/Standing up and speaking out

Standing up and speaking out

From Shaman’s Rock

By Jim Poling Sr.

I’m starting to see why Canada is a racist country, and why it will continue to be. It’s us, the people. We do little to stand up and denounce racism when we see it.

And, we see it a lot. Here’s a recent example from The National Post, a Conservative Toronto newspaper seemingly unaware that socially traditional ideas supported by true Conservatives do not include saying whatever you want about anyone.

The Post, in a comment section on Gov.-Gen. Mary Simon’s travel spending, allowed one commenter to call her a cigar store statue – a clear reference to ‘cigar store Indian.’ Gov.-Gen. Simon is an Inuk from Nunavik with an impressive career as a broadcaster and advocate for Inuit rights, youth, education and culture.

The fact that someone would make such a racial comment about her is shocking. Doubly shocking is the fact that the newspaper allowed it to be published. Triply shocking is the fact that no one seems to have stood up publicly to condemn it.

The commentator also had racially-related words for former governors general. He said Michaëlle Jean, Canada’s first black governor general, was a woke Haitian diversity hire and Adrienne Clarkson, a Chinese-Canadian, was a hypocritical scammer.

The Post invites “lively but civil” comment on its articles. Its owners and its publisher should be asking their editor why he wasn’t doing his job in upholding the newspaper’s guidelines on comments. Readers should be demanding that the comments be removed.

It’s important that the media reveal spending by the governor general and that commentators criticize it when it is shockingly high. Like the $1.1 million spent on Gov.-Gen. Simon’s trip to the Middle East last year. But including her ethnicity in the criticism is straight out racism.

Racism is more frequent in Canada that most of us like to think. A few years back an Ontario Human Rights Commission survey found that 40 per cent of racialized people in Ontario said they experienced discrimination because of their race or colour.

Racialized young people in the 15 to 24 age bracket have an unemployment rate of 23 per cent, compared with 16 per cent for non-racialized youth. Also, racialized people tend to hold the lower paying jobs,

Governments and various anti-racism organizations talk about the efforts they are making to stop racism. For instance, the federal government is spending $45 million to fight racism and discrimination. The money has established an Anti-Racism Secretariat and is funding community-based initiatives such as seminars.

Presumably that is tax money well spent and will help educate many people about racism.  But truckloads of government money will not eliminate racism. More individual effort is needed by each one of us.

Most of us stay quiet when we witness racism. Someone casually makes a racial-tinged comment or a racist joke. We let it pass, afraid to be seen as condescending, or of embarrassing or shaming the speaker, who might have made the comment without fully thinking about its impact.

It might be more comfortable for everyone to simply let the comment pass, but as Dr. Martin Luther King once said “the appalling silence of the good people” is as damaging as the vitriolic words and actions of the bad.

We as individuals need to think about ways to confront racist talk without creating resentment that might make a person less likely to be more thoughtful about what they say.

Comebacks such as “that’s not been my experience” or “that’s a comment that makes me uncomfortable” tend to get a message across without creating embarrassment or causing an argument. Soft comebacks might even create an opening for a thoughtful conversation about racist talk.

Differences in people, such as skin colour and language, create opportunities for racism. They shouldn’t. People are simply people. 

In the end we are all basically the same. If we look back thousands of years we all had the same ancestors.

And, if we look ahead hundreds of years, migration and population mixing likely will have us all looking and talking much the same. 

Assuming the world lasts that long.