OTTAWA—Someone should come and collect Elizabeth May before she opens her mouth. Again.
A week after Annamie Paul’s resignation, Elizabeth May penned an op-ed in the Toronto Starin a naked, passive-aggressive attempt to excuse herself from culpability in the Green Party’s ignominious demise. In other words, May played the victim. It was a repugnant view into what happens when Black women talk about our experiences with racism and misogynoir (misogyny against Black women). It was also a continuation of May’s consistency in undermining of Paul’s leadership.
Let’s break down the ashiness of this op-ed.
“A brilliant woman became the first Black leader of a federal political party, finds her expectations unmet, and resigns in less than a year,” May wrote.
Already, the framing is such that Paul is the only reason for the Green Party downfall because she had unreasonable expectations, thereby characterizing her as the domineering aggressor. This is a common tactic for white women to paint themselves as the victim, while passive aggressively doling out microaggressions to Black women. The result is an undermining of that Black woman’s “performance” as sub-par through relational aggression.
Relational aggression is a power tactic women (especially white women) have learned to wield since their days of the playground and can be defined as a “type of aggression in which harm is caused by damaging someone’s relationships or social status.” In an essay penned in the online magazine, The Injustice!, Savannah Worley writes: “In order to keep their place within society’s hierarchy, white women can’t be openly aggressive like white men can without being thought of as ‘hysterical.’” They will smile in your face and stab you in the back and ask you what you did wrong when you’re bleeding on the floor. This has been the tenor of May’s behaviour during Paul’s tenure as leader.
“I stepped aside as leader … to create space for more diversity in Canadian politics. I had hoped we might be the first party to elect an Indigenous leader. No Indigenous Green candidates, of whom there were many strong leaders, offered to run,” May wrote.
The picture May is painting is one where she didn’t get the “right” minority of her choice, who would’ve been Indigenous; but because there were none, she settled for, what sounds like, the second-best minority of her choice. Apparently, we’re just pieces on a chess board for May to move around according to whatever dalliance she decides to ascribe to us. This is typical of a white supremacist structure, where white people in their superiority use us as pawns in their quest to project the right image. This is also window dressing, where BIPOC are brought in—and used—to change the face of the organization, but don’t amass any actual power.
This is commonplace in Canadian politics; the prime minister built a brand on his Emmy-nomination-worthy performances.
May includes laughable accusations of silencing, writing: “From where I stand now, having supported her in the leadership contest, having done everything I could to support her once she became leader … accepting her instructions that I not give media interviews nor participate in press conferences, to shrink my role and shrink some more.”
Can anyone really silence May? Is that even possible when her husband was vice-president of the federal council until a couple of months ago? Methinks not, but let’s go through some of this.
Victoria Galea, acting chief of staff for Paul, told me she contends that this view is skewed. She said May was asked to refrain from doing media on three occasions: one was not to comment on the internal turmoil of Jenica Atwin’s decision to cross the floor to the Liberals (which she violated); another was when she was asked not to do national press on Rosh Hashana, an important Jewish holiday, for observance purposes (May could still do local press as the candidate in Saanich–Gulf Islands, B.C.); and to not speak to national news media about the election results in the two days following the election. This is not silencing, nor is it gaslighting, as May claims, since silencing and gaslighting are not interchangeable concepts. This misnomer indicates to me that The Star isn’t prepared to be the venue for these conversations. I have questions about who gets platformed, about who gets edited and who doesn’t, and how and why Canadian news media make those decisions.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.