Black Lives Matter at Toronto Pride 2016: Mass Media Deprecation and Misrepresentation

Since July 2016, Canadian media outlets such as CBC News and The National Post have misrepresented the Black Lives Matter Toronto Pride protest in mainstream media. By removing the BLM-TO protest from historical contexts, neglecting to consider the protest within larger structural inequalities of race, sexuality, and gender, and vilifying Black protestors, mass media influenced public opinion of the protest and reinforced the dominant social order.

Dehistoricization

The BLM-TO protest is not considered by mainstream media within the Canadian context of police racism and homophobia. The history of police brutality against LGBTQ+ individuals is extensive, ranging from decades of unfettered physical violence and intimidation to harassment and surveillance tactics (Williamson, 2017). Those who face marginalization and oppression on several different fronts, such as Black queer youth, are even more susceptible to such violence (Janoff, 2005), and this police oppression only continues into the present day (Krishnan, 2016; Toronto City News, 2017; The Canadian Press, 2016). Isolating protests from these historical patterns that motivate such collective action is an act of dehistoricization (Nichols, 2014, p. 448); doing so misrepresents a movement’s purpose and delegitimizes their cause.

For example, in many articles and bulletins that document the protest and its aftermath (Brockbank, 2016; The Canadian Press, 2017; CBC News, 2016, July 3; Gollom, 2016; Janus, 2017), the history of police brutality against the LGBTQ+ community is only indirectly referenced through acknowledging their ‘improving relationship’. Another article (Draaisma, 2018), states that “tension has recently mounted” between Toronto police and the LGBTQ+ community, and that their relationship has “become strained”. Such a statement implies that such tension did not exist previously, which does not acknowledge the decades of police homophobia and violence against LGBTQ+ individuals.

The actions of Black Lives Matter Toronto on July 3rd 2016 occurred within the context of institutional homophobia and racism and echoed Pride’s political roots. However, when media outlets remove their protest from this history, the general public is less likely to view BLM-TO’s actions as justified and more likely to oppose their cause.

From Structural to Individual

Mainstream media forgoes institutional or systemic analyses in favour of personalizing social issues (Boykoff, 2007B, p. 251; Palacios, 2016). Instead of acknowledging that BLM-TO protested the police as an institution with a violent past, and Pride Toronto as an organization with a history of anti-Blackness, media outlets interpreted their arguments as individual attacks against police officers. Both CBC and The National Post published retorts from police officers without linking them to deeper social critiques (CBC News, 2016, July 4; Hamilton, 2017), which frees the institution of policing from having to assume responsibility for its decades of violence and oppression against LGBTQ+ and Black individuals. This further removes the incident from social and historical contexts and misrepresents the purpose of BLM-TO’s actions.

Deprecation of Black Protestors

Mainstream media also used several specific character frameworks to discredit the Black protestors directly. Not only are media deprecation strategies effective in twisting public opinion against protest groups such as BLM-TO (Boykoff, 2007A), but their effects are exacerbated by coinciding with oppressive Black stereotypes. By framing Black protestors as violent, ignorant, and disruptors of the peace, media outlets demonstrated that there is no socially accepted, ‘right’ way for minority identities to protest.

Media outlets consistently implied that BLM-TO protesters were uninformed about the issues they brought forth and incapable of handling them properly. “Was your timing appropriate for the sit-in?” questioned a CBC News reporter to BLM-TO co-founder Alexandra Williams. “Have you done yourself and your group a disservice” (CBC News, 2016, July 3)? Another CBC News article stated that they “overplayed their hand”, criticizing strategies used by protestors and assuring that they did not know how to appeal to politicians or the public (Gollom, 2016). Another CBC News reporter doubted the group’s ability to hold constructive conversations with Pride Toronto organizers and the City of Toronto mayor (Brockbank, 2016). It is easier to dismiss the claims of a protest group if you portray them as ignorant and disconnected from the social sphere (Boykoff, 2007A).

Framing dissidents as violent is also a popular mass media deprecation strategy (Boykoff, 2007A). Despite acknowledging that the BLM-TO sit-in was a peaceful protest, media outlets continued to imply that BLM-TO protesters were aggressive in their actions and intent. “It sounds to some that you’re bullying your way into getting the terms that you wanted,” said a CBC News reporter to Williams (CBC News, 2016, July 3). Another CBC article quotes, “These types of, what some people perceive as radical moves, don’t win over public opinion” (Gollom, 2016). In a National Post-published column, Barbara Kay went so far as to describe BLM-TO as militant, extortionate, hostile, and belligerent (Kay, 2016). Insinuating that Black people are violent and perpetually angry is nothing new, as Black identities have been marked as socially degenerate and criminal by the mainstream media for decades (Palacios, 2016).

Finally, Black Lives Matter Toronto were repeatedly referred to as disruptors of the peace. Media outlets situated BLM-TO protestors as intruders of Pride (CBC News, 2016, July 3; Gollom, 2016; Kay, 2016), stating that they were “taking time and space away from [the LGBTQ+ community]”, even though all the protestors identified as queer and were acknowledged as Pride 2016’s honoured group. People of colour and other marginalized communities have historically been excluded from the social order and viewed as threats to the status quo (Warner, 2002, ch. 1); media outlets are able to justify their vilification of Black identities by echoing these sentiments in their narrative.

Conclusion

Through strategies such as dehistoricization, the removal of BLM-TO’s demands from structural contexts, and the deprecation of Black protestors, mainstream media outlets misrepresented the Black Lives Matter Toronto Pride protest and twisted public opinion against their cause. This is exemplified by the scores of hate mail sent to Black Lives Matter Toronto (The Canadian Press, 2016, July 5), the overwhelming amount of ‘dislikes’ on media YouTube segments (CBC News, 2016, July 3; The National, 2016), and disapproval expressed on Twitter. This misrepresentation further reinforces the heteronormative, racialized societal order that exists in society. BLM-TO’s demands of Pride Toronto challenge the status quo that benefits the State and dominant societal classes (Letts & Steckley, 2014; Ericson, 1982); as mainstream media must appeal to this social order to guarantee readership, BLM-TO’s cause had to be portrayed in such a way as to be discredited and discarded by the public.

However, despite the deployment of several deprecation and vilification strategies, media outlets were not successful in their aims. All of BLM-TO’s nine demands of Pride Toronto were achieved, from the removal of police floats to the doubling of funding for Blockorama (Black Lives Matter Toronto, 2018). The discussion of police involvement in Pride has only grown since July 2016, with four other major Canadian cities disallowing police forces to participate in their Parades (Hamilton, 2017). In 2017, BLM-TO marched again in Toronto Pride, with signs held aloft that proclaimed their intent to continue with their activist efforts: “May we never again need to remind you that we, too, are queer; that WE built THIS; that we shut it down for ALL OF US” (Gray, 2017). While Canada is far from becoming a queer utopia, and the most vulnerable LGBTQ+ individuals continue to have their voices overpowered within their own community, organizations like Black Lives Matter Toronto are increasing society’s capacity for acknowledgement, diversity, and progress.

References

Black Lives Matter Toronto. (2018). Demands. Retrieved from https://blacklivesmatter.ca/demands/

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Brockbank, N. (2016, July 11). Mayor John Tory, Premier Kathleen Wynne to meet with Black Lives Matter Toronto Thursday. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/mayor-meeting-with-black-lives-matter-1.3673242

The Canadian Press. (2016, July 5). Black Lives Matter flooded with hate mail following Toronto Pride parade sit-in. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/black-lives-pride-1.3665955

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Draaisma, M. (2018, March 28). Toronto police apply to march in 2018 Pride parade, but group doesn’t ‘believe that this is the time’. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-police-pride-parade-2018-application-march-in-uniform-lgbt-trust-1.4597163

Ericson, R. (1982). Chapter 1: Police as reproducers of order. Reproducing order: A study of police patrol work. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 3-32.

Gollom, M. (2016, July 5). Black Lives Matter got attention, but did its Pride tactics hurt or help its cause? CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/black-lives-matter-toronto-pride-parade-1.3663659

Gray, J. (2017). Black Lives Matter Toronto makes surprise appearance at Pride Parade. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/black-lives-matter-toronto-makes-surprise-appearance-at-pride-parade/article35460305/

Hamilton, G. (2017, July 27). ‘A tragic error’: Growing push to exclude police from pride parades divides LGBTQ community. The National Post. Retrieved from http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/a-tragic-error-growing-push-to-exclude-police-from-pride-parades-divides-lgbtq-community

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Janus, A. (2017, April 19). LGBTQ police officers’ group calls it ‘unacceptable’ for city to fund pride. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/pride-funding-letter-1.4075745

Kay, B. (2016, July 5). Barbara Kay: In BLM’s view to be white is to be racist and to be black is to be a victim. The National Post. Retrieved from http://nationalpost.com/opinion/barbara-kay-in-blms-view-to-be-white-is-to-be-racist-and-to-be-black-is-to-be-a-victim

Krishnan, M. (2016, November 14). Toronto police are going undercover to bust men having sex with other men: Critics say the sting is homophobic and a waste of resources. Vice. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/dpkjaw/why-are-toronto-police-going-undercover-to-bust-men-having-sex-with-men

Letts, G.K., Steckley, J. (2014). Elements of sociology: A critical Canadian introduction. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.

The National. (2016, July 4). Black Lives Matter group protests at pride parade. YouTube video. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rd1diUhix0

Nichols, R. (2014). The colonialism of incarceration. Radical Philosophy Review, 17(2), 435-455. Retrieved from https://www.pdcnet.org/pdc/payment_pdc.nsf/file/0A4E992184A0D8E7072581FD00507787/$FILE/radphilrev_2014_0017_0002_0115_0135.pdf

Palacios, L. (2016). Killing abstractions: Indigenous women and Black trans girls challenging media necropower in white settler states. Critical ethnic studies, 2(2), pp. 35-60.

Toronto City News. (2017, January 25). Police apologize for officer’s comment about getting AIDS from saliva. Toronto City News. Retrieved from http://toronto.citynews.ca/2017/01/25/police-apologize-officers-comment-getting-aids-saliva/

Warner, T. (2002). Never going back: A history of queer activism in Canada. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Williamson, N. (2017). Police homophobia and violence against the Canadian LGBTQ+ community. Unpublished document.

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