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'I still get followed around in stores': Cabinet minister Hussen on his experiences with anti-black racism
OTTAWA -- Canada's first Somali-Canadian cabinet minister says that despite his high profile position, anti-black racism is a part of his life — and that of so many others.
Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen told CTV's Power Play that, as a black Canadian, he has a visceral reaction when police vehicles are nearby.
"Instinctively, my back gets up when a police cruiser comes behind me as I drive," he said Monday.
"You just have to look at the history of racial profiling in Canada. It is a reality for far too many young black men and women."
He said that it doesn’t matter that he is a member of Parliament, nor that he is a federal cabinet minister.
"I still get followed around in stores," Hussen said. He described one such experience, saying that while shopping for cold medicine once with a member of his staff, he was followed from the moment he stepped in the store.
"I looked at my staff member who was on the other side of the store and she was not followed. She happened not to be a member of the black community," Hussen explained.
"She was surprised that I was being followed around. And for me, I was not. I was not surprised, but it's not about me. It’s about — this is a very common reality for many, far too many, people in our country and it is important for us to acknowledge it."
Protesters have been taking to the streets in Canada and around the world in the wake of the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the ongoing demonstrations from the front steps of Rideau Cottage on Monday.
"Anti-black racism is real. Unconscious bias is real. Systemic discrimination is real. And they happen here, in Canada," he said.
And for Hussen, that reality is one that he must live with. The minister explained that he is still processing the images from the police-involved killing of George Floyd.
"It is shocking, it is disturbing, it is quite painful to watch that video," Hussen said.
"I have three young boys, my oldest son is 10 years old and I still have not had the strength to have the conversation with him. How do you explain to a 10-year-old boy, growing up as a young black boy in Canada, that — how do you explain those images? That footage to him? That the very person who was supposed to keep someone safe is engaged in a slow-motion death of an innocent black man?"
Hussen said that the first step in addressing these issues is to listen to those who are living the reality of anti-black racism in Canada.
"Once we acknowledge that…then we can start to talk about the solutions. But we're not even there yet. We're still at the point where, for many in Canada, their voices are not being heard and that's the frustration that you see," he said.
While Hussen said representation in government matters and that those in leadership bear responsibility in this effort, he added that fighting anti-black racism should be a mission for every person in Canada.
"Diversity is a fact in Canada, but inclusion is a choice. We have to make the choice for inclusion. But it starts with having difficult conversations of the lived, daily reality of dehumanizing anti-black racism that is experienced by far too many people in Canada. once we have that conversation, once we can listen to those frustrations and those personal stories, then we can move forward," Hussen said.
"I don't want to be in a position where we have these conversations decades from now with my three young sons. I want them to have a better chance to experience shopping, and to experience running in the neighbourhood, jogging, basic things that they shouldn't be afraid to do. That sometimes I’m afraid to do, let alone others."
Hussen said that having difficult conversations about racism will not "take anything from us."
"If anything, it'll make Canada an even better country than it already is."