"The struggle for freedom is worked out on real bodies... It is important to remember that what you see are American citizens hanging in these trees," she says as she shows a photo of a Confederate-era lynching. "This was a response to black citizens. These were American citizens."
She emphasizes that we look at the faces of the lynchers "because you can." They are not masked or turned away, they are not ashamed to be there. "There are presumably here on a date. They are in their Sunday best. They are not ashamed to be here."
"It is a reminder that even though that something doesn't make a lick of sense doesn't make it any less terrifying," she says of a photo of a sign that read "God hates fags."
Harris-Perry speaks of her father who grew up in the Jim Crow south. She says her father did not sign birthday cards with "love daddy," but rather, "the struggle continues, Dad."
She says this idea has become central to helping her go on because it is a reminder that there aren't always answers. You are an inheritor of, then you keep your legacy, then you pass it on. You are part of a continuing struggle and legacy. The tradition of protest and engagement is a legacy that was passed on from one generation to another, she says.
Harris-Perry cites the civilian unemployment rate of the last decade. "Things are worse for different groups of people." She says the "bad times" of unemployment for the white population were better than the black populations' best times.
Harris-Perry talks 2007 racial wealth gap: the discrepancy between the median white household net worth and the median black household net worth in more than $100,000. The median net worth for a single black woman's household at this time is $5, says Harris-Perry.
"The reality is middle income white folks are basically black folks too" in terms of vulnerability in earning, she says.
Harris-Perry says a black woman's suffering is "never just about her." She says marriage often combats poverty and there are many people in the black community who do not get married. She shows a chart of the rate of marriage that has dropped dramatically in recent years. But the income inequality between races is not about things like marriage--it is about not having equal opportunity.
"The issue is the state. The issue is the power to make communities," she says. "All people have problems. The political question is 'how does it feel to be the problem?'"
That concludes Melissa Harris-Perry's keynote speech. The crowd applauds in an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Harris-Perry is joined now by Dr. Grace-Edward Galabuzi, an associate professor in the faculty of politics and governance at Ryerson and Kike Roach, a lawyer and community activist. The respondents each have 15 minutes to comment on Harris-Perry's talk. A Q&A from the crowd will follow.
"I want to suggest that there are significant parallels to the picture that [Harris-Perry painted with the Canadian context," said Galabuzi.
Galabuzi makes note of the fact that the Toronto deputy chief of police is present at this event right now.
"Structural racism is a real thing and increasingly we are being told that is not. We live in a world where we are being told that we have transcended that history and yet racial disparity continues to abound and proliferate," says Galabuzi. He draws parallels between Canadian Aboriginal youth and the experiences that Harris-Perry spoke of in her presentation.
Galabuzi says there was a study done that shows there are three cities in Toronto "and we all know who lives where." He says although Canada has had really "good PR particularly on issues of race and colonization," these are bases on which the structural racism is denied.
Galabuzi is given his two minute warning.
Activists seem to have declared victory too soon, says Galabuzi. He says multiculturalism is a form of "colour-blindness."
The multicultural project is really about invizibilizing racialization and the racial aspect of the Canadian project, says Galabuzi.
"You've had a long two minutes" says Denise O'Neil Green to Galabuzi.
The crowd is clapping in rhythm and cheering, effectively cutting off Galabuzi. But he continues talking. "This is a key moment for us to build toward that future" of abolishing structural racism and cultivating a better understanding of the social inequality brought forth with colourblindness and racialization, says Galabuzi.
"I'm sorry," is the first thing Kike Roach says to Harris-Perry. "We are Canadians, we apologize a lot."