Ishmael Reed’s Canada: black, Jewish, indigenous

February 20, 2013

Ishmael Reed isn’t into tragedy, so Flight to Canada is funny about the African-American presence up North.

Raven Quickskill is there of course, having flown in “non-stop/ Jumbo jet this A.M.  Had Champagne/ Compliments of the Cap’n/ Who announced that a / Runaway Negro was on the / Plane.”

Raven then has a run-in with “The Immigrant” at the Slave Hole Café in Emancipation City.   “Nobody has suffered as much as my people,” said Quickskill calmly.  The Immigrant, Mel Leer, rises. “Don’t tell me that lie.”  The whole cafe turns to the scene.  “Our people have suffered the most.”  “My people!” “My people!” “My people!”  “My people!”  “My people!”  “We suffered under the hateful Czar Nicholas!”  “We suffered under Swill and Legree, the most notorious Masters in the annals of slavery!”

Historically, fugitive slaves were in fact a significant presence in Canada, as Rachel Adams has shown.  The underground railway went North as well as south, to Mexico.

For Reed, “Canada, like freedom, is a state of mind.”   It’s a state where ex-slaves like Raven could keep company with Quaw Quaw, still Native and still going strong, though not without irony.

Not obvious right now, though.   For the thousands who marched in Washington DC over the weekend to protest the Keystone Pipeline, Canada has an entirely different meaning.

And yet not everything comes down to the tar sands.   In 2007 Sheila Watt-Cloutier, spokeswoman for the Canadian Inuit Circumpolar Council, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on climate change, losing out only to Al Gore.   Just  an example.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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