By Nicole Brumley
Two Black Somali women are challenging negative media representation of their communities, and empowering youth to take control of their own stories.
Local activists Hibaq Gelle and Hawa Y. Mire said they founded the skills development program, Project Toosoo, in response to a lack of Somali-based youth programming, an under representation of youth voices and “horrible” media coverage. Gelle and Mire spoke at the event “Resisting Erasure, Rising Up, and Raising Voices” held at Ryerson on Feb. 9.
In their critique of media portrayal of the Somali community, Mire explained how Vice’s 2016 video, This is Dixon, fuelled the association of Somali youth with criminal activity.
Vice’s video came in response to allegations that a Somali gang was possibly involved with former Toronto mayor, Rob Ford’s crack scandal. Vice’s investigation proved inconclusive as they said the gang might not even exist.
CBC’s 2016 television series, Shoot the Messenger, also came under scrutiny for contributing to similar negative perceptions.
“What sells is the narrative that has always sold,” said Mire.
Even though many Somalis settled in Canada as refugees, Mire said the popular narrative disregards the resilience of their communities. She said no one talks about the post-traumatic stress of families who have fled war, or of success stories of Somali people, including those who arrived here as doctors and lawyers.
Gelle and Mire said many young Somalis are unable to get jobs because of shows and articles that paint their communities as having a homogeneously bad reputation.
“That’s the hard part; it’s nothing they’ve done. It is legitimately what someone else is making money from that stops them from getting employment.”
Mire said that throughout history, particular groups of Black people have been especially targeted, but right now in Canada, both Black and Muslim Somalis are in that group.
Joshin Marriott, a first-year Sociology Ryerson student, said the event broadened her understanding of these issues to the point where “it’s almost like a veil was lifted.”
“It is really hurtful at the same time to know that this is happening to another group … and there is nothing we can do about it unless we actually talk about it and raise our voices,” said Marriott.
First-year Rye PhD student, Emilie Jabouin, said attending the panel was especially important for her because young people were the ones discussing the realities of the Somali community.
“I really needed to be in a space where it is not just the middle aged Black men talking about Blackness,” said Jabouin.
Mire and Gelle said their activism work (Project Toosoo) is intended to inspire a pipeline of young Somali leaders, so that they are no longer two of the few Black Somali women responding to negativity about their communities.
*Clarification: A previous version of this post incorrectly used the word “Somalians” to describe a Somali community.