Notes on the politics of being black

Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki is allegedly under fire for comparing arguments for the oilsands to slavery. To be precise, what he says is that to argue that imposing a price on carbon will reduce jobs is akin to arguments used by 19th century slavers who opposed abolition. I found it an apt and clever analogy until my people told me I shouldn’t. Black Twitter isn’t happy.

Environmental activist David Suzuki addresses the media before musician Neil Young's "Honor The Treaties" concert series in Winnipeg
Environmental activist David Suzuki addresses the media before musician Neil Young’s “Honor The Treaties” concert series at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba, January 16, 2014. Young is touring to raise money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation aboriginal group, which is trying to prevent the expansion of tar sands development. REUTERS/Trevor Hagan (CANADA – Tags: POLITICS ENTERTAINMENT ENVIRONMENT ENERGY SOCIETY) – CREDIT: Trevor Hagan/Reuters

I generally try to steer clear of the topic of slavery. As an African (not African-American or Afro-Canadian), it is plain awk for me: I cannot claim to fully understand the dearth of pain that comes with knowing your ancestors were treated like property, forcefully taken from their homes and essentially denied everything we consider a human right today. At the same time, as an African who has spent significant amounts of time studying, living and working in North America, I constantly experience the latent impacts of that tragic history and its reverberative prejudices.

When I come across issues on which myself and the seeming black majority disagree, I feel like a child shushed into self-imposed silence by a glaring parent. I don’t understand the problem with David Suzuki’s statement. For years, the potentially crippling economic effects that many slave owners thought would come from abolishing slavery, were used as reasons to uphold it. It was a horrific and inhumane system. In David Suzuki’s admittedly emotionally-charged opinion, this is similar to modern day economic arguments for not taxing carbon. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees, there is an underlying logic here. But I don’t feel like I have the right to defend it.

This is obviously a loaded issue. Whatever your thoughts and I welcome them, here’s a tip. Stop reading concentrated articles and go straight to the source:



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