Were race relations on the Obama-Trudeau menu?: Tiffany Gooch

Tiffany Gooch‘s column originally appeared at The Toronto Star on Sunday, June 11, 2017. 

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during the three-hour dinner between Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this past week in Montreal.

I imagine a discussion filled with aspirational leadership goals on climate change, women’s issues, and youth civic engagement in the wake of the uncertainty brought by the turbulent Trump presidency.

I hope at some point between the oysters, lobster spaghetti and the big rib steak for two (man, can they eat), the leaders broached the topic of anti-Black racism. I hope Obama shared candid stories about how much more he would have done for African-Americans if Congress hadn’t opposed him at every move during his presidency, and I hope he encouraged his friend Justin to use his time in leadership of a majority government to place political priority on issues facing Black Canadians.

I remember the powerful wave of emotion felt by my Canadian family when Obama made history becoming America’s first Black president. A plaque celebrating the Obama family shines at the centre of my mother’s china cabinet. Boxes of memorabilia from his presidency fill our attic.

I’m still reduced to tears when I consider the fact that, within her 112-year life span, after raising a family entrenched in the racism of the Deep South, my great-grandmother had the chance to cast a vote for a Black president.

Barack Obama deserves a very long vacation following his remarkable political career. History will remember him as one of America’s best presidents. I’m thrilled to see him earning $400,000 for speaking engagements. He served a scandal free presidency and paved the way for Black leaders around the world to take their seat at the table.

He brought a message of hope and inspired a generation.

It brings me joy to see Barack and Michelle continue to inspire and lead on issues of importance in society today, especially girls’ education and women’s political empowerment.

I also look forward to seeing Obama revisit issues he was unable to move on during his time in the Oval Office.

I hope to be present for Obama’s first post-presidency speech focused on race issues in America. I picture it taking place in Chicago, following an introduction by Chance the Rapper, who is setting a new standard for authentic leadership on political issues of importance to Black Americans.

During his address to Parliament last June, Obama acknowledged our rich and intertwined racial history, reminding us that Canada was, “The hope of run-away slaves who went north on an Underground Railroad.” He also quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Deep in our history of struggle, Canada was the north star … The freedom road links us together.”

I realize there is a lot of critical work on the Canadian political agenda, but I hope Trudeau’s growing friendship with Obama will inspire him to explore and prioritize the areas where general diversity policies are leaving Black Canadians behind today.

Anti-Black racism doesn’t stop at the Canadian border, and being better than the U.S. on race issues is a low standard.

The prime minister should visit North Preston, N.S. and meet the organizers who ran a successful third party campaign in the recent provincial election, ensuring political priority on issues of importance to the local Black community. He should tour historical sites in southwestern Ontario built by freed slaves, and engage with Black youth in cities and towns across the country on the supports they need to succeed, despite the unique barriers they face.

He should seek counsel from, and actively promote, the remarkably talented and experienced Black members of his caucus. The ideas they have, and issues they are pushing, are what this country needs.

In keeping with the focus on active citizenship and bottom-up government, Trudeau should follow the lead of Canadians organizing locally and provincially around the UN Decade for People of African Descent.

There is nothing easy about dealing with race issues in North America. Obama’s presidency proved that. I am going to have the audacity to hope that Trudeau will bring his aspirational leadership to these issues in a meaningful way.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Like a boil that must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed to the light of human conscience before it can be cured.”

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

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