The current KWAG exhibit Black Drones In The Hive, by artist Deanna Bowen. The "Berlin" grouping of artifacts showcases our deeply racist history and the white supremacists in power who shaped our region. MELISSA EMBURY PHOTO

Exploring The Racist History of WR

It’s no secret that our region has a turbulent history as a hotbed for white supremacy. Waterloo Region remains an area with frequent incidents of racism and hate crimes. But how much do we really know about our racist history? 

Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo has actively spoken out on anti-racism, on the history of white supremacy in our region and creating equity in our organizations and institutions. 

“We take for granted that everybody [knows] the history of white supremacy in the area. I don’t know if everybody actually knows that. There has to be public recognition, in a real way, of the history of white supremacists organizing in the Region,” Lindo said.

The events listed in the historical timeline of our region are not new to Lindo, and she believes that when we start validating the reality that hate crimes have been happening, we will be able to take action against them.

“Racism exists because white supremacy is the way that folks have organized. And when I say organized, I mean, established institutions [who] decided who is deserving of health care, housing, education, good wages, safety, policing and recreation or space to just exist in the world without harassment,” Lindo said.

A dangerous byproduct of white supremacy, is the fact that the actions of a few extremists could distract attention from the systemic discrimination and violence that BIPOC and marginalized folks encounter every day.

“This is literally par for our everyday discussion. I’ve often said, you know, it’s hard to be Black in an anti-Black world,” Lindo said.

Lindo has been fighting throughout her career to establish conversations and policy changes locally, provincially and nationally. Her most recent push for change was to designate the Proud Boys, “a neo-fascist organization” as a terrorist organization in Canada. 

Thanks to her petition and others like it, as of Feb. 3, 2021, the federal government now classifies the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity.

The main takeaway, according to Lindo, is that white supremacy groups like the Proud Boys do not exist outside of our families, friends and communities and that the best way to reach someone you don’t agree with is to talk to them. 

“That’s where I say mobilize your privilege. You have access to a Proud Boy, well, go talk to them about why that’s a problem,” Lindo said.

But what else can we do as residents and citizens to be actively anti-racist? Lindo believes that once we understand how racism and hate operate, it’s clear that there is only so much work that can be done at the regional level.

“There’s a lot more work that can protect and support more people if it’s connected to a provincial strategy,” Lindo said. Provincial legislation can create committees to address issues of racism and equity within less progressive communities that are not paying attention. 

“For them, racism doesn’t exist. It would require them to think differently, and use a different kind of lens.”

An important area that needs a rewrite, according to Lindo, is our schools’ curriculum. By changing the white, settler colonialism history taught through our education system, we can start to provide the truth of our region’s fraught past. 

“I think it’s really, really important for us to have a nuanced understanding of our history, and then encourage the people that we’re teaching to keep looking, and keep reading because new things are going to arise,” Lindo said.

On a larger scale, Lindo believes Canada has a long way to go in terms of reimagining our nation’s identity. What she thinks is missing from our history curriculums are the Black and Indigenous resistance movements that do not get recognition — the people who fought for human rights.

“That sort of stereotypical narrative gets perpetuated again and again. Indigenous peoples should fight harder. They’re lazy. They’re not right. They say that about Black folks, too. We’re all lazy,” Lindo said.

“One of the challenges for racialized people when it comes to trying to fight for racial equity is that we are fighting against a national story about Canada — that we are so loving, and we think it’s cool to tolerate others.” 

Lindo thinks anti-racism work starts early, through advocating for the racialized and marginalized children in our community, and that we need to stop tolerating racism in our schools. 

“Listen, if one Black kid experiences racism in school, that’s a problem.” 

Lindo also stressed that our community shouldn’t need a certain number of people to come forward with their experiences of racism before we start to look at white supremacy as a serious problem here in the region. 

“Because we care about that one Black child. We care about that one Indigenous staff member. We care about that one racialized health care worker. Right? It shouldn’t be a matter of ‘well until they become a critical mass, we don’t have to actually do any racial equity work,’” Lindo said.

Crystal Mowry, senior curator at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery (KWAG) worked to bring the exhibition Black Drones In The Hive by artist Deanna Bowen, which explores our region’s racist history, to our local public. 

Looking through artifacts from Black Drones in The Hive at KWAG, Bowen draws attention to one of our local and celebrated historical heroes: A. R. Kaufman, who was a member of the Eugenics Society of Canada

“Bowen’s work reveals a myriad of ways in which white supremacy has shaped policy and public record … [Kaufman] was doing sterilizations at the same time that his business [was] being celebrated in local yearbooks,” Mowry said.

This is why it’s so important to tell the stories of people in our history that have not been included in the narrative according to Lindo and Mowry.

“Let’s not be afraid to ask people to think about who’s not included in the story that you’re being taught,” Lindo said.

Back when our region was forming in the early 20th-century, white wealthy businessmen, like Kaufman, held all the power — but that system of power still exists here today in tight and exclusive social and professional circles. 

“You have these kinds of empowered, wealthy, older white men figuring out what they want the future of this region to be. It seems wild to me,” Mowry said. 

“What about all the people that contribute meaningfully, all the people of colour who have come and gone through this community? … I think that it’s a great cruelty of the way that we manage history locally,” Mowry said.

The first part of fighting against these groups, being anti-racist and changing the power dynamics in our region is to look at our history and to see that we still have these same problems today.

“If you talk about racial justice or racial equity, then you are forced to talk about the foundation of white supremacy, then you’re actually talking about some real stuff happening in our community. It’s hard, but it’s real,” Lindo said.

How can people in our community begin to wake up to white supremacy in the region and beyond, and how can we become anti-racist and enact change in our communities? 

Lindo stressed that it begins with educating yourself.

“We need to use real words to describe what’s happening around us. And sometimes that requires folks to do some of their own education to try and figure out what those real words mean.”