July 4, 2015

Canada’s racist problem.

A cultural system that values a white voice more than a black one is a problematic system that must be fixed by those same white voices. This argument is masterfully made by Andray Domise, in White Supremacy is Not a Black Problem:

We’re still living in societies that rationalize why black people occupy a lower caste status, are still being disenfranchised, still struggle to receive justice. To be black in North America is to know that our skin negates our expectation of safety, and that any manner of white violence against our bodies will be isolated, explained, and often excused. To be black in North America is to speak out against that white violence done to our bodies, and brace for the retort that black on black violence” is a more important conversation to have. It is to know that our identities—our art, music, food, and colourful vernacular, and even our skin and hair—only exist as unique until white folks come to snatch them from us, too.

This isn’t a failure on the part of black communities, but rather, a failure of white culture. As long as people of colour have been free to form communities, white supremacy has existed to remind us where we stand. And as long as white supremacy has resulted in violence against our bodies, white culture has existed to downplay the problem, instruct us on how to deal with it peaceably, and deny it exists at all. White culture tells us that white supremacy is a black problem.

Mr. Domise’s entire piece is powerful and important: it will bring you to tears and remind you of work that needs to be done. Take a few minutes and read the whole thing — and then re-read it.

Upon re-reading, I was struck, hard, by the oft-repeated narrative of racism and white supremacy in Canada—specifically, that it doesn’t exist, or that if it does, it’s not so bad:

Despite the appalling lack of diverse representation in our politics and business, and overrepresentation of people of colour in our penal system, Canada is especially susceptible to the myth that we have outgrown racism. Many will be quick to tell you that here, racism claims a much lower body count than it does down south. That myth has permitted white Canadians to look the other way while we’ve had to deal with the worst of them. A couple of years back, in Georgina, Ontario, a black teenager was beaten by his white classmates while others crowded around shouting, Pound the nigger!” The assault happened in the same school where the Confederate flag waved so freely that complaints from black parents forced the local school board to ban it. It happened in the same city where Asian Canadians were being swarmed by white mobs and thrown off fishing docks with such regularity that the practice was given a name: nipper-tipping. But to hear white residents tell the story, all of this can be excused by the feeling that they are now minorities in their own country. I spoke about this story often with white friends at the time, and I can’t remember one conversation I had where someone didn’t pitch the refrain, Well, at least we’re not as bad as the States.”

The refrain of at least Canada isn’t as bad as the States” is one I’ve heard from quite a few people over the past couple of decades, and it is one that infuriates me. 

Primarily, racism isn’t measured on a spectrum, in some kind of gradation, but instead a dichotomy: being half as racist” still makes you a racist, and that’s inexcusable. Secondarily, the claim in patently false: the media attention currently being given to a few cases in the United States shouldn’t allow us to forget the cases of overt and blatant racism that happen here without the same kind of public exposure.

A friend of mine, when calling out racist behavior on her neighborhood Facebook group — she was subsequently banned from the group for inciting” a discussion on race they didn’t want to have — was met with a response from another person I know, a person who claimed that, racial profiling is not a Toronto thing, it might be a popular stance currently but a country that prides itself to have been the freedom of the underground railroad … we do not share similarities with our great neighbors to the south. We don’t segregate people of colour in Toronto and we do not tend to be a racist set of people.”

This response is both exasperating and infuriating. It ignores and silences the experience of the people of color in Toronto who are saying, loudly, that yes, they experience racism here. It erases their struggles, silences their voices, and trivializes their lives, all in an effort to create a utopian narrative of Canada isn’t racist.” 

That narrative itself is the problem why racism continues to thrive; when we aren’t able to acknowledge our own faults, and worse yet, when we refuse to hear the people who point them out because they are the ones most affected by our actions, we are perpetuating a system that tells us that a white voice is worth more than a black one.

That narrative itself is racist. We need to do something to fix it.