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Five Thoughts For Friday: Anti-Racism and Why We Need To Talk About It

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We need to talk about actively being anti-racist, here and now.

NHL Black History Month Truck Tour Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images

**Editor’s note: Beata has recently re-joined the staff and we’re very excited to have her back. Please join me in welcoming her back! — nkb**

I don’t need to start this with an explanation of what’s happening in the world.

It is, as many have already said, a very strange time to be alive and existing on the internet. Across the United States and around the world, people are taking to the streets to protest the senseless murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Social media is full of evolving information about the situation, as well as pleas for allies - especially white people - to educate themselves about the historic and ongoing oppression of Black people in America, the Black Lives Matter movement, and their own privilege as white or non-Black people.

One of the reasons we at Silver Seven have decided to hit pause on our regular content for a little bit is because we want to focus our time and our energy on doing what we can to support Black Lives Matter. This situation demands our full attention.

Given the importance of this moment in history, we encourage our readers to donate to bail funds and to organizations doing anti-racist work, to sign petitions calling for justice, write to local politicians and, as long as it is safe and done responsibly, to show up for the Black community at public demonstrations.

However, we also recognize that racism is not an issue that is going to blow over any time soon, and that everyone, including our staff, needs to put in the work to dismantle it. Over the course of the last week, a lot of white people have had to come to terms with their privilege and start the long journey toward unlearning their own racist tendencies.

I realize that I am a white person writing for a blog with a mostly white, entirely non-Black staff and a predominantly white audience in an overwhelmingly white sport. I have no authority to speak on issues of racial justice and never will. However, I also understand that it is important that white people do the work to educate ourselves and other white people, so that the burden of explaining things does not fall on Black people, who already have more than enough on their plate.

I will never be an expert on this topic, but I’ve learned a lot about racial justice over the last few years. I’ve also spent time researching topics related to what is happening in the world right now that I think need to be discussed in a hockey forum. For this week’s Five Thoughts column, I’ve compiled information that I think could be of use to my fellow white hockey fans.

Hockey and Canadian Culture

Many hockey fans like to think of hockey as existing in a sort of bubble, untouched by politics or social issues or current events. It is, to many people, an escape from everyday life. It is also something that unites people across barriers; I’ve definitely made friends through hockey that I probably would not have associated with otherwise.

And hockey is that. But is it also something that has a massive influence on Canadian culture.

Hockey has shaped Canadian culture and identity since the early days of confederation, when the sport became a unifying force for a country of people who did not seem to have very much in common. It was especially important in uniting Anglophone and Francophone Canadians.

On top of that, hockey was instrumental in constructing Canadian masculinity. One of the articles I read for this piece was Imagining a Canadian Identity through Sport: A Historical Interpretation of Lacrosse and Hockey by Michael A. Robidoux, which discusses how the violence and aggression of hockey allowed Canadian men to distinguish themselves from the more bourgeois, gentlemanly images of European masculinity. Anyone who has ever watched Don Cherry can see that that attitude has not died out.

To this day, hockey remains perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Canadian identity. We are still a large, disparate country that occasionally struggles to differentiate itself in ways other than “not the USA”. Hockey is still one of very few things that can definitely be considered a part of “Canadian Culture.”

Hockey has great power to influence the way people think in this country, and the way it wields that power is very important. It would be difficult to change Canadian culture without first changing hockey culture, and vice versa.

Canada and systemic racism

On that note, we need to talk about exactly why Canada’s culture needs to change.

Many people much more qualified than myself have spoken up about this recently: Vanmala Subramaniam wrote about it in this post for the National Post. The Star recently posted an article highlighting the experiences of Black Canadians. The Huffington Post recently published an op-ed about why defunding the police is important in Canada. Read about Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the Afro-Indigenous woman who was allegedly thrown off a balcony by Toronto police. Even Akim Aliu’s Player’s Tribune piece shines a spotlight on the racism he experienced in Canadian hockey.

We as Canadians tend to think of our country as a place that is free from all the issues of racism, xenophobia, and discrimination in general that plague the U.S. We love to measure ourselves against our neighbours to the south, to determine that we are better than them, and call it a day.

But I want people to read the articles I linked to above. Listen to what Black people are saying about anti-Black racism in this country. Listen to what Indigenous people are saying about the violence they experience at the hands of our police. Listen to what minorities of all kinds are saying and have been saying about this country for years: it is not as progressive as you may think it is.

Canada can be a place that is kinder to minorities than the U.S. is, and also a place where racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia run rampant. One does not cancel out the other.

I would also encourage readers to look into the parts of our history that are often left out of our curriculum. I was shocked when, in my first year of university, I took a class on the history of Halifax, and realized the extent to which the history I knew had been whitewashed. Some of the aspects of history that I found especially eye-opening were the history of slavery in Canada, the razing of Africville, Viola Desmond and her role in the fight for Civil Rights in Canada, what colonialism really is and why it’s still important, and Canada’s residential schools.

All of these stories helped me better understand the country I live in. I hope they can do the same for you.

Black hockey history

Moving back to the topic of hockey, I want to touch on the largely forgotten history of Black hockey players. While doing research for this piece, I discovered a hockey historian who focuses on Black hockey history named Bob Dawson. His website, which I have linked above, is highly informative and I would strongly recommend checking it out.

Here are just a few of the interesting things I learned:

Henry Sylvester Williams founded the Colored Hockey League (CHL) in 1895, which was made up of the sons and grandsons of former American slaves. The league operated until 1930, when it was shut down by a combination of factors including the razing of Africville.

While this league is rarely talked about in mainstream hockey circles, it was hugely influential to the sport. The first goaltender to ever use the “butterfly style” was Henry Franklyn of the CHL’s Dartmouth Jubilees. Franklyn was also the first goaltender to regularly wander out of his net to play the puck. Furthermore, In 1903, Eddie Martin of the Halifax Eurekas became the first player in organized hockey to use the slapshot.

I would also recommend a documentary called Soul on Ice, which covers the contributions of Black athletes in hockey. I have not yet had the chance to watch this documentary but have read glowing reviews from trustworthy sources, and intend to watch as soon as possible.

I know that hockey is probably the whitest sport in North America right now, but it’s important that we understand the role that Black people have played in shaping the sport as we know it.

What hockey needs to do

For this section, I am going to defer to the Policy Paper for Anti-Racism in Canadian Hockey, written by Courtney Szto, Sam McKegney, Michael Mahkwa (Bear) Auksi, and Bob Dawson. The document outlines the steps Hockey Canada needs to take in order to address racism in the sport.

This paper is especially useful because it talks about long-term, systemic change. Up to this point, the NHL’s response to racism has mostly been to promote diversity, which, while a noble goal, does little to address systemic racism. As this article from Hockey in Society points out, inviting racialized players into the sport without first doing the work to make the sport safe for those racialized players can be dangerous. The hockey world needs to address issues of power, privilege, and access, and dismantle its racist culture from the ground up.

Hockey executives and policymakers are not the only ones who need to change, though. We as fans and as bloggers need to think critically about the way we talk about Black players, especially those who choose to use their platforms to speak out against racism.

We also need to make sure that we’re not just getting our hockey content from white people, which means making an effort to seek out marginalized voices. Again, this blog is not exempt; we are perhaps a more diverse team of writers than most hockey blogs out there, but that does not mean we cannot do better.

Some websites, Twitter accounts, and podcasts that I think would be of interest to readers of this blog:

Hockey in Society

Black Girl Hockey Club

The Color of Hockey

Burn It All Down

Sports Talk with Erica L. Ayala (particularly a recent series about systemic racism in women’s hockey that is very relevant to men’s hockey as well)

Stick to Sports

@dcolonizehockey

@icehockeystick

@WDouglasNHL

@_shireenahmed_

What you can do

Finally, we come to what the average hockey fan can do to combat racism in the sport and in Canada.

I’ve dumped a lot of information here. There are a lot of links in this article. It’s kind of overwhelming, I know. But what I keep seeing Black activists say on social media is that the best thing white people can do to help - other than donating and signing petitions, of course - is educate ourselves about racism and about white privilege.

One thing I’ve been doing lately is compiling a google drive of all the anti-racism resources I’ve come across and not had the chance to look at right away. I’m trying to make my way through it gradually. I’d recommend this strategy for anyone feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information being shared.

I’d also like to plug this website created by Jashvina Shah that compiles valuable resources for allies - it could be a great starting point.

One of the most difficult and important things I’ve had to learn about anti-racism is that often, it isn’t about taking an immediate action; it’s about looking inward and realizing how you might have accidentally caused harm to other people, or unknowingly held up unequal systems of power, and vowing to stop doing those things.