Oppression will try to steal your ability to dream. Don’t let it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionately high impact on Black communities. It’s exceptionally difficult to produce a vision of freedom in such rough times. But we must keep freedom dreaming.

November 18, 2021

4-minute read

The task, I thought, was simple: Write a piece that offers a big idea for change…

But as I sat down to begin writing, I felt stuck.

I wanted to articulate a big and beautiful vision of justice for Black people in Canada. I wanted to paint a picture of a Canadian reality where our laws, policies, and political processes fostered and facilitated Black freedom, self-determination, and collective well-being. But I couldn’t.

I couldn’t find the vision, let alone the words to describe what I was struggling to conceive.

Instead, as I took time to think more deeply about the realities of being Black in Canada, the emotional weight, psychological fog, and haunting shadow of the persistence of systemic anti-Black racism clouded my consciousness.

This reminded me that one of the first casualties of systemic oppression is the freedom-imagination of the oppressed. By freedom-imagination, I mean the ability to truly dream and see beyond the boundaries of the systemic injustices faced by one’s people in order to envision a future where they are properly supported and encouraged to realize their fullest individual and collective potential.

As I waded through the muddy mental waters of penning this piece, I became more conscious of the ways that the normalization and chronic persistence of social, political, cultural, and economic disadvantages curtails, clouds, and crowds out oppressed communities’ ability to fully and clearly see worlds beyond their social suffering. This is true for folks experiencing anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, queer-antagonism, trans-antagonism, sexism, ableism, Islamophobia, and/or any other kind of discrimination related to an identity that is fundamental to an individual’s inherent value, worth, and dignity as a human. So how did I get from under this mental cloud in order to write this piece?

It’s exceptionally difficult to produce a vision of freedom in such rough times. And rough times these are for too many Black people in Canada.

After connecting with a couple of close friends and sharing my struggles with this piece, I started to recall the concept of ‘freedom dreams.’ I was reminded about how important freedom dreaming is to and for Black life, struggle and liberation. I specifically started to think about this concept as it was originally introduced, framed, and articulated in the powerful work of preeminent African American scholar and theorist, Robin D.G. Kelley: Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination.

In the preface of Kelley’s 2002 text, he captured (with far greater clarity) the questions that I was quietly grappling with as I sought to write this:

How do we produce a vision that enables us to see beyond our immediate ordeals? How do we transcend bitterness and cynicism and embrace love, hope, and an all-encompassing dream of freedom, especially in these rough times?

Though published almost two decades ago, these words resonated deeply with me as I tried to find words for this column. It’s exceptionally difficult to produce a vision of freedom in such rough times. And rough times these are for too many Black people in Canada.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionately high impact on Black communities in terms of their infection and mortality rates as well as their increased risk of exposure. This stems from Black people being concentrated in front-line health, child care, and food services jobs; having a higher reliance on crowded public transit; and living in congregate housing settings such as public and social housing communities.

Added to this is the fact that the social tsunami of solidarity and support Black people received in the wake of the racial awakening of 2020 sparked by the murder of George Floyd has translated into a trickle of true change for Black communities. The avalanche of promises by institutions to do better by Black people (especially in the areas of policing and criminal justice) have been largely unmet, with the lives of the vast majority of Black people being unchanged. 

Though I’m feeling battered, bruised, and worn, using Kelley’s words, I still choose to embrace love, hope, and an all-encompassing dream of freedom, despite living in these rough times for Black Canadians.

Despite the year 2020 featuring countless grand gestures and rousing rhetoric from Canadian politicians regarding the need to name and address anti-Black racism, when it came to the fall 2021 federal election, Black people in Canada were met with a deafening silence from the country’s federal party leaders. Addressing anti-Black racism was never mentioned as a key priority of any of the parties. Then, the dying days of the campaign revealed yet another photo of Prime Minister Trudeau in blackface.

To top it all off, there were the months of appalling anti-Black sexism (aka misogynoir) experienced by former federal Green Party leader, Annamie Paul, at the hands of members of her own party. In front of all of Canada, this ostensibly progressive party had its members vindictively collaborate to torpedo Paul’s leadership, causing her to resign post-election, calling her leadership experience “the worst period in her life.”

All of this cumulatively affects the individual and collective psyche of Black people in Canada. It’s exhausting. It’s maddening. So I hope I can be forgiven for struggling to - invoking the words of Kelley - produce a vision that enables us to see beyond the immediate ordeals of being Black in Canada.

But as difficult as it is in these times to freedom dream, I’ve still decided to write this column.

While offering no big vision for change here (though I have arguably offered this in my previous columns), I was still determined to submit this as an expression of defiant resistance to the bitterness and cynicism that is so seductive when considering the strains of being Black in Canada at this moment. Though, like many Black people in Canada, I’m tired, frustrated and disappointed, I remain ardently committed to freedom dreaming. Though I’m feeling battered, bruised, and worn, using Kelley’s words, I still choose to embrace love, hope, and an all-encompassing dream of freedom, despite living in these rough times for Black Canadians. Why? Because Kelley’s words remind me of how important freedom dreaming is even in moments when I cannot produce that vision of freedom. He writes, "Without new visions, we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us.”

Though my vision is still forming and unshared here, and though the recent tough times in Black Canadian life weigh heavily on my mind, body, and spirit, I draw on the strength and memory of the world’s most famous freedom dreaming ancestor.

I (still) have a dream...


Topics addressed in this article

Share this page

Show your support

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our writers and researchers have provided groundbreaking commentary and analysis that has shaped Canada's response to COVID-19. We've fought for better supports for workers affected by pandemic closures, safer working conditions on the frontline, and more. With the launch of the new Monitor site, we're working harder than ever to share even more progressive news, views and ideas for Canada's road to recovery. Help us grow.

Support the Monitor