour since students are coming up to this professor and seeking advice, mentorship, and someone they can talk to. However, he shared that he feels overwhelmed by this because he is one just out of few black professors on the campus.

So where are the black faculty members? They are not being recruited and hired, these academics do exist, but there is a structure of racism and discrimination that are holding them back. If universities really want to hire racial and visible minority faculty they can. What is next? How do we change universities to be more diverse and inclusive? There needs to be a change in equity policies that are in place at most Canadian universities to actively search for academics and researcher who are racial minorities. Universities need to have an honest conversation about racism in university and how they can address it. They also need to note that many faculty members of colour are playing two roles on campus, one of scholarship and contractual obligations and then one of a mentorship and support to students and staff. This can negatively impact hiring and tenure when these faculty members have these commitments. It is intriguing to know that provosts and deans can view the economic benefit and the benefit it has on student engagement of having faculty of colour, yet nothing is actively being done to make this happen.


Back, L. (2004). ‘Ivory Towers? The Academy of Racism.’ In I. Law, D. Phillips, and L. Turney (Eds.), Institutional Racism in Higher Education, (pp 1-6). Trent, UK: Trentham Books.

Henry, F. & Tator, C. (2007). Through a Looking Glass: Enduring Racism on the University Campus. Journal of Higher Education: Academic Matters, Feb, 24-25.

James, C. E., (2009). ‘It Will Happen without Putting in Place Special Measures’: Racially Diversifying Universities. In F. Henry & C. Tator (Eds.), Racism in the Canadian University: Demanding Social Justice, Inclusion, and Equity 137-159. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Stanley, C. A. (2006). Coloring the Academic Landscape: Faculty of Color Breaking the Silence in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities. American Education Research Journal, 43(4), 701-736.

Stovall, D. (2006). Forging Community in Race and Class: Critical Race Theory and the Quest for Social Justice in Education. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 43(4), 7-29.

Recommended Reading:

Racism in the Canadian University: Demanding Social Justice, Inclusion, and Equity

E(RACE)r Summit on Race and Racism on Canadian University Campuses

Lack of  diversity leads to burden on professors of color

Absent from the Academy: The lack of black academics in the UK limits the wider impact of universities 

Canadian campuses suffer from lack of racial inclusion 


Black Lives Matter Toronto and Media Bias

It is very interesting to see the ways in which the media perceives Black Lives Matter, at sometimes they are viewed as protestors fighting for injustice and other times they are viewed as annoyances or bullies. It makes you think, why are they portrayed in these two lights when they are fighting for important changes? Why is it that they are questioning and demonizing their right to protest? Does it make the public feel uncomfortable knowing that marginalized groups are still oppressed?

In a series of interview conducted by Peter Jackson for his research on the Construction of Criminality, he interviewed community members, organizations and political leaders. One of the respondents provided a statement about protest and the need for justice. Hugh Evelyn, a black parent in Scarborough had this to say:

…each time there is an outcry for justice from black community, there is an attempt to discredit those who come to the fore, by labelling them ‘agitators’. The Dudley Lawses of this society [spokesperson for Back Action Defense Committee] have as much right to peaceful protest as the Art Lymers [Former President of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association] (Jackson, 1994, p. 233).

This comment is echoed by many others in the movement, it is clear that the media does have a bias when reporting the news, especially concerning Black Lives Matter. The group has both been applauded and demonize in the Canadian media. In the Toronto Star one journalist applauded the work of the organization and that the criticism they face is a form of racism. The article states “as the Star has argued before, criticism of BLM Toronto and its methods often been nothing more than thinly veiled expressions of racism (Toronto Star, 2016).” However, in that same paragraph they criticize how the group gains attention and the tactics they use.

In another article from the Globe and Mail, the journalist Margaret Wente demonizes the group by calling them bullies. She writes:

The new bully on the black is Black Lives Matter, a tiny group of noisy activist who borrow their branding and their belligerence from the United States. They’ve proved they can bully just about anyone, including city hall, the mayor, and the provincial Premier. The Pride Parade was a pushover (Wente, 2016).”

This statement from Wente is problematic, where she labels the organizing and protesting from the group as a form of bullying, which it is not. Black Lives Matter Toronto are protesting for valid reasons, to remove all forms of anti-black racism. Wente is ignorant by brushing these claims overs and reducing the work by the group as noise.  It is despairing to read that a marginalize group wanting anit-black laws and policies remove at all levels of government and the response from this journalist is that their bullies.

The group did receive some positive attention from a senior editor from The Huffington Post, Joshua Ostroff wrote an article regarding some the public and medias outcry for the protest at Toronto’s Pride by Black Lives Matter Toronto.  He writes:

“So instead of griping about a 25-minute delay, or complaing when people bring up issues that don’t personally affect you, how about adding a little empathy to your pride instead of prejudice? LGBT rights have progressed because of protest and people who have benefited from those actions should look beyond themselves and consider the struggles of those still fighting because Pride is, always has been and always will be, political (Ostroff, 2016).”

After the tragic shooting of Candice Rochelle Bobb in Rexdale, a mother who was pregnant with her son, some of the media began to ask ‘what is Blacks Lives Matter Toronto doing about black on black crime.?’  During a 640 Toronto call-in segment, both the host and callers provided not only inaccurate but racist reasoning for violence in Rexdale. They link the violence in Rexdale due to absentee fathers, the removal of carding, and black on black violence. All of which are incorrect. The first assumption that crime committed in the area is done by black youth due to the lack of black fathers is incorrect. Absentee fathers in the black community is an extremely racist myth, black fathers and black father figures are very much involved in their families. The notion a majority of violence in the area is due to black on black crime and that Black Lives Matter should care more about their community is dismissive. Flynn and Shihadeh (1996) argue that “spatial unevenness is positively associated with serious black violence at the city level (p. 1325).” They also mention that there are factors with the combination of isolation that leads to violence, they include “rates of unemployment, poverty, youth institutional attachment, and female-headed households (p. 1325).” They note that even in communities where black isolation is medium to low there is still a chance for serious violence to take place. Flynn and Shihadeh suggest that “black isolation can also divest black urban communities of the advantages of pluralist politics and makes them vulnerable to economic downturns and government cutbacks (p. 1325).” Communities may not be as polarized as they are in the Unites States, but examining our neighbourhood improvement areas there are some striking similarities.  From what Flynn and Shihaded argue there are a number of factors that lead to black on black crime, with spatial uneveness and isolation being the dominant factors. Further, there are other organizations in the Greator Toronto Area and in Rexdale that give those living in this area opportunities instead of turning to crime. Lastly, there is no relationship between stopping racialized individuals and an increase in gun violence. There is nothing that shows that carding, which is a discriminatory policy actually helped to reduce crime (Ontario Humans Rights Commission, 2016).

It is sad to read articles or listen to talk radio that either dismiss the work being done by Black Lives Matter Toronto or to say that they do not belong in Canada, since Canadians are not facing the problems as Americans, this is not true. Media bias can influence how the public perceives issues and organizations like Black Lives Matter Toronto, so it is harmful when there are news sources branding the group ass bullies and nuisances.  How do we combat this? If you can, do your own research on Black Lives Matter Toronto and the oppression many marginalized groups face in Canada. Try to diversify how you receive the news, by reading from a number of newspapers both mainstream and independent.


Black Lives Matter should think twice about making outsiders of allies: Editorial. (2016, July 5). The Toronto Star. Retrieved from

Flynn, N., & Shihaded, E. (1996). Segregation and crime: the effect of black social isolation on the rates of black urban violence. Social Forces, 74(4), 1325. Retrieved from

Jackson, P. (1994). Constructions of Criminality: Police Community Relations in Toronto. Antipode, 26(3), 216–235.

Ostroff, J. (2016, July 4). Black Lives Matter Protest Proves Pride Needs More Empathy, Less Prejudice. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Mandhane, R. (2016, February 4). Don’t blame the end of carding for an increase in gun violence. Ontario Human Rights Commission. Retrieved from

Wente, M. (2016, July 4). The bullies of Black Lives Matter. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Recommend Reading:

MTV News Debunks Four Black Lives Matter Myths Spun bt Right-News Media

What Canadians Have All Wrong About Black Lives Matter Toronto

Black Lives Matter-Toroto: The Colossal Understimation of the Strength of This Movement 

Black Lives Matter Toronto: Is Canada to Polite to Talk about Racism 

Media Bias







Exploring Anti-Blackness in Canada

I believe Canadians have a hard time conceptualizing that racism and discrimination exist in Canada and is part of the culture. A lot of people have this utopian view about Canada, that Canadians are not racist and are open to other cultures. This is simply not true. The colonial history of Canada is filled with racism and discrimination, from way in which First Nation people are treated and the Chinese head tax. These are just two of many examples of racism in Canada.

Dr. Carrie Best was a Black Canadian activist and journalist, in 1968 she described racism in Canada

Canadian society is a white society. Its legislators are white. Its judges are white, its teachers are universally white; its police are white; its executives are white; its newsmen are white; its real estate agents are white; its landlords are white; its school board administrators, its mayors and alderman, its bankers, its armed forces, and its Prime Minister are white. They support and perpetuate the institutions and customs that make Canada what it is. Thus they are racist. If you are a liberal, middle-class, the word ‘racist’ has a very concrete and narrow definition. Apartheid is racist. Segregation is racist. The political, social, and economic systems which enslave human beings, which deny them their identities, their freedom, their dignity and their future are all racist systems. This definition is good as far as it goes but it only begins to scratch the surface of racism (Dua and Robertson,1999,p. 8)

Backhouse (1999) explores the legal history of racism in Canada in their book, Colour-Coded. Similar to the belief that some Americans have of being ‘colour-blind’ or viewing everyone as a human than a race, in Canada there is this notion of racelessness. Backhouse describes racelessness as:

The ideology of racelessness, a hallmark of Canadian historical tradition, is very much in keeping with our national mythology that Canada is not a racist country, or at least is much less so than our southern neighbour, the United State. Dionne Brand, an African-Canadian historian, poet, and writer, recounts that she still gets asked in interviews: ‘Is there racism in this country?’ Her response: ‘Unlike the United States, where there is at least an admission of the fact that racism exists and has a history, in this country one is faced with a stupefying innocence.’ A ‘mythology of racelessness’ and ‘stupefying innocence’ – these would appear to be twin pillars of the Canadian history of race (Blackhouse, 2010, p.14).

Backhouse mentions that the discussion around race and racism is different in Canada than in other countries like the United States or Great Britain. Where the Unites States has a long history of racial injustices and continue to practices these injustices through its legal system, urban planning, banking and police departments. In Great Britain their colonial history comes to mind. Due to these actions and divisions it is more accessible to discuss race and racism. However, in Canada it is more complex since racial injustices in this country is often overlooked.

Canada also has a history of anti-black racism, slaves were used in country from 1689 until 1833. During this time blacks in Canada faced a series of discrimination both prior and after the abolishment of slavery by the British Parliament in 1833 (African Canadian Legal Clinic, 2012, p. 4) . Once again, this history often gets brushed under the rug for whatever reason is may be, whether it is ignorance or trying to conform to the idea that Canada is not racist.

Backhouse (1999) stresses that racism is not an individual and one-off events, as she states:

“It is essential to recognize that racism is located in the systems and structures that girded the legal system of Canada’s past. Racism is not primarily manifest in isolated, idiosyncratic, and haphazard acts by individual actors who, from time to time, consciously intended to assert racial hierarchy over others. The roots of racialization run far deeper than individualized, intentional activities. Racism resonated through institutions, intellectual theory, popular culture, and law. Immigration laws shaped the very contours of Canadian society in wats that aggrandized the centrality of white power. Racialized communities were denied the right to maintain their own identities, cultures, and spiritual beliefs. Education, employment, residence, and the freedom of social interaction were sharply curtailed for all but those who claimed and were accorded the racial designation ‘white.’ 15

This statement exemplifies that racism is more than ‘that guy’ and the racist remarks they make on Facebook or the women who shouts racist comments and slurs to someone on the bus. Racism is systemic and is found in institutions, popular culture, and our legal system.

Examining the Canadian justice system, it is clear that discrimination plays an active role on laws that are created and enforced. Owusu-Bempah and Wortley (2011) maintains that “a closer examination of the historical record reveals that racial discrimination has long been an issue within Canadian society – particularly with respect to the operation of criminal justice system (p. 395).” Through their research they conclude that “black respondents are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white or Chinese respondents (p. 398).” They also observe that racialization exist in Canadian police departments, where “black racial backgrounds appear to be a master status that attract police attention and significantly contributes to police decisions to conduct street interrogations. To the police, young black males represent the usual suspects (p. 402).” Just that alone, that there is a criminality associated with being black is very disturbing.  They conclude that the Canadian government practices ‘democratic racism’. They define ‘democratic racism’ as “an ideology that permits the emergence of two seemingly conflicting sets of values: a public commitment to racial justice and equality on one hand, but a refusal to seriously investigate and address racial inequalities and potential racial bias when these issues emerge (p. 404).”

Just looking at newspapers or reading government documents, or comments from political leaders, this is what they practice. Examining the case of missing and murdered aboriginal women the conservative government under the leadership of Stephen Harper refused to launch an inquiry into it (Jackson, 2015). In Ontario, the outrage over carding and street check went almost unheard of. Politicians and police officials were dragging their feet to even discuss it, let alone call the practice racist. After weeks of protest from Black Lives Matter Toronto in front of Toronto police headquarters they met with Kathleen Wynne, where she told the group that “we still have systemic racism in our society (Jones, 2016).”  However, she quickly changed her comments when the Toronto Police Union said that her comments were out of line, and that there is no racism in the police force. She updated her comment stating “ I wasn’t talking about the police service, I was talking about societal reality that we all have to grapple with (Ostroff, 2016).” This was a truly cringe worthy moment, having the Premier of Ontario acknowledge systemic racism, but in the same breath say “no, no, no, not in police services, but in the criminal justice system and children’s aid.” This was just another prime example of democratic racism, informing the public that the government has a commitment to racial justice, but completely ignoring the issue at hand.

How do we confront racism and anti-black racism in Canada and how do we solve the many laws and policies that are created from it? First, we need to have an honest conversation about racism and anti-black racism in Canada. By having this dialogue and acknowledging the full impact racism and anti-blackness has on Canada and policies created is the first step. Secondly, we need to critically examine policies, laws, and by-laws created in this country and either amend or strike down laws and policies that are unjust are specifically target racialized groups.


Backhouse, C., Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History., & Gibson Library Connections. (2010). Colour-coded : a legal history of racism in Canada, 1900-1950. Published for the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History by University of Toronto Press.

Dua, E., & Robertson, A. (1999). Scratching the Surface: Canadian, Anti-racist, Feminist Thought. Toronto : Women’s Press.

Ostroff, J. (2016, April 7). Police Deny Racism and Demand Data (That They Won’t Collect). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Jackson, K. (2015, September 9). Stephen Harper’s longest war: missing and murdered Indeginous women. APTN. Retrived from

Jones, A. (2016, April 4). Wynne meets with Black Lives Matter protestors at Queen’s Park. iPolitics. Retrieved from

Wortley, S., & Owusu-Bempah, A. (2011). The usual suspects: police stop and search practices in Canada. Policing and Society, 21(4), 395–407.

Recommend Reading

The Suffocating Expereince of Being Black in Canada

Canadian Judge Acknowledge Anti-Black Racism in Court

Public Health Urban

The creation of Black Lives Matter and their fight for justice.

Black Lives Matter movement was created by Alicia Garcia, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors in 2014 after the trial of George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was a resident of a Florida neighbourhood who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager.

Although the movement was created after the police killing of Trayvon, it was also created “as a response to the anti-black racism that permeated out society (Black Lives Matter, 2016).”  The creators describe the movement as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

The movement has participated in a number of protests and organizing since the creation of the group. Some of these events include the organizing and protest of unarmed black men and women such as FergusonWalter ScottFreddie Gray and Sandra Bland.

There has also been organizing and protesting in Canada by Black Lives Matter Toronto and Vancouver, and in Montreal by the Black Coalition of Quebec. In Toronto, Black Lives Matter have held a number of events and rallies around police brutality, racism, and fatal encounters the police have with people of colour and the mentally disabled. Some of these events include the protest around the shooting of Jermaine Carby by Peel Police, protest around carding and street checks by police departments across the GTA, and most recently protesting and organizing around the death of Abdirahman Abdi.

One question I keep asking myself and others is, what separates Black Lives Matter with other movements and organizations in the past that fought against anti-blackness, police brutality, and civil rights? Movements like the civil rights, black power and black feminist, black liberation, and anti-apartheid movements all come to mind. Groups like the National Council of Jamaicans and the Black Action Defense Committee also come to mind.

Reviewing the Civil Rights movements, it is clear that there are two stories associated with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, there is a dominant story that places the movement starting in the 1950s. There is also an alternative story that places the movement beginning in the 1940s. The movement in the 1940s was sparked by a number of events, the great depression, and international events; the persecution of Jews by Nazi’s (Hall, 2005, p. 1245). Hall describes the Black Popular Front and the organizing done by Martha Biondi as the first phase of the civil rights movement (p. 1245). Hall also argues that the persecution of Jews by Nazis brought striking similarities between racism and anti-Semitism (1247.) Other events include anti-colonialism movements in Africa and Asia, intersectional feminism, and the inclusion of African-Americans into American society.

The dominant story of the civil rights movement begins towards the end of the 1950s “it involved blacks and whites, southerners and northerners, local people and federal officials, secularists and men and women of faith (p. 1251).” The goal of the movement was

dismantling  Jim Crow, a system built as much on economic exploitation as on de jure and de facto spatial separation. In the mind of the movement activist, integration was never about ‘racial mingling’ or ‘merely sitting next to whites in school.’ as it is sometimes caricatured now. Nor did it imply assimilation into status white-defined institutions, however much whites assumed that it did. True integration was an is an expansive and radical goal, not an ending or abolition of something that once was – the legal separation of bodies by race – but a process of transforming institutions and building on equitable, democratic, multiracial, and multiethnic society (p. 1251-1252).

Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King Jr. and his contributions to the movement and the March on Washington in 1963 are all part of the dominant story of the movement. As mentioned earlier, the goal of the movement was to dismantle Jim Crow laws, that allowed for legal racial segregation, and to ensure that everyone had equal rights.

Hall raises two important points about the movement that are often overlooked, the involvement of black women in organizing and the role of urban planning.

It was Claudia James and the Congress of American Women that brought up the concept of triple oppression of black women, their race, class, and gender (p. 1247). It was these women that were at the March on Washington “demanding jobs for all, decent housing, fair pay, and equal rights…thus asserting both their racial solidarity and their identities as activists and workers and thereby the equals of men (p. 1252)”.

This solidifies the importance of black women in organizing and fighting against oppression both during the civil rights movements in the past and the current Black Lives Matter movements of today.

Urban planning had a huge impact on black lives and racial inequality in the United States, I will touch on some of these planning decisions in a later post. However, some of these decisions included highway building choices, zoning by-laws, denying mortgages to African-Americans, and federal lending policies that mandated racial homogeneity (p. 1241).

The Black Power Movement was a movement documented from beginning in the 1950’s and ending in 1975 (Joseph, 2001, p. 2) The movement began around the same time as the Cold War and the political repression the war had on Americans. It was heavily influenced by the political atmosphere in the Unites States and “global events including anti-colonial uprisings in Ghana, Cuba, and the African Congo (Joseph, p. 3).” The difference between the two movements was that the Civil Rights Movement emphasized on getting their message across through non-violence, whereas the Black Power Movement was fine with being militant. The Black Power movement left two lasting impressions on the Unites States.

These two movements provide historical context of black radicalism, organizing and fighting for change. It shows that the fight for civil rights and fair treatment was not just an “American thing”, this was truly a global movement and continues to be a global movement to this day. Some of the arguments in Canada and in the Canadian media when discussing Black Lives Matter is that they often say “its an American issue” or that “black Canadians are not facing the same oppression as black-Americans”. That is simply not true, Canadians continue to face discrimination by police departments, the justice system, and issues with the Children’s Aid Society.

There have also been organizations in the past in Canada that have also fought against police brutality and racism in Canada with organizations like the National Council of Jamaicans and the Black Action Defence Committee. Both organizations have worked individually and together in the past to fight against discriminatory policies and police brutality. The National Council of Jamaicans was able to change discriminatory immigration policies and help add passages to the Fair Employment Act and the Fair Accommodation Practices Act (Powell, 2015). In 1988, the Black Action Defence Committee was created due to a number of shootings of black men (Jackson, 1994, p. 219).  The goal of the BADC was the “elimination of racism particularly as it impacts the Black community by advocating policies and practices that are geared toward this end (Black Action Defence Committee, 2016). The work done by the BADC in the early 1990s is responsible for the creation of the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) in Ontario (Black Action Defence Committee, 2016). The role of the SIU is to investigate “circumstances involving police and civilians that result in death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault (Powell, 2015).”

The National Council of Jamaicans, Black Action Defence Committee, and Black Lives Matter Toronto all have similar themes and are fighting for the same goal; removing all forms of anti-black racism. I believe Black Lives Matter Toronto is just continuing the work that BADC did in the past. The sole difference from Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizations that came before them is the use of technology. Even though the time has changed there is still a need to fight for racial equality.

There have been a number of accomplishments from the work Black Lives Matter have done both in the United States and Canada. In the United States, they have successfully raised awareness around police violence against women and the trans community, forced schools to look into their racial history, and brought attention to racial bias in the criminal justice system (Workneh, 2015). In Canada, the organization has garnered attention from their protest which had led to coroner’s inquest, a discussion around carding and street checks, which eventually led to the suspension of this policy (Battersby, 2016). Black Lives Matter and organizations similar to it will continue to remain relevant until anti-blackness and discriminatory policies are removed from every facet of everyday life.

Battersby, S. J. (2016, April 16). From Jermaine Carby to Andrew Loki: a timeline of Black Lives Matter in Toronto. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from

Black Action Defense Committee. (2016). About Us. Retrieved from

Black Lives Matter. (2016). A HerStory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. Retrieved from

Hall, J. D. (2005). The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past. The Journal of American History, 91(4), 1233-1263.

Joseph, P. (2001). Black Liberation Without Apology: Reconceptualizing the Black Power Movement. The Black Scholar, 31(3-4), 2-19

Powell, B. (2014). Settling in Canada: Jamaicans have a story to tell. Retrieved from           

Workneh, L. (2015, December 22). 11 Big Accomplishments Black Activists Achieved in 2015. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Recommened Reading:

From Black Action Defense to Black Lives Matter TO: decades apart but demands are the same

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation 





Urban Planning and Hip-Hop

I would like to share with you all a great article that interviews Mike Ford. Ford is an architect and discusses the relationship between hip-hop and urban planning.He mentions that hip-hop came to be through structural racism, poor urban planning, and architect. Near the end of his interview, he emphasizes the importance of representation in urban planning and architecture, not only as professionals. But as community leaders, authors and researchers. Ford recognize that:

As long as people from the outside are telling the story, that narrative will continue. We need to continue to get people of color involved in architecture, as urban planners, as professors, as authors. It’s important for minorities to enter architecture because, throughout the United States, our communities have been designed, uprooted, and pretty much destroyed by architects and urban planners who do not look like us and unfortunately have little to desire to communicate with us during the planning of those events.

So what can happen if we get more minorities involved in architecture and architecture fields such as urban planning? You’re gonna have people at the table who are sensitive to the fabrics of [their] communities and understand what it means to not uproot them. Having a voice at that table to be an advocate for those underrepresented communities is essential. Architecture can destroy and inhibit people from becoming their best, but it also has the power to uplift and empower them. If we’re going to achieve the latter, it’s got to be a collaborative effort.

This excerpt resonated with me, both scholarly articles and testimonials from community members are pointing towards advocacy  and equity planning for communities for a number of reasons. One of them being, people of colour involved in architecture and planning can better represent the community and understand the needs of community members.

There are a number of hip-hop songs that discuss everyday life and poor planning, artist like Public Enemy, Snoop Dogg, NWA, A Trible Called Quest, Kendrick Lamar and Grandmaster Flash all come to mind. Here’s Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five rapping about the conditions in New York in the early 1980s:

There are a number of hip-hop songs that discuss everyday life and poor planning, artists like Public Enemy, Snoop Dogg, NWA, A Trible Called Quest, Kendrick Lamar and Grandmaster Flash all come to mind. Here’s Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five rapping about the conditions in New York in the early 1980s:

How Bad Urban Planning Led to The Birth of a Billion-Dollar Genre

Hip-Hop Architecture



Social Movements and Black Lives Matter

Cities are living systems, made, transformed and experienced by people, Urban forms and functions are produced and managed by the interaction between space and society, that is by the historical relationship between human, consciousness, matter, energy and information. While the structure of the urban dynamics can ultimately be described in such terms, the decisive input of purposive social action in the shaping of space and material conditions of everyday life has been highlighted by historical experiences (Castells, 1983, xv).

In The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements, Castells document the relationship between urban environments and urban social movements. In this book, he asks a series of questions regarding social movements, why they take place, who the actors are, how they relate to spatial form. It is imperative to understand Castells work on social movements and organizations due to its focus on urban environments and the relationship they have with urban crises.

Social movements have always occurred in the histories of cities. Some may be familiar with the movements that took place in the 1960s in American cities; civil rights, feminism, anti-war, gay rights movements and more. However, social movements have a deeper history dating back to the 16th century, where citizens of the Castilian cities revolted against the royal authority of Carlos V (Castells, 1983, p. 6). This was a movement by citizens that were challenging the feudal order, they were not pleased at the power Carlos V had on the cities, and the privileged people who sat in the assemblies. They wanted better representation in government and they did not want only people of privilege to sit in the assembly. They wanted elected officials, wanted it to be a free city and the decentralization of municipal powers at the ward level (p. 6). It is intriguing reading these demands from the 16th century and comparing them to municipal and federal governments of today and seeing how those demands influence future governance.

Castells (1983) identify three major themes related to urban protest movements:

  1. Demands focused on collective consumption, that is, goods and services directly or indirectly provided by the state.
  2. Defense of cultural identity associated with and organized around a specific territory.
  3. Political mobilization in relationship to the state, particularly emphasizing the role of local government (p. xviii)

These themes remain constant and present in both urban protest movements in the past and movements that continue to take place.

Moving forward, social movements have always challenged the norms that are created by people or groups who hold the most power. There is actual meaning behind activists and groups that protest for demands and rights, it is not for amusement. These movements often get dismiss by those who are ignorant to issues that they are fighting for or part of that group that is ‘benefiting’ from these policies.

That last statement is very reminiscent of the social movements that have taken place in the past 10 years, Idle No More, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring. All were movements that were challenging political authority and economic inequality. What set these movements apart from movements in the past is that they all used technology to help raise awareness and communicate with others. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have allowed for these groups to not only communicate with members but present their message to a wide and diverse audience. Black Lives Matter (BLM) has successfully used technology to their advantage, by discussing police brutality cases, educating others, and the planning of protests and marches.  Some may be familiar with the hashtag on Twitter, #blacklivesmatter, the hashtag is commonly used after a case of police brutality, anti-blackness, and organizing.  Those unfamiliar with Black Lives Matter, it is an organization that was founded in 2013 by activist Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi (Clark, Freelon, & Mcllwain, 2016, p. 9). BLM “demands specific forms of redress for one relatively well-defined political/legal/policy issues…[it] aims mainly to improve the everyday lives of oppressed racial minority – Black people in general and black youth in particular (p. 9)”. Castells remind readers that “movement develops not only in relationship to its own society, but also in relationship to a world-wide social system (p. xviii).” This is the case for movements like Idle No More, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the environmental movement, that have a global reach. Urban social movements play a critical role in not only highlighting issues being faced by a particular group but attempting to create change.

Castells summarizes the power structure and the reasoning for urban crisis and revolt beautifully:

Random individual decisions are supposed to affect public policies according to some abstract rationality aimed at optimizing profit or power. Either way, people and the state, economy and society, cities and citizens, are consider as separate entities; one may dominate the other, or both may behave independently, but the logic of the analysis never allows them to interact in a meaningful structure. As a result, we are left with urban systems separated from personal experiences; with structures without actors, and actors without structures; with cities without citizens, and citizens without cities (p. xvi).

There is an abstract rationality for these decisions, whether it be for profit or power or both. We see this misuse of power especially in the judicial system, where there is bias in laws that are created and how some of these laws specifically target marginalized groups. Two cases immediately come to mind, one in Ferguson, Missouri and one in the Greater Toronto Area.  In Ferguson, the police were targeting a predominately black community with violations and offenses. These charges range from the grass being too tall to driving with a broken taillight. (Shapiro, 2015)  Most community members could not afford to pay for these fines and offenses, so they would increase to the point there would be a warrant for their arrest. This leading to the cycle of mass incarceration. The Depart of Justice did an investigation and concluded that the county was giving out these offenses and fines so that they could generate money for the city (Shapiro, 2015).

In the case of the Greater Toronto Area, we have the practice of carding by a number of police departments. Carding is “the police practice of arbitrarily stopping, questioning, and documenting a person – then entering their information into a database – to which young black men are disproportionately subjected (Goldsbie, 2015).”  Carding is a policy that criminalized black and brown bodies. It says a lot when the police assume that you are either a threat or may know of illegal activities taking place because of the colour of their skin.

Dr. Rinaldo Walcott, an associate professor at the University of Toronto in the Women and Gender Studies Institute had this say :

We have yet to be provided evidence that carding impacts crime in any shape or fashion. We have yet to be provided evidence that the database developed from carding impacts crime and its resolution in any way. Instead, we have been offered anecdotes from a police perspective. We have been offered fear. We believe that by ignoring the available evidence, that the mayor, the Toronto Police Service, and its board have clearly declared black communities collectively a public safety threat. The only way to think of such a declaration is to call it anti-black racism (Goldsbie, 2015).

Both of these cases highlight decisions made by people who hold power to either optimize profit or power. And even with one group telling the other that these policies are unfair and specifically target marginalized communities, those in power either ignore these comments or fail to have a meaningful discussion. Also, in both cases, Black Live Matter organized and protest for both of these issues. In Ferguson, it raised attention not only city wise but throughout the United States and resulted in the Department of Justice to investigate. In, the Greater Toronto Area the work of Desmond Cole and Black Lives Matter lead to some discussions on anti-blackness in Canada. A ban on carding was made by the Ontrio government, yet many police and police unions believe that this practice was beneifical and not racist.

As I have shown, social movements are critical in urban environments, they are able to identify the issues that are at hand and attempt to repair them. Some movements are successful and their demands are met by authority or some form or negotiations are made. While other social movements fail for having too broad of demands or a lack of leadership. One item that remains important is social movements have always and continue to shape cities and challenge societal norms. The Black Lives Matter movement is a prime example of urban protests movements that address a series of issues, one including the criminalization of black bodies.

Castells, M. (1983). The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements – Manuel Castells – Google Books. Berkeley : University of California Press. Retrieved from

Freelon, D., Mcilwain, C., & Clark, M. (2016). Beyond the Hashtags. Washington. Retrieved from

Goldsbie, J. (2015, May, 13). Police Carding: Racist, Anti-Black, and Useless. Now Magazine. Retrieved from

Lorio, B. C. (Photographer). (2014). Millions March NYC [Photo], Retrieved from

Shapiro, J. (2015, August, 25). Ferguson, Mo., Judge Withdraws Thousands of Arrest Warrants. NPR. Retrieved from

Recommend Readings:

The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements – Manuel Castells

Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Freire

End of War on Black People – The Movement for Black Lives Matter




Public Health Urban