The unforgettable Tony- and Emmy-winning Black actress Cicely Tyson once said, “When you begin to think of yourself as having achieved something, then there’s nothing for you to work towards. I want to believe that there is a mountain so high that I will spend my entire life striving to reach the top of it.”
Tyson captures my views on race relations as well as my larger mission to achieve racial equality.
Ariste: Black History is Canadian history – the pursuit of justice for everyone Back to video
This month is also a time to reflect on the trailblazing lives of Black leaders and civil rights figures who came before me, and broke unprecedented barriers. As a Black Canadian and a son of Haitian immigrants, I recognize a story like mine is not possible without several Black Canadian leaders and personal heroes, including Lincoln Alexander, Viola Desmond and Jean Augustine, to name only a few. Their legacies have influenced me as well as many of my friends to believe in the prospect of a more just and more equitable country. I reflect with gratitude on their contributions to my story and the larger story of Canadian history.
Race remains a potent and at times divisive force in our society. In light of what was a transformative 2020 in race relations, it is our collective duty to approach Black History Month with a renewed sense of purpose and urgency. While well-intentioned on its face, activism should not begin and end with a hashtag. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery are just a few of the countless Black lives we have lost in the past year who deserve more from each of us. In our personal inquiries here in Canada, we must also recognize that our country is not itself immune from anti-Black racism.
For Black History Month, let us avoid the drawbacks of racial apathy. Let us learn to carry out the simple daily acts of activism that perhaps no one will ever see. Let us muster the courage as a society to hold bold, educational conversations about the pervasive culture of racial bias and complicity. It is only through self-education, accountability and purposeful dialogue that we will achieve societal change and advance national discussions on race relations in Canada.
My message is clear. The work in achieving racial equality requires great efforts. The pursuit of justice is akin to an Olympic relay race. Each generation passes the baton along to the next. Black people cannot run alone. White and non-Black engagement is a necessary part of the solution. It is time we galvanize ourselves as a society in pursuing justice for all, including those who may not look like us or may hail from different communities.
To-date, my larger undertaking has been to pick up the baton and run the race for racial equality like many of my predecessors. Black History Month is a time I encourage all, regardless of their race or station, to pick up the baton and run this race as well. We all have work to do in the pursuit of racial justice.
One month is not enough to measure the myriad contributions Black individuals have made to the world’s cultural fabric. However, one month remains an ideal time for each of us to begin reflecting on how to engage more critically and constructively before passing on the baton to the next generation. Bigotry and racial discrimination should never have the last word.
Phedely Ariste is an associate lawyer at Gowling WLG in the litigation department of the firm’s Ottawa office. He received his law degree from the University of Ottawa, graduating Magna Cum Laude.
This content was originally published here.