Portrait by Teju Abiola (IG: @tejuabiolaart)
Matthew Green is a Canadian politician who was elected to represent the riding of Hamilton Center in the Canadian House of Commons in 2019. Prior to his election in the House of Commons, he represented Hamilton, Ontario’s Ward 3 from 2014- 2018. He is a lover of Afrobeats and world traveller. We spoke to him about de-colonizing Canada, and reconnecting with the traditions from the African continent.
How is life different for you now compared to when you were in your 20s?
I was caught up in the hustle at 20. I graduated with some debt. There was pressure to make something of myself. I tried to be a good employee, worked at a bank, tried to get into finance.
Then I started my own business and hustled for 15 years.
I wasn’t alive to the systematic way that capitalism impacts us. I thought I could be a “social” capitalist. I realized there’s no such thing as a ‘self-made man’. These myths we hear about entrepreneurial rockstars are just that: myths.
I realized the whole system was rigged, It took me until my 30s to realize that no matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t ‘pick myself up by my bootstraps.’
To the 20-somethings out there, I understand that the hustle is real, the grind is real. The deck is stacked against you until we can reshuffle the cards.
What do you hope to see for Black youth in Canada?
I think there’s an opportunity here for Black youth to reconnect with the traditions of the continental diaspora. Many of our traditions are rooted in a care-taking relationship with nature, a communal, tribalistic, deep-rooted legacy and tradition to take care of each other.
In the West, we understand this as eco-socialism: a way of life that puts people ahead of profits. There’s an opportunity to explore our traditions from the roots.
I look at the Haudenosaunee in Hamilton and the lessons they teach us about democracy, stewardship of the land—all these things that Canada could be but have been lost in colonialism and capitalism. These are ways of life for Indigenous people around the world.
How have your experiences travelling to majority-Black countries/cultures been enriching?
I’ve had the deep privilege of travelling extensively in the Caribbean and also to Liberia, Ghana and South Africa.
In my observations, (in Liberia and Ghana specifically) I think that growing up without the experience of white supremacy like the diaspora has to face, provides Black people with a greater range for what’s possible.
In North America, we don’t see ourselves reflected in our institutions. Me being an MP is an exception not the rule. That is profoundly different than in places that have been colonized but have won back their freedom.
Tell me what it’s like to be one of the few Black MPs in Canadian history?
I think while these institutions are important, its not just about representation, but also about the politics. ‘Not all skin folk are kinfolk.’
Having more Black people in right-wing spaces does more harm than if they weren’t there at all.
How have you been perceiving the support for the #BLM movement in Canada recently?
The support for Black Lives Matter, specifically in the Toronto area, is a ten-year, overnight success.
Certainly, this is not a new phenomenon. You look back to 2016 when BLM camped outside of Nathan Phillips Square demanding justice for Andrew Loku. They did that for two weeks in the winter—In the snow. At the time they were attacked by right-wing media and political pundits. Their demands were for justice. For reinvestments in the social determinants of health.
The Toronto police spend $80 million in Jane and Finch alone. If those same funds were spent on afterschool programs, breakfast programs, or transit, there wouldn’t be a need for police.
What we’re seeing now is the rest of Canada catching up. Capitalism demands so much of us. COVID-19 has forced people to sit with the scope of brutality, with anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in ways we wouldn’t have before.
What will it take to effectively dismantle Anti-Black racism in Canada?
We have to decolonize our institutions.
The struggles for Indigenous and Black people are interconnected. This settler-colonial state was the blueprint for many atrocities around the world. Apartheid in South Africa is a prime example.
Dismantling anti-Black racism needs to be extended to all of our international dealings, specifically our oil and gas and mining industries. These have to be dismantled if we’re gonna dismantle anti-Black racism.
Locally, every aspect of life—housing, the justice system, barriers to employment—needs to be reformed. We addressed this in the Statement by the Parliamentary Black Caucus.
What do you think is next? Do you think things are going to change moving forward?
I do. We are past the tipping point now that people are alive and aware of the issues.
We’ve seen over 150 government ministers sign on to a statement by the Black Parliamentary Caucas that calls for all levels of government to address systemic and anti-Black racism.
It’s pretty powerful seeing ministers sign on to a document like that. We’re talking bi-partisan support. This is historic.
What’s something that’s changed for you in 2020? How’s your experience of COVID-19 been?
My resolve to continue to fight against extreme inequality in this country is stronger than ever. COVID-19 has laid bare the intense inequality in this country.
The private market will not save us. That’s been exposed.
What songs have been on rotation for you as of late?
I’ve been going back to old soul sounds, to artists like Charles Bradley, Harrison Kennedy a local artist in Hamilton. But also to new groups like the Black Pumas. Kojo Damptey is another local favorite. We also love Afrobeats at my house.
I love to see my values reflected in art. I love to see musicians and artists talk politics.
I gotta give a shoutout to Haviah Mighty as well. She’s one of the dopest artists out in the country. A song called 13th Floor is the anthem right now.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Creating your own media, taking control of our own narratives is one of the single most important things that your generation can possibly do.
I think what you guys have done in creating this platform is so so important.
Telling our own stories is one of the crucial aspects of decolonizing our minds and uprooting anti-Black racism.