By DANIEL JUBAS-MALZ
As a teenager, my Zaide, Don Jubas, made headlines when he refused to enter a skating rink after his Black friend, Harry Gairey Jr., was denied entry. While a seemingly small act, his story influenced my perspective as a Jew and emphasized the necessity to combat racism in all forms. Today, I see this anti-racism work as core to my own Jewish identity.
When I was younger, I learned about the Holocaust and white supremacy while in elementary school, and was unnerved to think someone would want to hurt me because of my Jewish heritage. We were partly exposed to these ideas through books like The Diary of Anne Frank or Hana’s Suitcase. Sometimes it was through guest lecturers at school assemblies. I cannot recall specifics beyond the sentiment, but I do remember each speaker reliably using the phrase, “Never again.”
“Never again” is a vow – made among Jewish and non-Jewish communities – to prevent another Holocaust.
The discrimination afflicting the Black community now is reminiscent of events from our own history. Recently, protests have erupted across continents following the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man choked and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. This is unfortunately one instance in a pattern of police brutality toward Black Americans, and against the backdrop of Black oppression faced over the last several centuries. The global response has brought together people from the United States, Canada, Japan, and several European countries to demand police reform and broad institutional changes to end anti-Black racism.
As Canadians, we sometimes compare ourselves favourably to the United States, believing that we are not as afflicted by racism as our southern neighbours. Not only is that wrong, but it diminishes the urgency needed to tackle white supremacy in our own communities. A report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that Black people were over-represented in police statistics, making up 28.8 percent of use of force cases, 36 percent of police shootings, 61.5 percent of deadly use of force encounters, and 70 percent of fatal police shootings. Yet, Black Torontonians comprise only 8.8 percent of the city’s total population. A deep-seated, or systemic, racism reaches far beyond police encounters, and affects Black Canadians’ income and employment status. Through the Indian Act, the starlight tours, and ongoing governmental policy, we also see systemic racism towards Indigenous communities in Canada.
What is happening to members of the Black community looks different than what we white Jews have experienced. But the foundation – the seed beneath the soil – is the same. White supremacy is white supremacy is white supremacy. And we should be infuriated by all of it.
But change is possible, and we can play a crucial role in it.
My Zaide’s story always ended when he and Harry left the rink. It was not until he passed that I learned what had happened, in a memoir by Harry’s father, Harry Gairey Sr., a civil rights activist at the time. Motivated by his son’s experience, Gairey Sr. approached his alderman and requested a meeting with Toronto’s city council. Gairey Sr. presented his case for racial justice, arguing that Black Canadians must receive the same rights as other citizens if they are also to be subject to conscription. Soon after, the City of Toronto passed a landmark ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on race, creed, colour, and religion. Gairey Sr. acknowledges the role of non-Black community members in his victory, remarking that, “I was the man that caused that ordinance to be passed, with the help of the good White people of Toronto.”
Our efforts are essential. As non-Black folks, we must listen when Black Canadians tell us about their encounters with racism, amplify their voices, and provide them opportunities to speak about their experiences.
“Never again” means that these tragedies should not ever happen – in any form – to anyone. There is no asterisk. Harry Gairey Sr.’s experience shows us that we can make the progress we need and ensure discrimination does not define the generations that come after us. And right now, our Black neighbours need our help responding to police brutality and other manifestations of systemic racism. Their battle is ours and no fight is too small.
Here is a short list of educational resources and actionable items we can use to get started:
- Black Lives Matter – Ways You Can Help
- Black Lives Matter – TO
- Justice in June
- A Guide to Talking to your White Jewish Parents About Anti-Black Racism
Daniel Jubas-Malz is a graduate of the Master of Public Health program at the University of Toronto. Through his writing, he hopes to encourage thoughtful dialogue and the development of open spaces where challenges can be identified and solutions co-created among communities.