This is an historic time where The City of Toronto has voted to re-name Dundas Street & Dundas Square. I wonder if we should celebrate as much as we should be diligent in warding off the backlash from those determined to defend their pride in this historical figure.
Re-naming is not a meaningless gesture for descendants of the African slave trade, and it’s clearly not meaningless to those opposed to this action either. There are many Toronto elites, though, who feel the need to fight this decision. Although we cannot make them happy, we can work to lessen the confusion that will be created by those powers who profit from racial division.
All the deputations I heard last year in favour of re-naming were excellent, and I appreciated the speech given by Faith Justice on behalf of the city’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism unit. All the deputations I heard against re-naming tried hard to push back against the truth of Henry Dundas’ actions, which have already been well-recorded in history.
They pushed back harder against those who had the nerve to propose and sign the name-changing petition. They worked hard to cast doubt. “Wait. Wasn’t he really against it?”
Hmmm! Is this even a serious question?
His biography with achievements and timelines are clearly well-documented in Wikipedia and in old encyclopedias. At one Executive Committee meeting, a Scottish historian outlined how the elite in Scotland felt vastly differently about Dundas than the general population who were definitely not fans. He experienced revulsion from many of his own countrymen who tried to resist his continuance of the slave trade; they could never mistake Henry Dundas for an abolitionist.
Does knocking over statues or re-naming squares even slightly compensate for the large-scale death and bloodshed caused over centuries by the cruel and lucrative trans-Atlantic slave trade?
Even his peers knew Africans were routinely brutally killed during and after the passage. However, some citizens today might feel their power is embodied in an ancient monument to this long dead lawyer/politician who had the power to stop the slave trade but instead chose not to. “Canadian culture” for 200 years has actively hid and denied these facts.
Re-naming a statue, a square, or a street will not unleash a century of genocide upon any settlers’ lives. Canadian culture is not being erased or “cancelled” in any way. But the historic genocide by the state perpetrated against Black and Indigenous people; the killing of human beings to clear them out of the way -- that is the true meaning, history, and grim reality of the act of cancel culture.
It’s time to face that truth and stop flipping the narrative about who’s been cancelling whom. Let’s be clear: monuments removed, or re-named streets do not spark violence from those who are finally being respected from such removals. It should also not invite violence from those rushing to defend those stone-cold statues.
People of diverse racial backgrounds have the right to ask for accountability for disproportionate harms caused by systemic racism embedded into foundations. Re-naming public spaces can actually open up an opportunity for racial justice, for all members of society to be equally respected. For this to be more than a gesture, the City needs to follow through and genuinely seek out the needs of Black communities in need of fair housing and fair labour policies. It also need to respect and stop displacing Black business owners e.g. in Little Jamaica. Stop dismissing bright engineers like Khaleel S. (who should not have been taken to court and sued for using his ingenuity to help people experiencing homelessness). Hire Black city planners and give them planning opportunities to literally build fairness into city spaces and structures like X University. Then bless it with a name that can heal our racial divisions.
Can you think of a place like that now?