Racism. It’s a hot topic because the examples of racist brutality against Black and Indigenous people have become undeniable – many are proven by on-the-spot videos. Hordes of citizens in both the USA and Canada are protesting systemic racist police brutality and murder, many are rioting, and many riots are accompanied by looters taking advantage of the disorder and violence, and much of the violence is being spawned by the very police forces whose actions led to the protests.
Racism raises its ugly face in Canada, and probably everywhere else too. We can all think of many examples, current as well as historic.
It’s depressing to contemplate the many, many divisions on which human beings base an irrational hatred, or contempt, and ignorance of others – people who are “not like us” in one (or more) of many different ways, and too many feel free to abuse them because of it. People of different religions, people of different ethnicities, people of different skin pigmentation, people of different political leanings, people of different income levels or education levels, people of different sexual orientation, people with different world-views. We don‘t trust them, whoever they are. We don’t want to live near them or socialize with them. We don’t want to hire them or have our children associate with them or (horrors!) marry them. We don’t want to talk to them, or recognize that they too have value, and feelings. We’d rather denigrate them and convince ourselves that they’re not as intelligent as we are, not as enlightened, filled with cruelty, depravation, evil impulses – just not worth knowing. And so on.
Really, we’d rather just cozy down surrounded by people just like us and exercise our freedoms and our privilege, and keep on sneering at those who are not like us. And when I say “we” – I mean, far too many of us, in all of the groups mentioned above: race, creed, ethnicity, skin pigmentation, sexual orientation, world-view, political leanings, and so on. I’m not just talking about whichever group happens to be dominant in a particular place. Oh, there are those of the missionary bent – those who want to go out and convert the ignorant heathens to their own, different brand of superstition, to a different kind of politics, or subject them to some other form of conversion. Because our way is the best way, right? -- whoever we happen to be.
Right now, racism is a more prominent problem than our many other forms of xenophobia. Just witness those above-mentioned riots provoked by racism-based police brutality and killings.
Respect is key
Each human being, in my opinion, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. No one should be judged and treated badly just because of who they are. When I worked in a medium-security federal penitentiary several decades ago as the arts & crafts instructor, the inmates quickly learned that I treated them with respect and expected respect from them. Yes, they had all been convicted of crimes … who knows, some of them perhaps unjustly; but whether they deserved to be there or not, and most of them did, treating them badly would not exactly improve their attitudes, would it?
Anyone may have to earn a person's friendship by being friendly and wanting to know them as a human being, but everyone deserves respect and opportunity.
Rossland’s peaceful anti-racism demonstration on Friday afternoon, June 5, 2020, heard its organizer, Greg Harrison, speak and invite others to share their stories – and some did, recounting examples of racism in action that they had seen or experienced. To read the words Harrison spoke, click here.
Rossland Mayor Kathy Moore also spoke; her brief speech can be found at this link.
Voices and signs were raised demanding “Defund The Police.” Whether or not one agrees with that idea, it’s worth considering why people are suggesting it. Demilitarizing the police could be a move in the right direction; why do our police need tanks? Why do our police need riot gear? Why do we have levels of civil unrest that warrant – or can be used to justify – that level of armament? Are we quietly accepting a society that thinks this is normal? Would government funds be better invested in dealing with the root causes of the civil unrest – the inequality, the racism? And speaking of inequality, would it help to raise more funds from taxing the wealthy at levels that were commonplace several decades ago?
Why do so many police officers resort to shooting people who seem more in need of mental-health care?
And why do so many of the privileged stand by and do nothing when a racist incident occurs – such as the 84-year-old Asian woman with a walker who was recently tripped and knocked to the pavement by a young white woman in Vancouver – while others just ignored the incident, and the plight of the elderly woman lying on the ground?
Our racism is systemic. That means it is an ingrained part of our culture, and our society largely accepts it as normal. We can change that, little by little.
De-normalizing racism can happen at the grassroots level – when a person who witnesses a racist act intervenes and lets the perpetrator know it’s not OK to act that way. And provides such moral support as may be possible, and acceptable, to the target of the racism. Or bullying. De-normalizing racism also needs to happen in our bureaucracies, in our police forces, in our justice system, in our medical system, our welfare system – in every system.
We all need to do our part.