- Policing Black Lives: A Critical Book Review
In Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, Robyn Maynard gives a powerful, in-depth history of state-sanctioned violence in Canada and the policing of Black bodies. This account intertwines Black history in Canada with the whole history of colonization and intentional genocide of Indigenous peoples. Maynard defines anti-Blackness as state-sanctioned violence applied for the "generalized erasure of the Black experience [and of Black bodies] in Canada" (3). The author offers a specific focus on the criminalization of Black bodies, which is addressed through relating the experiences of marginalized Black people, including Black immigrants, Black women, Black queer people and Black children. The book documents the perpetuation of anti-Blackness through systems of capitalism, temporary work programs, the criminal (in)justice system, law enforcement practices, welfare systems, immigration detention policies, border regulations, child welfare services and the school system. Throughout Policing Black Lives, Maynard aims to "make anti-Blackness, as it has evolved in Canada, legible for activists, policymakers, students, and concerned community members" (3).
Maynard situates herself as a Canadian Black activist and scholar, operating within the "growing movement that fights for Black lives and against state-violence" in Canada (15). The book analyzes Canada's state-sanctioned anti-Black violence in relation to both the history of slavery and segregation in the United States and present forms of institutionalized anti-Black racism. Maynard argues that [End Page 204]the racialization of Black people in Canada, unlike in the United States, is often ignored. She examines the degree to which Canadians are aware of anti-Blackness in the United States but finds that they generally ignore the same racial disparities in Canada, which hide under the official claims of Canadian "liberalism, multiculturalism, and equality" (3). Furthermore, Maynard reminds us that the United States keeps public records and race-based data at all levels of government and in universities, but this type of information is much harder to find in Canada.
This book demonstrates the complexities of anti-Blackness in Canada, and it positions anti-Blackness in relation to other marginalized aspects of Black people's complex identities. As a grassroots community organizer and feminist, Maynard takes the conversation in several directions, focusing on the perspectives of diverse marginalized people, and the history of anti-Blackness in relation to Indigenous racism and colonialism in Canada. Policing Black Liveswould be a less powerful instrument for education and social change if it lacked its perspective on the Indigenous experiences of colonization and genocide. As the author unpacks white settler colonialism in the context of anti-Blackness, she challenges the colonial institution of academia.
Maynard acknowledges the important body of Black Canadian scholarship that has helped to shape both her own writing on anti-Blackness and her advocacy work. This acknowledgement highlights the community work that Maynard shows is essential to anti-Black advocacy. The Black scholars she draws on include Akua Benjamin, Wanda Thomas Bernard, Dionne Brand, Peggy Bristow, Linda Carty, Agnes Calliste, Desmond Cole, Afua Cooper, George J. Sefa Dei, Cecil Foster, Grace-Edward Galabuzi, Sylvia Hamilton, Awad Ibrahim, Carl James, El Jones, Tamari Kitossa, Katherine Mckittrick, Anthony Morgan, Délice Mugabo, Charmaine A. Nelson, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, Adrienne Shadd, Makeda Silvera, Malinda Smith, Esmerelda Thornhill, Rinaldo Walcott, Barrington Walker, Njoke Wane, Harvey Amani Whitfield, Dorothy Williams, and Rachel Zellars. Throughout the book, Maynard continuously gives credit to these Black scholars as paving the way for her own work. She argues that despite the "brilliant work of the Black scholars cited above, state violence against Black persons in Canada has, by and large, remained insulated by a wall of silence and gone largely unrecognized by much of the public" (3).
Policing Black Livesopens with a clear, coherent account of anti-Black racism since the time when the first African was captured by European slave-takers in 1444. Maynard traces this history forward to 1492, when...