Letter from the Editor: The Names to Remember, and Those to Forget
I am wondering, these days, how to cool my blood. It feels as though all the boiling is leaching its minerals, steaming them into my tear ducts, out and away. I know that these are some of those times. The ones our elders have told us about, the eldest of whom I know must shrug, even chuckle at our prepubescent fists clenched at our sides. Those times that inspire the writing of iconic ballads and screaming oaths. Those times of disruptive, mammoth, world-shattering change, when you blink and everything looks different all over again at least ten times per day. I know my anger is unproductive, unhelpful. I know it is crucial, necessary. I cannot find that middle space that makes understanding my rage as both frivolous and an act of self-preservation a productive dichotomy. I cannot seem to hold it all in one hand, for all my trying.
Two Sundays past, six men were killed in cold blood while they prayed. Nineteen others wounded, some in critical condition until recently. The overtly white supremacist news organizations would rush to label the shooter as a Muslim extremist from Morocco. They would paint his skin brown, throw sand on his clothing, gingerly place a rifle in his hand before saying the true thing. Their compatriots would vandalize a mosque in Montréal in the same moments the lives of the victims were being honoured through a memorial ceremony. Watching the lies flow these past weeks has been like watching a badly directed caricature of life. Is this what it always feels like during a fascist coup? Is this what it feels like during a Civil Rights Movement? Is this what it feels like to have reality ripped and to feel a deep, pulsating hopelessness that seems to know no bounds and no expiration? Part of me knows this is melodrama given my position of relative privilege to so many. And part of me knows these feelings are real, too. We must sit with them, then move on, then do. Whatever, however, we can.
The white liberal media had a different plan for the murderer. More silent, more insidious, more deadly. In article after article across the globe, Alexandre Bissonnette has been afforded the privilege of being a '27-year-old,' a 'young man,' a 'student,' a 'suspect,' etc.
He is referred to by his full name, repeatedly.
Stories of a tough childhood populate the word count.
Accompanying pictures depict banal, innocent scenes of him smiling, seated playing chess, staring placidly into the selfie-lens wearing a camo cap.
Despite Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Couillard's reference to the act as one of terrorism, Bissonnette was not referred to as a 'suspected terrorist' in the immediate news coverage.
Hilariously enough—the sour type of hilarity that ends in tears, which I've been experiencing for the last few months ad nauseum—the only article in the mainstream media I came across in the hours and days following the murders that repeatedly references Bissonnette's race is from the Daily Mail UK. What bitter irony.
I encourage you in the days ahead to read your media carefully. Make cogent comparisons. Become a critic of the news you take in, rather than a passive consumer. The differences in reportage are stark. There is much to be said about the ways in which a person like Bissonnette is described, in contrast to the ways in which Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples are described, even when they are the victims of violent crime. They cannot bank on referents that speak to the fullness of their personhood. They do not get to just be people. The function of repeatedly affirming and reinscribing Bissonnette's personhood in the ways outlined above is to distinguish him from that which does not obey the bounds of whiteness. Bissonnette is an educated, white, masculine-presenting man. He is a terrorist. He has perpetrated a hate crime. He is a mass murderer. He is a white nationalist who has carried out white supremacist doctrine upon the bodies and lives of innocent people at prayer. Allow me to commit an epistemic violence against him: he no longer has a name to distinguish him.
How did we read Dylann Roof? Look back at articles written about him, even at those written in recent weeks after his sentencing to death. Even as I write that sentence I feel a deep shame, because I know Roof's name by heart, even its idiosyncratic spelling, but I could not name even one of the Black people at prayer in a Charleston, SC church who he murdered in cold blood.
I can do better; I will learn them. How dare a name like that take up permanent space in my mind. I will replace it with Cynthia, Ethel, Susie, Depayne, Clementa, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharonda, and Myra. They are not the Charleston Nine. They have been people. Present. Perfect. Continuous. Make your language work harder to keep alive the memories of those who have lost their lives to white supremacy. Do not allow them to become a catchphrase, and their murderer's name to be immortalized.
So wipe his name from your mind, and his too, as I will be trying to in earnest. Remember these names, instead. Remember the people who were killed while praying. Be flush and generous in your remembrance. Learn about their families and their lives, populate your mind with the memory of them. Tell your friends their stories. Speak of them as the people they have been, not the nameless masses the media will pile them into. Maybe not this week or the next, but when the glow of ratings and likes fades, there, silence will be. Know the violence inherent in making space in your minds and thoughts for his name, and not theirs. Know the violence of posting his image and not theirs. See the erasure when articles supposedly memorializing the dead use no images of them while they lived, but instead include numerous images of their murderer. Do not let these people be reduced to "The Québec City Six."
Know their names:
Mamadou Tanou Barry