The Othering of Neighbourhoods | Mustafa Ahmed | Walrus Talks

[Applause] [Singing] What must I sacrifice to make you
care/ What must I sacrifice to make you care/ What must I sacrifice to make
you care/ Oh, what must I sacrifice to make you care. Breathing in a clean air spared by our
trees, I’m a child running free, looking for an elder to help me extend the reach
of my dream. Basking under mountains that bring our ego to its knees, and if it’s
hard for you to speak you don’t need to leave. Don’t step outside your ease,
there’s a home where you can simply be. Breathing in a clean air that still
allows for us to breathe, though we walk with nations bones below our feet. She ran
through the rubble to see the Northern Lights, colours slowly fading. Swaying back
and forth like the spirits were fainting, but faint energy is hard to achieve. A
cold runs up our spine and reminds us of our creed. Lakes kiss our toes to thank
us for our deeds, and we ponder on our deeds, are we deserving of this peace? And
we ponder on our deeds, are we deserving of this peace? My name is Mustafa and I
was born and raised in Toronto. Born and raised in Regent Park, which is Canada’s
first and largest housing project. And I want to talk about inclusivity, not about
inclusivity…not about silence mistaken as inclusivity, not about you swallowing
your preconceived notions and then reaching a place of inclusivity because
you don’t want to have the difficult conversations, but I want to talk about
fearless, intentional inclusivity. The one that makes your stomach turn because you
don’t know what to say or how to say it but you know that there is a
conversation that is necessary, a conversation that has to
happen. I was once at Yonge and Dundas, which is one of the busiest
intersections in the country, and I was walking and cars were stopped at the red
light and I seen a man in the truck roll down his window and look at a lady
with a niqab, and for those of you don’t know this niqabbi woman, the niqab
is a head covering and a face covering for the Muslim woman, not
obligatory, but a lot of women, Muslim women, do it in good faith, like my
aunt does back home in Sudan. And he looks at this woman he said, “Everyone
look at that terrorists over there, look at that terrorist, look at that terrorist!
Is someone not gonna stop that terrorist?!” And he’s laughing and
it’s a big white man, a bearded white man, he’s screaming at this woman
and before—I was 17-years-old and I was just shocked, I was just stopped in
my tracks, I wasn’t really used to this and I didn’t know what to do, and I was
just trying to collect myself, collect my emotions and I didn’t know to
approach him or to approach her, and before I knew it
the light switched from red to green and he was well on his way. And I
went to this woman in an effort to comfort her and I said, “Are you okay? Is
everything okay?” And she looked at me, I could see the fear in her eyes, and she
said, “Where’s the terrorist? Is the terrorist near?” And I looked at her and I was like,
“Excuse me, I’m sorry…” Because I was take aback and I didn’t really know, I was
like “Sorry?” and she’s like, “Where’s the terrorist? The man was
talking about terrorists…” and I realized in that moment that we all
share the same fears, you know? And I looked at her and I said, “There is no
terrorists, he’s just a crazy man.” I’m like, “I’m happy that you’re okay, are you okay to go
home?” And she said, “Yeah, yeah I’m okay.” And I realized in that moment that
inclusivity is not going to be a battle for us, we all share the same fears. We
all share the same concerns, but what happens when we don’t allow for those
inside voices to create a conversation, those inside voices are felt everywhere.
They’re felt at the workplace, they’re felt in classrooms, and they’re felt in
restaurants. Just because you are swallowing those
preconceived notions, just because you are swallowing that voice doesn’t mean
it doesn’t exist, it sits in the pit of your stomach and we feel it, we feel the
divide. I live in Regent Park, which is Canada’s
first and largest housing project, and it is a five minute walk from that incident.
It is a five minute walk from the busiest intersection in downtown Toronto,
yet we are considered “east downtown.” You go to Vancouver and the inner cities of
Vancouver are considered “east downtown,” but it is just a block difference
between central downtown and east downtown. This language that we use
to separate ourselves, to create this divide, that is detrimental to
communities. How are we embracing our communities? How are we allowing for
ourselves to see the country as a whole,
to see all the classes as a whole? How are we going to separate a four-minute
walk by saying one is considered east downtown and one is considered central
downtown. This constant othering of communities is what destroys us. I once
sat with the corporation, with the community members, and with the media in
an effort to understand the revitalization that my community was
undergoing. And the vice president of the corporation looked and said, “I think it’s
incredible, we’re bringing an aquatic center to Regent Park, we’re
bringing a cultural center to Regent Park, we’re bringing Native Earth
Performing Arts to Regent Park, we are bringing Toronto to Regent Park.” And he
was like, “It’s incredible, we’re bringing, we’re literally bringing, this city into
Regent Park.” As if Regent Park exists in an island of its own. We are in the
heart of the city, and how does he fail to recognize that Regent Park is inside
Toronto? It is insane, but these are the conversations that need to happen. Why is
it that he looked at me when I said, “Do you not understand that
Regent Park is inside Toronto, that you are othering my community, and you are
isolating my community and making us feel like we cannot integrate?”
I was on Metro Morning with Matt Galloway, and right before I started
to speak he was assessing a poll that said 68 percent of Canadians believed that
immigrants and newcomers need to do a better job of integrating into
mainstream Canadian society. What the hell is mainstream Canadian society? And,
second thing is, you see our efforts to try and integrate, but if you don’t even
see our communities as a part of the cities how’re we ever going to integrate?
With the geography we are already drawing lines and divides. So my
conversation and what I think is going to create a better Canada is going to
start by bridging the gap between communities and bridging the gaps in,
even, geography. Etched on our hands are the maps of our homelands, we are nomads that
found shelter in the stars, aspiring to be. Born into oxygen that reminds us to
breathe, we speak our thoughts into the air. We refuse to let the winds forget
our voices and our names, we repeat them until it whispers back and we’ll cut
through the wind’s path like the cuts on our palms to remind it that it can
always have a change of direction if things go wrong. Etched on our hands are
the maps of our homelands. Etched on our hands are forgotten love notes. Etched on
our hands are forgotten love notes. Etched on our hands is a guide to survival,
tears in our palms, we spoke, we screamed, we held on for this long so that even
when we sleep the winds will continue whispering our songs, changing directions
with our pain. We won’t let it forget our names, please don’t let yourselves forget each other’s names. Thank you. [Applause]

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