Even though Nidia Guerrier can’t “even count the hours” she spends speaking out about racism, she doesn’t describe herself as an activist. Given that most of her involvement is through social-media networks — and using her own name, rather than working with an organization — the Montrealer, originally from Haiti, doesn’t fit the traditional image of an activist taking to the streets to demand change.
Due to the risks associated with COVID-19, Guerrier, the daughter of a nurse, didn’t feel comfortable taking part in the protests in Montreal last spring in the wake of George Floyd’s death. But she still wanted to contribute to the anti-racist movement that was growing across her province. Thus, the Liberation of Black Folks of Montreal (LBFMTL) was born, a small “collective of Black people fighting for the revolution,” which quickly became known for creating virtual information kits to help ensure protesters’ safety.
“I told myself that if I can’t physically be at the demonstrations, I can at least give advice to the people who are there,” explains the 20-year-old woman. Guerrier is currently attending McGill University, with a view ‘possibly’ to become a social worker. She firmly believes that there are many ways to contribute to the fight against racism and the movement for social justice.
“For example, I have friends with physical limitations who tell me that they feel bad because they can’t go to the protests,” she said. “No! You can support the cause without going there — you don’t need to feel guilty.” In this pandemic year, online activism is the reality for many activists. Even Greta Thunberg’s school strike for the climate has gone primarily virtual.
After getting involved in a more traditional way — for example, by founding the anti-racism committee at the Collège de Maisonneuve and participating in various protests — Guerrier chose to convey her indignation online.
She doesn’t regret it. For her, social media networks are an effective tool for doing part of the widespread educational work needed to raise awareness among white people about the reality of racism in Quebec. It’s not just about police brutality, an issue that she feels the Black Lives Matter movement focuses on a little too exclusively.
Guerrier’s “quarantine project” has been to create a YouTube channel where she tackles topics like racism and rape culture, alongside lighter topics like dating. Her goal is “to make people understand that being anti-racist takes work every day.”
She admits that the tone of her publications is often bitter, and she doesn’t deny her dislike of the slow pace of change in Quebec.
“When you have François Legault saying there’s no such thing as systemic racism, it’s like a gut punch,” she offers as an example. “It’s like telling minorities: no, you’re not actually suffering, it’s all in your head.”
Guerrier’s rants, as she calls them, are intended to start a conversation — to highlight certain injustices experienced by Black people that the white majority isn’t necessarily aware of. She spreads concepts like intersectionality and systems of oppression, but that doesn’t mean she wants people to ask her what the solution to systemic racism is. “Am I Google?” she asks in one of her videos.
Easiness is a trap
In an interview, she laments: “One of the problems with the internet is that since people are used to having access to works by people of colour, especially Black people, some will say to themselves, ‘I don’t need to buy books, Guerrier will do a summary for me.’ I really don’t want people to fall for that idea. Me, I read the books — I did the work. I don’t understand why you can’t just do that as well!”
She denounces the fact that too many white people are content with “performance activism”: beautiful statements, often on social networks, unaccompanied by any real action. Like Justin Trudeau taking a knee this summer, she explains.
“You can’t just post your black square on a Tuesday and boom, you’re all good for the week. No, no, no! It doesn’t end there. There is so much more to do.
There are so many resources available, so many documentaries to watch….“
Guerrier has a lot to say to white people who “who think they should get a cookie, or that they’re owed something, just because they shared an anti-racist post.”
She wants people to realize that campaigning against racism is building a better world for everyone, not “doing a favour” for the Black community.
When asked what her day-to-day life will look like after the pandemic, Guerrier admits she doesn’t know. While she doesn’t deny the value of the protests, she doesn’t think they’re enough to make real change on their own.
“We have to keep pushing and gain access to decision-making spaces,” she believes. “The problem is that these spaces are often not open to minorities.“
But that won’t stop her from continuing to knock on the door.
This story is a part of “Whose Street Is It?” an ongoing HuffPost Quebec series that gives voice to Quebecois activists and examines how far they are willing to go to create change.