The Big Read: High time to talk about racism, but Singapore society ill-equipped after decades of treating it as taboo

Interesting long read, given Singapore’s early history and the efforts since then to “manage” its diversity:

When former national sprinter Canagasabai Kunalan and his wife, Madam Chong Yoong Yin, both 79, saw the viral video of a polytechnic lecturer making racist remarks to an interracial coupletwo weeks ago, they couldn’t believe their eyes.

The video evoked memories of 1964, when the couple were given the ultimatum by their families to end their relationship or leave their homes — because one of them was Indian and the other was Chinese — amid the racial tensions that were gripping Singapore.

“Singaporeans now are so educated … how can we still think like this?” said Mr Kunalan.

The racial riots between the Malays and Chinese in Singapore following its merger with Malaysia in 1963 plunged the country into nationwide violence. Houses were burnt down, the police were deployed to enforce curfews and people were beaten and killed.

Yet, even in the most uncertain of times, there were also people of different ethnic groups standing together regardless of race.

Older generations of Singaporeans recounted how people stepped up in solidarity when emotive racial conflicts shattered the peace.

Mr Kunalan, who was then a 22-year-old sprinter preparing for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, said: “The riots were happening in different areas in Singapore. Surprisingly, in my kampung (village), it was peaceful. There were no tensions at all. Or maybe we just didn’t know what was happening on the other side.”

Mr Lionel de Souza, 78, a former police officer who worked as a community liaison officer in Geylang during the 1964 racial riots, recalled how Singaporeans volunteered in droves for “goodwill committees” as well as the Vigilante Corps to help keep the peace in volatile areas during curfew hours.

Comprising an equal number of Chinese and Malay volunteers, they and Mr de Souza would patrol their beat in Kampung Kim Hong and talk to residents in coffee shops and town halls to help dispel suspicion between the different Chinese and Malay groups that were then segregated in different villages.

“There were allegations that people on one side were shooting fire arrows at the other, and rumours were flying everywhere,” said Mr de Souza of the situation then.

Singapore has since come a long way from those dark days of violent racial conflict, having taken early steps as a newly independent nation to abandon colonial-era race-based policies, and pledging to not let racial fault lines divide society.

Following its independence, the young Republic embarked on a unique path among nations of the time as a multiracial and multicultural country, one that affirms its ethnic diversity as a strength and recognises the rights of minorities.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, said in an interview with TODAY: “Many societies have had to wrestle with (race, racism and multiculturalism) around the world, but the place that multiculturalism has in our aspirations as a people is quite special. It is fundamentally why we became an independent country.”

Because of Singapore’s diverse society and the dynamics among the major cultural and ethnic groups, the topic of race is present in every discussion, every issue, and every policy.

“You need to then understand our social context, our historical context and our future in order to have a dialogue about race productively in Singapore,” said Dr Janil.

Yet, the topic of racism has returned to the fore once again following recent events, including the street confrontation between the Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer and an inter-ethnic couple as well as other viral videos of racially-charged encounters.

Commenting on the video, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had said in a Facebook post: “I used to believe that Singapore was moving in the right direction on racial tolerance and harmony. Based on recent events, I am not so sure anymore.”

Activists, community organisers and academics spoken to agree that the conversations of race need to move forward productively in the age of social media where tensions are inflamed easily.

And when the heat surrounding the recent incidents fades away, some good may emerge from these episodes if Singaporeans can understand the experiences of others and engage with each other in good faith, several said.

Associate Professor Chong Ja Ian, a political scientist from the National University of Singapore (NUS), said: “It is important, in my opinion, to identify these biases and stereotypes and understand where they come from and how they link to the various fears, anxieties, suspicions, frustrations that people have.

“Some of this will look ugly, but if we can start addressing them bit by bit, with understanding, there is a good chance we can move forward.”

Pondering about what the recent racist incidents say about the state and direction of Singapore’s hard-won racial harmony, older Singaporeans such as Mr Kunalan and Mr de Souza know that the stakes are high.

“We never want that (racial riots) to happen again, which is why we should all feel strongly about protecting our racial harmony,” said Mr de Souza.

WHAT IS RACISM?

The Oxford English Dictionary today defines racism as acts of prejudice, discrimination and antagonism by a person, community or institution against a person or people based on their race and ethnic identity.

And by this definition, racism is usually experienced by people from minority racial groups that are subjected to such acts of discrimination.

But as contributing writer Ben Zimmer for The Atlantic magazine wrote, even dictionaries had to revise their definitions about racism.

Before 2020, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary primarily defined racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”.

It was also defined as “a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles”. This secondary definition was refined to “the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another”, following the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States last year.

Mr Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, founding board member of the Centre for Interfaith Understanding (CIFU) in Singapore, said that racism is essentially formed from two components — that a race has essential traits and characteristics, and whether these are behind the inequalities and disparities between the races in society.

“Therefore, racism is any act, system or policy that appeals to or reinforces ‘essentialised’ perceptions of racial groups that strengthens the political, economic or cultural inequalities between the races in society,” he said.

Regardless of which definition is best, the debate of what racism is, and what makes an action or speech racist, has also emerged in Singapore in recent days.

In May, an Indian woman was called racial slurs and kicked in the chest by a Chinese man while brisk-walking along Choa Chu Kang Drive. He had insisted she wear a mask even though she was exercising.

A month later, Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer Tan Boon Lee was seen in a viral video confronting and making racist remarks towards an inter-ethnic couple, while proclaiming to be a racist himself.

Allegations by a former student that he had made Islamophobic remarks in class surfaced a week later. The polytechnic has since said it would sack Mr Tan, after completing investigations into the two matters.

Another video was uploaded the same week of a Chinese woman hitting a small gong repeatedly while an Indian man was ringing a prayer bell outside his public housing flat as part of his daily prayers.

But the debate about what constitutes racism grew loudest online in the case of Ms Sarah Bagharib, who had called out the People’s Association for using a cutout of her wedding photo — sans the couple’s faces — as part of Hari Raya decorations without her permission.

Netizens were split on the issue. Some claimed that the matter is not a case of racism but one of cultural insensitivity. Others were wont to point out that racism does not exist in Singapore, which prides itself on its multiracial society.

Another viewpoint was that the blunder was made because of a lack of understanding of the Malay culture that had stemmed from ignorance that needed to be dismantled.

As Dr Nazry Bahrawi, a senior lecturer at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, put it, two narratives have emerged about the state of race relations here — one says Singapore is racially harmonious, and another says that it is still not quite there.

“The first has been the official position reproduced on many occasions and in many spheres, while the latter is a position that has received less airing because it is perceived to be less valid, making those who raise it seem like they are troublemakers or have an agenda to divide society,” said Dr Nazry.

For race discourse to be productive, Singaporeans from all walks of life must first be able to establish that racist acts are not condoned by society.

“Because, if so, then it would be considered outlandish that people who call out racism are seen as playing the race card,” he said, adding that these people might be commenting from a position of privilege as they may not have experienced racism.

Asked about this, Dr Janil, who is also the chairperson of the non-profit OnePeople.sg (OPSG), said it is not a bad thing that there are people who state that they have never experienced racism or have never seen it happen.

The turning point is when they find out that because not everyone shares this view, they may be “energised” to improve the experiences of others, he said.

“The uncharitable view is to say ‘hello, wake up, you don’t know what’s going on and you don’t recognise (racism)… But the glass half-full version is, aren’t we lucky that there are some people who have actually had this experience in Singapore, it’s a sign … that maybe we’ve made some progress.”

Such views are also heard among people who participate in OPSG’s initiatives on race as well, especially among younger participants who have been “blessed with a positive experience about race”, but also could learn about the negative experiences of others, Dr Janil added.

The Singapore Government has taken the approach that racism exists here, he emphasised.

“What we want to be sure of is that our policies, our systems, our approach, is to understand that there is racism, and we must always push against it,” said Dr Janil.

Comparing indicators of racial and religious harmony from 2013 and 2018, a study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and OPSG in 2019 found that while racism exists, it is not widespread in Singapore.

Lead researcher Dr Mathew Mathews said about 10 per cent of Chinese respondents in the study and around 20 per cent of minorities said that they had experienced racial tension in the 2018 study. There was little change from the results of the 2013 findings.

“When asked about specific incidents, most cited they had felt insulted at how perhaps social/mainstream media had portrayed their race or cultural practices – so there is certainly some racism here, but it is not rampant,” said Dr Mathews.

WHY SOME STILL CONSIDER IT TABOO

On the other hand, some people felt that the recent spate of racist incidents is an indication that racism in Singapore not only exists but has been gathering speed for some time, though hidden from view because of a lack of discourse and the difficulty in detecting unintentional and unconscious forms of racism.

Dr Peter Chew, a senior lecturer of psychology at the James Cook University, explained that overt racism tends to be low in Singapore due to the function of laws that protect racial harmony here, such as the Sedition Act.

The Act makes it illegal for anyone in Singapore to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population.

Laws like these do well to keep overt racism in check but also have an effect of quieting discourse about race, he said.

“This reluctance could be due to a misunderstanding of what constitutes racism.

Anecdotally, some individuals think that talking about race or pointing out racist incidents is, by their very nature, racist,” said Dr Chew.

A 2016 CNA and IPS study, which was also led by Dr Mathews, found that two-thirds of respondents felt that discussions of race could lead to tension.

Raising such issues may be deemed “too sensitive”, and so issues about race and culture tend to be thought of as private matters rather than meant for broader conversations, said the researcher.

Agreeing, Mr Gosteloa Spencer, founder of community group Not OK SG, said this could be due to generations of Singaporeans suppressing talk of racism, discrimination, and racial inequality for fear of creating rifts among the different ethnic communities.

He believes it is this inhibition that led to casual racism, where people make jokes, off-handed comments, or exclusionary body language based on race. These acts also often go unnoticed and unaddressed.

“Just because it’s casual, does it make it okay to pass a racist comment?” he added. “Racism is racism, no matter what form it takes.”

Mr Sharvesh Leatchmanan, co-founder and editor of Minority Voices, which serves as a platform for minorities who have faced discrimination to come forth and share their experiences, said the concept of racial tolerance that is entrenched in the Singapore identity has also been problematic.

“Over time, this tolerance runs out … as can be seen from the recent acts of racism on social media. We need to move away from tolerance to acceptance and celebration.”

But while Singaporeans may have held back on talking about race in the past, some said that this is rapidly changing in the age of social media, where racially charged incidents can be quickly shared online and go viral.

And these incidents also encourage others to speak up and to call out racist acts publicly.

Mr Sharvesh, 24, said he received more than a hundred submissions from people sharing their stories of discrimination over the past week.

Ms Priyahnisha, who goes by one name, is the founder of non-profit organisation Mental ACT, which champions mental health services in the Indian community.

She noted the overwhelming response recently to any content on racism that she or her organisation put up on social media.

The 29-year-old full-time professional counsellor at a social service agency added: “As soon as we post, the likes, comments and shares really escalate and it has actually been way off the charts as compared to any of the other content we have put up in the past couple of months”.

The problem is that when people talk about race, their past inexperience means they lack the language and protocols needed to discuss it in a constructive manner, said those interviewed.

NUS’ Assoc Prof Chong said: “Singaporeans are not the best-equipped to handle such discussions because we have put them aside for so long.”

“But there are opportunities to learn … What is important is to not hastily conclude that the other side has bad faith, especially if the other party is engaging from a position of relative weakness and vulnerability,” he added. “It is through such engagement that we develop a vocabulary and approach suitable for our society.”

‘SAFE AND BRAVE’ SPACES … NOT JUST BEHIND CLOSED DOORS 

Earlier this month, Mr Jose Raymond started the Call It Out SG movement with three others to raise awareness of issues pertaining to race following the slew of racist incidents here. “This is simply a case of minorities saying that enough is enough and that racism is inexcusable,” he said.

“Perhaps in the past, when minorities faced racism, we didn’t have the tools to articulate ourselves properly or the courage to call it out. Now we do,” added the former Singapore People’s Party chairman.

The movement urges people to call out instances of racism that they see, and has gained momentum in the light of the recent incidents.

On the flipside, while the process of publicly calling for accountability and boycotting if nothing else seems to work, has become an important tool of social justice, Mr Spencer said it is difficult to control the extent of it and make sure things do not go out of hand.

Associate Professor Daniel Goh, an NUS sociologist specialising in race relations, noted that it is people’s “duty to call out racism when we see it”.

“The question is how we do it,” he said.

“We should do it in a respectful way that seeks to educate each other and deepen intercultural understanding, and the large part of the burden should not fall on the victims or members of ethnic minorities to do so, members of the ethnic majority should do so too.”

For more severe forms of discrimination, such as getting fired from a job, physical violence, or the shaming of ethnic minorities in a classroom setting, for example, victims should call for institutional and legal redress, said the former Workers’ Party (WP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP).

“The key calculus for me is how to balance education with redress, and my hope is that the victim is not alone in calculating this and can depend on witnesses and friends, especially those from the ethnic majority, for help and support,” said Assoc Prof Goh, who had stepped down from WP’s leadership due to health reasons but remains a party member.

Referring to the parliamentary replies to MP Faisal Manap (WP-Aljunied) earlier this year on the issue of the tudung, Assoc Prof Goh said the authorities rely on “back channels” for discussions and resolutions, and to manage racial relations in a pragmatic and careful way.

Mr Faisal had asked in Parliament whether the Government would relook allowing Muslim women in uniformed services to don the tudung. In response, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said the topics that involve racial and religious insensitivities have to be discussed away from the glare of the public.

Mr Masagos said this is because “public aggressive pressure” can only make compromise harder and any government concession to religious pressure would also cause other groups to adopt similarly aggressive postures.

Assoc Prof Goh highlighted examples of safe spaces where such issues could be discussed, such as the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles.

“A space is safe when all participants can come to speak confidently and freely of their experiences with the expectation that everyone will listen and seek deeper understanding as equals and peers, all in a respectful manner without fear of discrimination, harassment, criticism or emotional violence,” said Assoc Prof Goh.

But the Government would have to adapt to changing trends in internet culture, social media and social justice. He noted that for younger generations of Singaporeans, the internet and social media make up “the natural space for their articulation (on issues of concern) … not back channels”.

Mr Raymond agreed, stating that racism does not hide behind closed doors.

Responding, Dr Janil, who is from the ruling People’s Action Party, said there will always be a need for both public discussions and private dialogues.

“It is not an either-or. Race is a multifaceted issue,” he said.

OPSG, for example, has moved its activities online in the course of the pandemic. Despite the usual people-to-people nature of its engagements, it has been able to maintain participation rates and in some cases, reach out to new spaces for people to be involved in.

Outside of the non-profit, Dr Janil observed that in the last five years, there are already increasing numbers of Singaporeans engaging in the online space to push back against extreme views.

“(They are) basically saying, ‘hey look, here’s the middle ground, let’s find a way to bring peace to this’. So in that sense I guess they are trying to create some safe space online and it’s tough because the online space is often dominated by extreme views,” said Dr Janil.

Aside from safe spaces, CIFU’s Mr Imran also urged the creation of “brave spaces” for people to confront their own views while listening to the experience of those at the receiving ends of racism.

“A brave space involves the willingness to interrogate our own assumptions and take a stand to correct our inability to see privilege and other blindspots that we have. A safe space opens up the conversation. But a brave space ensures that the conversation becomes transformative and not a mere exchange of stories,” he said.

POLICIES WHICH SHAPED SOCIETY

In its history, Singapore has relied on a panoply of policies to maintain a harmonious state, and to ensure minority representation in the highest echelons of governance.

The Housing and Development Board’s Ethnic Integration Policy, for example, helps to ensure a balanced mix of various ethnic communities in public housing estates and prevent the formation of racial enclaves.

The four self-help groups — the Chinese Development Assistance Council, Eurasian Association, Singapore Indian Development Association and Yayasan Mendaki — were also conceived to build resilient communities.

The Group Representation Constituency (GRC) scheme, along with the reserved presidential election, was implemented to enshrine minority representation in leadership positions and Parliament.

These policies and laws are part of what builds a brand of “active and inclusive multiculturalism”, as described by then Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in 2017.

Such an approach is distinct from the “live and let live” mindset in many other countries, which has resulted in communities elsewhere that are living apart and also growing apart, he said.

The key is not to dilute or weaken the various cultures in the hope of developing a single, common culture, nor is it to strengthen each separate culture. The former will likely create a confused cultural identity, while the latter will not foster a strong national identity, Mr Tharman had said.

But following the recent spate of racist incidents, some people have also questioned whether it was still useful to retain the traditional Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) framework, the foundation on which many policies have been based upon.

Speaking in a webinar organised by Academia.sg website last week, Dr Lai Ah-Eng, an adjunct senior fellow associate at NUS’ University Scholars Programme, said the CMIO model imposes a racialised lens and tends to ignore “hybridities” such as mixed marriages.

“Do we throw out this CMIO framework as some people have argued for, or should we do a more reduced and careful referencing by ethnicity, bearing in mind that some groups at least still want their ethnic identities as part of a larger range of multiple identities,” said Dr Lai.

Associate Professor Anju Mary Paul, an international migration scholar from the Yale-NUS College, said in the webinar that the CMIO model serves as a neat and a simple model which helps people go about their daily lives.

“But as Singapore society becomes increasingly complex, this model is showing some strain,” she said.

As of 2018, more than one in five couples who tie the knot are in mixed marriages, according to official statistics.

Dr Nazry said it is important to understand that racism is not “natural” because race itself is a social construct, as many scholars have said.

“Now, this does not mean that the sense of belonging to an ethnic community is not real — this is influenced by our context, family, society and personal experiences.

“I think we can begin with the acknowledgement that diversity exists within our own ethnic community … This sounds simple, but it is not as practised as it should be,” Dr Nazry said.

Dr Janil said that the CMIO framework is a policy tool and should not be conflated with the goals of multiculturalism in Singapore. Any social policy or social intervention that is based on a racial categorisation will need such a framework, he added.

“You can remove racial categorisation from your (NRIC), but that is not going to prevent someone knowing what you look like when you sit across from them at an interview table or pass them on the street,” he said.

Experts said what is needed is a keener interest in each other’s cultures, which is something that has to be established from young.

Mr Mohamed Irshad, former Nominated MP and founder of interfaith group Roses of Peace, highlighted the importance of cultural education as a possible way to move forward in the race discourse.

“We know about all the different public holidays of various races and religious groups … Beyond that do people know the various non-public holiday events and occasions that the different racial and religious groups observe?” said Mr Irshad, 31.

“As a country, we can do a lot more in educating people about the various cultural nuances across various ethnic groups.”

Such engagement must be a constant effort in schools and workplaces, and not just something done on Racial Harmony Day, he added.

ROLE MODEL SOCIETY NEEDS TO FIND ITS OWN WAY, AGAIN 

Singapore may have come a long way from the 1964 riots to build a multiracial and multicultural society, but it is clear that this is always a work-in-progress for the country, said people interviewed.

Former national sprinter Mr Kunalan said he was thankful that even interracial marriages like his are celebrated now, despite the noise.

Though he believes this racial progress will continue, he is worried that recent cases of racism may fuel anger among Singaporeans.

“Because there was a lot of anger and when you have anger, there is always a danger that something might explode,” he added, speaking from his experiences back in the day.

CIFU’s Mr Imran reiterated that the stakes for Singapore are high: “We cannot allow racism to fester and divide society. Striving for racial equality even if it cannot be fully realised, is crucial. The national pledge that says ‘regardless of race, language or religion to build a democratic society’ should continue to be our guiding principle.”

With racial tensions flaring up in many countries today, there are also few positive examples of multiculturalism that Singapore can learn from.

Dr Janil said: “We took that unprecedented step in 1965 when we set out on this path … There is no one else with our unique history, and there’s no one else that has gone down this road before. But we have been down this road for many decades and we should learn our own lessons first.”

In 2013, former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong gave a lecture to the Singapore Academy of Law on the growth of multiculturalism in Singapore. He said that if demography is destiny, then Singapore’s destiny is to be a multicultural state.

“If its citizens are unable to share a common space suffused with shared values, the people will forever be unable to forge a nation that can survive and prosper,” Mr Chan said then.

In an email to TODAY, Mr Chan, 83, agreed that the recent racist incidents have highlighted how racism is innate in Singapore’s society. Positive dialogue is sorely needed to move the topic forward constructively, he said.

After decades of being held up around the world as a role model society for multiculturalism and multiracialism, Singapore seems to be at a crossroads — and it now needs to find its own way again, having blazed the trail for others.

Surely though, it is doing so from a position of strength, said several academics interviewed.

While some believe that the recent incidents reveal deeper issues that need to be addressed, there is little doubt that inter-racial ties in Singapore are built on a solid foundation, and Singaporeans also need to be careful to ensure that societal fault lines are not exploited by nefarious forces within and outside the country.

Looking back, media consultant Ian de Cotta, 62, attributed this foundation to the kampung spirit which had its heyday in the aftermath of the 1964 racial riots.

“Our neighbours’ doors were always open, even at night, and people would just walk in to chit chat and have coffee,” he said. “This kampung spirit that was so deeply rooted in our people was something that worked in Singapore’s favour.”

Agreeing, Mr Kunalan added: “To live harmoniously like in the kampung … there must be understanding and there must be forgiveness.”

With Singapore’s kampung days long gone, the younger generations would do well to remember the adage as they find their own way forward.

Source: The Big Read: High time to talk about racism, but Singapore society ill-equipped after decades of treating it as taboo

MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Yet more indication of the RCMP’s challenges with no easy or quick solutions:

It’s time for Canada to have a “reckoning” about the RCMP, says the chair of a House of Commons committee that studied systemic racism in policing.

John McKay, a Toronto Liberal MP and chair of the House public safety committee, said the Mounties are a globally known Canadian icon, but it’s time to acknowledge the RCMP’s “quasi-military” existence is not working for all Canadians.

“There is a season and a time for a reckoning for every country and its institutions,” McKay said at a news conference Thursday.

“This in my judgment is a time for Canada to have a reckoning with itself and with its premier institutions.”

The public safety committee began the study of systemic racism in policing in June 2020, after weeks of protests in Canada and the United States following the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

Floyd’s death also turned a spotlight on racism and police in Canada. Jack Harris, the NDP public safety critic, moved a motion to study systemic racism in policing on June 23, 2020, and the committee agreed. The report was issued Thursday, based on 19 meetings, testimony from 53 witnesses and more than a dozen written briefs.

The report says MPs on the committee can conclude only that “systemic racism in policing in Canada is a real and pressing problem to be urgently addressed.”

But the MPs also admit that this report is just the latest in a long list of studies and reviews that concluded the same thing, none of which led to much change.

Harris said Thursday “it is more clear than ever before that the RCMP needs transformational change” but is worried because he says the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “has a history of failing to act on reports.”

“The time is now to take serious and concrete action. The RCMP needs to move away from the paramilitary colonial model to a police service model with strong civilian oversight.”

The committee also calls for mandatory data collection on excessive use of force, better training on de-escalation and responding to people in a mental health crisis, more diversity in police forces and oversight bodies, and better funding for Indigenous police forces, including in urban areas with large Indigenous populations.

The MPs also want better parameters for when force is permitted to be used by police, and “serious consequences” for RCMP officers who use force excessively.

The Conservatives, in a supplementary report, urged more work on that front, saying it is not clear from the witnesses whether the problem is in guidelines for use of force, or a lack of training and enforcement regarding those guidelines.

The committee has requested that the government provide a “comprehensive response” to the report.

Moya Teklu, executive director and general counsel at the Black Legal Action Centre in Toronto, said the “most promising” recommendations in the report are decriminalizing simple possession of drugs, offering pardons to people previously convicted of simple possession, and ensuring police discretion to offer alternatives to the courts be used equitably for Black and other racialized youths.

She is less enthusiastic about the impact of more training and oversight for the RCMP, saying there isn’t much evidence they’ll help.

“Demilitarization is an important step,” she said. “But only if it also means spending less money on policing.”

Teklu said the report’s findings are not new for Black and Indigenous communities.

“An acknowledgment of the existence and reality of systemic racism at different levels of government is important,” she said. “A reduction in the Black and Indigenous prison populations, and a reduction in the number of Black and Indigenous people that are stopped, questioned, surveilled, arrested, beaten and murdered by police is more important. That is the real change we want to see.”

Quebec Liberal MP Greg Fergus, who chairs the Parliamentary Black caucus and participated in the committee’s study, agreed the existence of systemic racism is not a revelation.

But he said the committee has done valuable work in listening and responding to multiple witnesses who were able to speak about the issue in depth.

“What’s also new is that there’s a road map now, because of this report, this unanimous report of parliamentarians from all walks of life,” he said. They have laid out a very clear process forward to make the changes, “not only in the RCMP but in police services across the country which can be inspired by this.”

“That’s what’s new. That’s what’s important. That’s what’s necessary.”

Source: MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

The attack in London did not occur in a vacuum. It is a reflection of my city – and of Canada

Money quote:

“Every Indigenous issue is our issue. Every anti-Asian hate crime, every Islamophobic attack, should be seen as a crime against all of us. Every Black life lost senselessly is interconnected. Our colonial past is still affecting us in our everyday lives, making it easier for some to live, while others continue to suffer.”

A strong reminder of the need to focus on the commonalities of prejudice, discrimination and racism, that sometimes get lost in the legitimate concerns and fears of individuals and communities:

They were killed within walking distance of where I live. A Muslim family, out for an evening stroll.

I walk the same path they took, pray at the mosque where they prayed and even attended the same high school as the daughter. These faces I have seen as I grew up in this community – gone.

Heartbroken? Yes. Shocked? No.

London is my home. But hate, racism and Islamophobia have a deep history here. The Ku Klux Klan established a presence in London in 1872, sowing their hate within the fabric of our city. Fast forward to 2017, when an anti-Islam protest was initiated in this city by the Patriots of Canada Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA); roughly 40 members and supporters attended. London has been and still is a hot spot for right-wing extremism, Islamophobia and white supremacist activity.

Growing up in northwest London, my family was one of the few visible Muslims in our neighbourhood. Our home and car were targeted and vandalized monthly. Each time we would just wash off the yolk and clear away the shells, but the stench and fear remained. My parents were always putting on a brave face for their children, playing it down by telling us that it must just be some mischievous kids on the block. After reporting this to the police a few times we gave up, as nothing came of it. But I knew it worried them. They never wanted me to travel alone, especially at night. We had conversations about how the way I looked made me a target, how I needed to be more careful than other kids.

Years before Yumna Afzaal walked the halls of Oakridge Secondary School, my friends and I faced severe opposition from parents – and even some staff – who didn’t want us to create a safe space for Muslim students to practise their faith. This is my London, my Canada.

If we deny that we have a problem, then we will never address the root cause. This is not a lone attack or an incident that occurred in a vacuum. It is a reflection of our city and our country as a whole. Nor are Islamophobia, Indigenous rights, anti-Black racism and antisemitism separate problems. They are all a part of structures created from a colonial past. One that has benefitted from divide-and-conquer policies and depended on “othering” those who are different.

If Canada calls itself a mosaic, then that mosaic is under attack by those who want to destroy it with our blood.

Yet, there is always hope. Thousands attended the vigil at the London Muslim Mosque on Tuesday. People from all walks of life came out to show solidarity to the Muslim community – strangers assuring us, “we are with you, you are loved.”

Just as it took the support of one teacher to stand up as an ally and support the Muslim students at Oakridge Secondary School when I attended all those years ago, what this community needs right now is you. Every Londoner, every Canadian, needs to be an ally. Stand up against the overt aggression but also, perhaps more importantly, against the microaggressions and other forms of racism you have ignored for far too long in your daily lives. Do you speak or act differently when the person looks different than you? Do you politely ignore the racist, Islamophobic, antisemitic, anti-Asian or anti-Indigenous comments you hear from your colleagues, your extended family, your political party? Letting those seemingly big and little things go has brought us here, to this.

I have to commend Jeff Bennett, a former Progressive Conservative Party candidate for London West, for calling it out as it is. “We must take stock of the part we play,” he wrote in a widely shared Facebook post. “No more saying, ‘Oh grandpa is not really racist. He was just raised differently.’ Well that ‘differently’ is not okay. Canada has a racist, unacceptable history. It’s time we call it out, own it and take action.”

Every Indigenous issue is our issue. Every anti-Asian hate crime, every Islamophobic attack, should be seen as a crime against all of us. Every Black life lost senselessly is interconnected. Our colonial past is still affecting us in our everyday lives, making it easier for some to live, while others continue to suffer.

I hope my neighbours in London choose to stand up in solidarity and take action. I hope you all do.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-attack-in-london-did-not-occur-in-a-vacuum-it-is-a-reflection-of/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Globe%20Opinion&utm_content=2021-6-11_17&utm_term=The%20attack%20in%20London%20did%20not%20occur%20in%20a%20vacuum.%20It%20is%20a%20reflection%20of%20my%20city%20–%20and%20of%20Canada&utm_campaign=newsletter&cu_id=Rqd6QY2S4RGuLkori%2FBTxpYjpobGjy%2F8

Khan: The London attack reaffirms why Muslims often feel unsafe in their own country

Good commentary:

Every few years, I feel very vulnerable and unsafe. This is one of those times.

On Sunday, five members – three generations – of a Muslim family went out for a walk on a summer’s evening in London, Ont., an opportunity relished by many Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. For this family, it was a regular activity before returning home to offer the sunset prayer, according to a neighbour.

Yet this simple act of enjoying nature with one’s family is no more because of an act of pure, unadulterated hatred.

While waiting at a stoplight, Madiha Salman, her husband Salman Afzaal, 15-year-old daughter Yumna, nine-year-old son Fayez, and 74-year-old mother-in-law were allegedly rammed by a 20-year-old driver who, according to police and witnesses, deliberately accelerated his pickup toward the family, targeting them because they were Muslim.

Initially, police said the extended family requested to keep the victims’ names private, but the family identified them in a statement Monday. Only Fayez survived. Now an orphan, he is recuperating in hospital.

What kind of world are we living in?

For Muslims, it is unfortunately one where the slow drumbeat of hate-filled violence has become louder. The 2017 Quebec City massacre, in which worshippers were gunned down at a mosque – a place of spiritual refuge – shook all of us to the core.

As a nation, we vowed to fight the scourge of Islamophobia. Muslims wondered if a visit to their local mosque might be their last. Such was, and is, the fear. Enhanced safety features – including screened entries and guards – became the uneasy norm.

Yet this was still not enough back in September, when 58-year-old Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was killed outside an Etobicoke, Ont., mosque by an apparent white supremacist. Mr. Zafis was a volunteer caretaker of the mosque he cherished. On that fateful evening, he sat outside, controlling entry to the mosque in compliance with COVID-19 protocols. The accused perpetrator slipped behind Mr. Zafis, slashed his throat and fled.

Violence is happening all over the country. This year alone, there have been multiple reported assaults in Edmonton, where strangers have threatened Muslim women. In at least five cases, women were pushed, kicked and/or punched in public.

Calgary has similarly witnessed numerous cases of assault against Muslims; three involved women physically attacked in broad daylight because of their hijab. Understandably, the women have been emotionally and physically traumatized.

And now, a family has been killed in London. Is it any wonder why Muslims – especially women – don’t feel safe?

Yet this country is far greater than the hate-filled zealots who seek to intimidate, sow fear and spread the bigotry that fuels them. The outpouring of grief and support from Canadians has been a balm to the shock felt by Muslims across the land.

Since the news came out about the attack, I have received heartfelt messages of support, including the following from my friend and colleague Myriam Davidson: “It breaks my heart,” she wrote. “The best I have is we are here standing with you. There is no place for Islamophobia in our communities – it is despicable. Whenever a synagogue gets attacked – what brings me comfort is when non-Jews speak up, call it out and reaffirm that we are an inclusive society where this is not tolerated. So I’m modelling the best I know how.”

And that is the key: reaching out the best way each of us can. Our society will be stronger for it. While Muslims will rely on their faith for spiritual succour, we will need emotional support from others to overcome our fears and to know that we are valued members of the Canadian family.

There are many ways to help. Some Muslims are fearful to go for a simple walk, so offer to accompany them. Donate to a fund for nine-year-old Fayez. Attend a vigil. Perhaps the most powerful gesture is to simply say, “I am here for you.”

Last week, I was mesmerized by the haunting, powerful rendition of O Canada by Winnipeg folk singer-songwriter Don Amero, accompanied by Elders Wally and Karen Swain, prior to a Habs-Jets playoff game. While Mr. Amero sang, I asked myself: “How does he have the fortitude to sing an anthem of a country whose government, for 150 years, committed cultural genocide against the Indigenous peoples of this land?”

I know I could not. Yet Mr. Amero taught me something that resonates today, which is that the power of love, of resilience, of dignity always conquers bitterness.

We will come together – whether it is to address deep-rooted historical prejudices against Indigenous communities, or contemporary hatred against minority communities. Let us dig deep into the well of human compassion to continuously build a more just, inclusive society.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-london-attack-reaffirms-why-muslims-often-feel-unsafe-in-their-own/

Contrasting commentaries on the London killings

Contrasting commentaries, starting with Rupa Subramanya, who while providing perspective on racism in Canada and how it also exists between minority groups, downplays the extent of racism and Islamophobia. Noor Javed provides a useful counterpoint on her lived experiences:

There is certainly no question that hate crimes against many minority groups — including Jewish, Muslim and Asian Canadians — have been on the rise recently. Statistics Canada found that police-reported hate crimes increased in 2019 from the previous year, and reports of anti-Asian hate crimes have surged throughout the pandemic.

A 2019 Ipsos Reid poll found that 26 per cent of respondents believed that prejudice against Muslims had become “more acceptable” in the previous five years. This compares to 21 per cent for refugees, 23 per cent for immigrants as a whole and 15 per cent or less for other minority groups, including Indo-Canadians and Jewish-Canadians.

Any evidence that racism is on the rise is deplorable and every racist incident must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. However, Singh does the cause of fighting racism no favours by taking an extreme and exaggerated position that I, as an immigrant and person of colour, cannot agree with. Are there racists in Canada? Sure. Is Canada a racist country? Absolutely not.

Source: No, Jagmeet, Canada is not a racist country. It’s one of the most tolerant places on earth

Noor Javed, on her lived experiences:

In the early morning hours, the day after the most recent terror attack in Ontario, I couldn’t sleep.

It was still dark when I got out of bed and did the only thing that would comfort my heart: I prayed for the Afzaal family — Salman Afzaal, Madiha Salman, 15 year-old Yumna, her grandmother, Talat, and nine-year-old survivor Fayez. The family were intentionally run down by a truck in their hometown of London, Ont., on Sunday as they took an evening stroll in their neighbourhood.

They were the victims of what police are calling an anti-Muslim hate attack.

I cannot help thinking about my own experiences with Islamophobia as a visible Muslim journalist in the so-called “most diverse city in the world.”

Nothing I experienced compares to the trauma faced by the family and friends of the Afzaal family — including Fayez, who will live with this horrific incident and the loss of his family forever. Or the family of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, who was murdered last year by a neo-Nazi in Etobicoke as he sat outside the International Muslim Organization mosque. Or the children who buried their fathers in Quebec City after the mosque shooting in 2017 — and the many survivors who are still struggling to cope in its aftermath.

But the many incidents of Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim hate as I prefer to name it, that I have faced have weighed down on me over the years. They have affected the career choices I have made. They have impacted my mental health. They have deeply hurt me — and still do.

When I tried to list all the incidents of hate that I have experienced since I became a journalist — both in my job and on a day-to-day basis — I hit 30 before I stopped. I could have gone on.

There is an unspoken code that journalists of colour quickly learn when they start in the profession: if you want to survive in this industry, you must have thick skin.

When I got my first barrage of hate mail as an intern at the Star 15 years ago, and turned to a colleague for support, he looked at my hijab and said: if you want to survive, you will need to have Teflon-like skin. Let the hate bounce off you. Don’t let it stick.

But the truth is, even when you tell yourself it doesn’t impact you, it still does.

Every email in your inbox with someone telling you they hate you because of your hijab.

Every letter calling you a “dirty raghead.”

Every tweet telling you to go back to where you came from.

Every person who walks by and whispers “You’re disgusting.”

Every smear campaign calling you a terrorist.

Every time someone doubts your news judgment because you are a “lying Muslim.”

Every time someone asks if you were a token hire.

Every time you go to the public editor, nearly in tears, when the hate gets too much to bear.

Every time you realize that your colleagues enjoy the luxury of white privilege, their names and skin colour affording them a protection that you have never had — and never will.

I will stop there.

You look for ways to cope. But the hate slowly chips away at you and at the idea that we have been so conditioned to believe: How can this be happening here in Canada, the most accepting country in the world?

Let me tell you: It’s been happening for years. The hate is not new. And neither is the violence.

But the haters have gotten more brazen. More hateful. More organized. More dangerous.

So when the Afzaal family was killed for just being Muslim this week, it broke me.

Years of online hate, of politicians benefiting from anti-Muslim policies, of pundits spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric, of trolls questioning if our pain was even real, has done exactly what it was meant to. It turned people against us. It has led them to hate us so much that they want us dead.

This week, I had a conversation that I never imagined I would have with my children, ages seven and 10. I had feared telling them about the incident, but they saw the cover of the newspaper and asked me what happened in London on Sunday night.

I sat them down, and told them about a beautiful family, who looked very much like our own, who went for a walk, but didn’t make it home.

They looked at my tears, and my hijab, and shared their thoughts: “That’s so scary.” “I don’t ever want to cross a street again.”

And then came the hard questions:

“Who will take care of the little boy?”

“Why would that man do that to them? Could it happen to us?”

“Are you scared, mama?”

I’m not scared, little ones. I’m tired.

Source: ‘Are you scared mama?’: Years of anti-Muslim hate chip away at you. The killing of the Afzaal family in London broke me

David Olusoga on race and reality: ‘My job is to be a historian. It’s not to make people feel good’

Thoughtful interview:

History’s purpose isn’t to comfort us, says David Olusoga, although many in the UK seem to think it is. “History doesn’t exist to make us feel good, special, exceptional or magical. History is just history. It is not there as a place of greater safety.”

As a historian and broadcaster, Olusoga has been battling this misconception for almost two decades, as the producer or presenter of TV series including Civilisations, The World’s War, A House Through Time and the Bafta-winning Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners. His scholarship has been widely recognised: in 2019, he was awarded an OBE and made a professor at the University of Manchester. (He is also on the board of the Scott Trust, which owns Guardian Media Group.) Yet apologists for empire, in particular, like to dismiss him as a “woke historian” in an attempt to politicise his work or flatly deny the realities that he points out.

Now he can expect more flak, thanks to the new edition of his book Black and British: A Forgotten History.

First published in 2016, and made into a TV series the same year, the book charts black British history from the first meeting between the people of Britain and the people of Africa during the Roman period, to the racism Olusoga encountered during his own childhood, via Britain’s role in the slave trade and the scramble for Africa. It is a story that some of Olusoga’s critics would prefer was forgotten.

Hostility to his work has grown since the Brexit vote, shooting up “profoundly since last summer”, he says, speaking over Zoom from his office in Bristol. “It has now got to the point where some of the statements being made are so easily refutable, so verifiably and unquestionably false, that you have to presume that the people writing them know that. And that must lead you to another assumption, which is that they know that this is not true, but they have decided that these national myths are so important to them and their political projects, or their sense of who they are, that they don’t really care about the historical truths behind them.

“They have been able to convince people that their own history, being explored by their own historians and being investigated by their own children and grandchildren, is a threat to them.”

A recreation of the Empire Windrush at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012
‘You have to have a real tenure in the country to play your ancestors’ … a recreation of the Empire Windrush at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012. Photograph: Lee Jin-man/AP

For Olusoga, 51, this hostility can in part be explained by ignorance. “If you were taught a history that the first black person to put his foot on English soil was stepping off the Windrush in 1948, then this can seem like a conspiracy,” he says.

But there is a deeper issue at play. “If you have been told a version of your history and that is part of your identity, it’s very difficult when people like me come along and say: ‘There are these chapters [that you need to know about].’ People feel – wrongly in my view – that their history is being undermined by my history. But my history isn’t a threat to your history. My history is part of your history.”

When the book was published in 2016, it ended on a hopeful note. Olusoga was writing just a few years after the London Olympics, in which a tantalising view of Britain emerged – a country at ease with its multiculturalism, nodding with pride to the arrival of the Windrush generation in 1948. Black Londoners dressed up as their ancestors for the opening ceremony, “with long, baggy suits, holding their suitcases”, says Olusoga. “You have to have a real tenure in the country to play your ancestors.” That moment, he says, was profoundly beautiful.

But that upbeat note has begun to feel inaccurate – an artefact of a more optimistic time. In the new edition of Black and British, which includes a chapter on the Windrush scandal and last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, Olusoga describes that moment in 2012 as a mirage. The summer afterwards, vans bearing the message “Go home or face arrest” were driven around London as part of Theresa May’s notorious “hostile environment” strategy, aiming to make the UK inhospitable for undocumented migrants. Thousands of people who had lived legally in the UK for decades, often people who had arrived from the Caribbean as children, were suddenly targeted for deportation.

In 2020, protesters in more than 260 British towns and cities took part in BLM protests, thought to be the most widespread anti-racist movement since the abolition of the slave trade. A statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol; a Guardian analysis suggests about 70 monuments to slavers and colonialists have been removed, or are in the process of being removed, across the UK.

But this movement for racial justice has been met with a severe backlash. In January, Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, said he would introduce laws to protect statues from what he called “baying mobs”. The government’s recent review on racial equality concluded controversially that there was no institutional racism in areas including policing, health and education, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

“I’m really frightened about the future of this country, and frightened about people using forces of race and racism for electoral reasons and not being cognisant about how difficult it is to control those forces after elections have been counted,” says Olusoga. “I’m really frightened about the extent to which people are able to entirely dehumanise people who they deem to be their enemies in this culture war.”


Olusoga was born in Lagos in 1970, to a white British mother and a Nigerian father, moving to his mother’s home town, Gateshead, at an early age. As one of a handful of mixed-race families on the council estate where they lived, they were regularly terrorised by the far right. The violence culminated in a brick being thrown into the family’s home, wrapped in a note demanding they be sent “back”. He was 14. Eventually, the family had to be rehoused.

His early experience of education was also distressing. “I experienced racism from teachers in ways that are shocking if I tell them to young people at school now,” says Olusoga. He was dyslexic, but the school refused to get him tested until he did his GCSEs: “It was the easier story to believe that this kid was stupid because all black kids are stupid.” When he finally got his diagnosis and support – thanks in large part to his mother’s fierce determination – Olusoga went to study history at the University of Liverpool, followed by a master’s degree at Leicester.

Olusoga was confident about having two identities, despite the prejudice he had encountered. He was proud of being a black Nigerian of Yoruba heritage and was perfectly happy being part of his mother’s white working-class geordie tradition. But he has always had a third identity.

“I’m also black British – and that had no history, no recognition. It was presented as impossible – a dualism that couldn’t exist, because whiteness and Britishness were the same thing when I was growing up. So, to discover that there was a history of being black and British, independent from being half white working-class and being half black Nigerian, that was what was critically important to me,” he says. His book does its best to uncover that history, exploring the considerable presence of black people in Britain in the age of slavery, as well as the part played by black Britons in both world wars.

He says that some of the aggression shown towards black historians who write honestly about Britain’s past comes from people who think “this history is important because it gives black people the right to be here”. They hold on to the belief that the UK was a “white country” until the past few decades and refuse to accept evidence that shows the presence of black people goes back centuries. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand what drives him and also why this history is important for black people.

“I don’t feel challenged in my right to be proud to be British,” he says. “I’m perfectly comfortable in my identity. I’ve looked at this history because it’s just exciting to be part of a long story. This comes out of wanting to enrich life, not seeking some sort of needy validation of who I am.”

He found it refreshing to see the UK’s history of empire and colonialism acknowledged in last summer’s anti-racist placards, with one popular slogan stating “The UK is not innocent”. “A generation has emerged that doesn’t need history to perform that role of comfort that its parents and grandparents did,” he says.

As for black people’s experiences in Britain, he says, there is a “hysterical” level of anger if you point out that many have lived in some form of slavery or unfreedom. Recently, historians have uncovered notices of runaway enslaved people or advertisements for their sale. This adds to the evidence that thousands of black people were brought to Britain, enslaved as well as free.

“It brings slavery to Britain and therefore undermines the idea that it doesn’t really matter because it happened ‘over there’,” says Olusoga. “It short-circuits an idea of British exceptionalism. And there are a lot of people for whom that idea of exceptionalism is a part of how they see themselves. I’m really sorry that the stuff I do and that other people do is a challenge to that, but my job is to be a historian. It’s not to make people feel good.”

Olusoga is often accused of pursuing a political agenda. He is asked, for instance, why he doesn’t speak about the Barbary slave trade of the 16th to 18th centuries, in which Europeans were captured and traded by north African pirates. He has a simple response: that he has been trying to get a programme made about it for his entire career and it is finally happening.

He gives another example: “I have been accused literally hundreds of times of ignoring the slavery suppression squadron that the Royal Navy created after 1807.” Its task was to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the coast of west Africa. “I think the chapter in Black and British about that is 30,000 words, which is as long as some books.”

What his more extreme critics fail to understand, he adds, is that he is loyal to history and not a political agent. He remains committed to one goal: to uncover the stories of those who have long been deemed unimportant. When he wrote his first book on the 1904-08 Namibian genocide, he went to mass graves where he saw bones sticking out of the ground. “We promised the victims of that genocide that we would be their voice, we would fight for them and we would tell their story – and we use every skill we have to do that.

“I care deeply about people who were mistreated in the past. I care about the names on slave ledgers, I care about the bones of people in Africa, in mass graves in the first world war and in riverbeds in Namibia. I care about them. I think about them when I read the letters, when I look at their photographs and their faces. No one gave a damn about them. That’s my job – to care about them. And I will be ruthless in fighting for them.”

Source: David Olusoga on race and reality: ‘My job is to be a historian. It’s not to make people feel good’

Buckingham Palace’s Institutional Racism Revealed in Damning Unearthed Documents

Of interest:

Less than three months ago, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry accused an unnamed member of the royal family of having asked a racist question about the likely color of any of their then-unborn children’s skin.

In response, Prince William told reporters, “We are very much not a racist family.”

However, British newspaper the Guardian today revealed that the monarchy has explicitly employed racist hiring practices and that it continues to claim a special exemption from British equality legislation.

Source: Buckingham Palace’s Institutional Racism Revealed in Damning Unearthed Documents

Central Park ‘Exonerated 5’ Member Reflects On Freedom And Forgiveness

Of note (the film depicting their story, When they see us, is well worth watching)

In the memoir, Better, Not Bitter, Salaam reflects on his wrongful conviction and his efforts to forgive those responsible for his vilification.

“You have to be able to forgive so that you can cut yourself from the ball and chain that’s holding you back,” he says. “It has nothing to do with the individual who harmed you, but everything to do with yourself.”


Interview highlights

On how the boys were forced to give false confessions

I remember when I was [at the precinct] with Korey [Wise] hearing him getting beat up in the next room. I remember hearing him yell out, “OK, OK, I’ll tell you!” And he made, if I’m not mistaken, four completely different confessions, four completely different ones. And the one that he implicated me in, they played at my trial and all we wanted to do was go home. This was a nightmare. We were delirious with hunger. We were delirious, because time was passing and we didn’t know what time it was, just a whole nightmare of the whole situation and I think what happened is, after a certain point, you break and in the breaking point, you say anything that will allow you to get out of that.

On the advice his mother gave him — which led him to not initially agree to the police’s narrative

[My mother] told me something that’s very important. And I think that the thing that she told me is something that I tell people often. She said to me, “Stop talking to them.” And then she said to me, “They need you to participate in whatever it is that they’re trying to do. Do not participate. Refuse.” And for me, it was one of the most powerful learning tools that I could ever imagine, because here I was on my own, being told to stand my ground and being told in many ways that it’s on me. “I can’t come into the room with you. I can’t fight for you. You have to fight for yourself. But I need you to know that whatever you do, they’re trying to get you to participate in your own destruction.”

On being in danger in prison because of how high profile his case was

I think all throughout our case, there was a knowledge of who we were. It was very difficult for us to hide. I’m saying “hide,” because we wanted to be anonymous, but we had been convicted of this heinous crime. We have been vilified in the media. Over 400 articles [were] written about us within the first few weeks. And our faces were on every single front page of every newspaper in New York City for a very, very long time. So by the time we got to prison, the inmates had already known who we were. …

You’re told the worst crime that you can go to prison for is rape. The only crime that trumps rape is child molestation. And then you feel all of the tension, all of the negative [energy] … you feel that, and you’re walking through that in these prisons and here are killers around you. Here are [rapists] around you. Here are child molesters around you, and they want justice. They want to do to you what you have been convicted of.

On his feelings toward the police and prosecutors who put him behind bars

The overwhelming feeling that I have towards the police and prosecutors is that they knew that we had not done this crime. They knew it, but yet they chose to move forward. They built their careers off of our backs, and the law of karma caught up to them. And they never imagined that they would have to contend with these crimes that they committed — because these are crimes. They’re supposed to be the upholders of law and they have things like prosecutorial immunity. But they were involved in prosecutorial misconduct. No one wants to be in a situation where the people at the highest level in life are the ones who are the most criminal. We want those people to be the most upstanding. They have to hold that truth in their minds and hearts as they move in the justice system because they’re changing people’s lives. … The people who are supposed to uphold the law, it is criminal when they do the exact opposite of that.

On his healing journey

We’ve been able to make leaps and bounds in our healing, in our adjustments into society, but at the same time, it’s still there lurking in the background. The awful experience that we should have never gone through is really always the cloud over our heads. But the cool thing about it is that we now know how to deal with those emotions. We now can say, “This is how you get through any prison that you may be going through,” whether you’re physically in bondage or not. Making the choices that are meaningful, taking the time to breathe, meditating, creating vision boards, all of those things are necessary.

They say the imagination is the precursor of what’s to come, and so if you can imagine a future that is brighter than the one that you’re growing through — and I’m saying “growing through” on purpose, because when you get to that point, you realize that you’re not just going through something, but that you’re being prepared for greatness, that you need to know the lows in order to appreciate the highs in life. I think that when I look at my story, being able to look at it from the outside gives me the tremendous opportunity to describe in full what it is that I had gone through, and then going back in and being a participant in my growth and development is important because you have to marry those two things together. And it’s that that causes you to step forward with tremendous hope in the future, with tremendous faith in the future, knowing that it can only get better and not get worse.

Source: Central Park ‘Exonerated 5’ Member Reflects On Freedom And Forgiveness

‘A deal to be silent’: Public servant paid to keep quiet about discrimination on the job

An annual government report on public servant NDAs would be helpful, which could provide some breakdowns on the nature of complaints, departments and amounts to help identify overall problem areas that should be addressed. Given that Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary Greg Fergus is on record as favouring more information, the government should act:

A Black federal public servant who launched a racial discrimination complaint against the Canadian government says she felt uncomfortable signing a gag order because she feared it could further entrench a culture of silence around racism within the bureaucracy.

“I was signing a deal to be silent about the discrimination I’ve been through,” said the woman, whom CBC/Radio-Canada has agreed not to name because she fears losing her job. “Throughout my entire career, I noticed colleagues, mostly white colleagues, getting privileges that I didn’t.”

The woman said the federal government paid her several thousand dollars in exchange for withdrawing the racial discrimination complaint.

Radio-Canada obtained a copy of the legal document, which was initialled by both the employer and the woman’s union. It contains a confidentiality clause preventing her from speaking out about the racism she says she experienced on the job.”They’re putting a price on it,” she said. “It’s completely inadequate, and those agreements are immoral and they need to stop.”

The woman said the agreement did resolve her specific issue, which she chose not to disclose because she worries it could identify her. However, she said the agreement did little to address the bigger problem of systemic racism within federal departments.

Around 800 current and former Black public servants have launched a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, alleging it has discriminated against Black employees for decades. It was filed with the Federal Court of Canada in December, but the government has yet to file a statement of defence.

The suit, which has not been certified, accuses the government of excluding Black employees from promotions.

‘Making the problem invisible’

Such agreements cover a range of issues from racial slurs to workplace harassment.

Doug Hill, a grievance and adjudication officer for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) in Halifax, said about 70 per cent of the complaints he handles are resolved through settlements that contain a similar confidentiality clause. He also said the compensation offered sometimes goes well beyond the maximum $40,000 that can be paid under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

“There is no maximum amount” when it comes to the federal government, Hill said.

But critics say these arrangements are problematic because they cover up the real problem instead of addressing it.

“By making the problem invisible we’re making the victims invisible, and we basically have no precedent to build on and no lessons to learn,” said Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) in Montreal.

Every year, the non-profit civil rights organization helps about 200 people who are victims of discrimination based on race, gender or disability. Niemi said often, people don’t realize the implications of signing an agreement that includes a confidentiality clause.

“Sometimes the complainant or the victim goes alone, feels very much pressured into signing something that that person may not be able to fully understand,” he said.

Need for transparency

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos directed Radio-Canada to his parliamentary secretary Greg Fergus, who said he believes these agreements are only acceptable if they are signed at the request of the complainant.

“You want to really recognize that the problem happened, you want to be transparent so you can fix the problem so that we can go ahead and create a better public service,” the Liberal MP for Hull–Aylmer said.

Fergus, who also chairs the Caucus of Black Parliamentarians, said the government needs to keep more detailed data regarding complaints that are withdrawn after the complainant signs a confidentiality clause.

“We can’t change things if we can’t measure them,” Fergus said.

Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/public-servant-signs-deal-to-withdraw-racial-discrimination-complaint-1.6041139

The two pandemics of anti-Black racism and COVID-19 are tied together

Long, somewhat rambling read, stronger on the diagnostique than policy responses.

I would argue more inequality/inequity than anti-Black racism given the groups affected (see https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/24/briefing/vaccination-class-gap-us.html with respect to vaccines but applies more generally):

It has been a year.

Almost one year ago, on May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Protests ignited in Minneapolis and then spread quickly to cities across the United States and around the world, withestimates indicating that these were the largest, most diverse and longest-lasting protests in North American history.

They heralded a massive shift in public support for Black Lives Matter, bringing the pervasiveness of anti-Black racism and calls to defund the police into broader public consciousness. Although police officers are rarely held to account for the deaths they cause while on duty, Mr. Chauvin was charged and convicted by a Minneapolis jury of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

But without the viral video of Mr. Chauvin’s public killing of Mr. Floyd,recorded by a 17-year-old child who to this day has nightmares about being unable to help, the outcome would likely have been very different. The original statement by the Minneapolis police department indicated that Mr. Floyd resisted arrest and was handcuffed by officers, who then noted that he “appeared to be suffering medical distress,” without mentioning an inkling about Mr. Chauvin’s deadly use of force.

The trial revealed that Genevieve Hanson, an off-duty firefighter trained in CPR, begged the officers on the scene to let her help and was rebuffed, as were other bystanders. Law enforcement professionals, including Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo, broke the usual blue wall of silence to make the case that Mr. Chauvin’s actions were excessive and unwarranted.

Throughout the trial, Mr. Chauvin was depicted as a rogue officer who disobeyed his training and disregarded established protocol. A bad apple who went too far.

It has been a year. More than a year, in fact, of living through, with, in fear of and in spite of COVID-19. The initial lockdown in March, 2020, was followed by a brief summer respite and then another, deadlier resurgence of the virus beginning in December, 2020, more contagious variants, and the imposition of stricter curfews and stay-at-home orders, depending on where in Canada you live.

The pandemic has revealed a national crisis in long-term care, initiated talk of vaccine passports, demonstrated the precarious labour conditions of low-wage, “essential” workers, generated outbreaks among vulnerable homelessand incarcerated populations, catalyzed mass evictions, forced a mass exodus of more than 200,000 women from the Canadian labour force, brought working parents and other caregivers to the brink of exhaustion, and multiplied the negative mental health effects of social isolation for school-age children.

Even as vaccinations finally roll out, we do not know what the long-term effects of this pandemic will be on our economy, our politics or our social fabric.

In all that we’ve lived and lost this past year, we cannot think of these two phenomena – anti-Black racism and COVID-19 – as separate. Both are global, though nationally textured. Both had the potential to be mitigated by decisive government action or accelerated by epic government failure. Both are simultaneously individualistic and systemic. Both have exposed the cracks in our national moral consciousness about the definition of the common good. And both are existential threats that fuel death, degradation and destruction within our sociopolitical ecosystems.

But the two pandemics are not just similar, they are interlocking, and have wrought havoc on racialized communities across the continent.

Despite the assertions by some politicians that the virus “does not discriminate,” it is now settled scientific wisdom that the burden of disease in the COVID-19 pandemic in North America disproportionately falls on racialized communities.

National data collected in the United States shows that Hispanic/Latino communities are overrepresented in COVID-19 case counts, and Black Americans are overrepresented in deaths because of the disease. It is a bitter irony that, upon his death, it was revealed that Mr. Floyd had tested positive for COVID-19.

While similar national-level data does not exist in Canada, the patchwork of local health units and provinces that have decided to track racial disparities in COVID-19 rates tell a similar story. In Toronto, Black residents are 9 per cent of the population, yet represent 14 per cent of COVID-19 cases and 16 per cent of hospitalizations. The case rates for South Asian/Indo-Caribbean communities and Latin American communities are two to three times higher than the average rate across the city, respectively.

The virus is brutal in its efficiency – it feasts on the social fissures created by the mistreatment of, and divestment from, racialized communities

We now know far more about the mechanisms of this divestment than we did a year ago. The separation of our labour forces into those whose employers provide the flexibility to work from home, and those who are “essential,” demonstrate how intertwined race and class are in deciding who lives and who may die in this pandemic. To be an “essential” worker in 2021 is counterintuitive: The products of one’s labour are invaluable, but employers and policy makers alike treat the workers themselves as disposable.

The comforts that have made urban, middle-class life bearable during this upheaval – two-day shipping from online retailerscurbside pickup from grocery stores, open daycares, and take-out delivered hot and fresh via food delivery apps – operate by exposing an underpaid and predominantly racialized work force to the virus, often without proper protection or additional compensation.

Canada’s caregiving professions are right at the heart of this distressing hierarchy. Personal support workers and nurses, many of whom are Filipino women and who are working under Canada’s Caregiver Program, have been blamed for infecting patients despite the harrowing working conditions caregivers experience on the front lines of the hardest-hit sector of our society: long-term and in-home care.

Once exposed to the virus, these workers are often forced to continue to work because most provinces do not offer paid sick leave, and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit offered by the federal government creates a series of barriers to accessing minimal financial support.

These contradictions and binds are evidence of what researchers have termed Canada’s colour-coded labour market on red alert. Gaps in wealth, employment rates and average employment income between racialized and white Canadians are persisting or deepening.

Beyond inaction, the two pandemics expose how politicians scapegoat certain communities to avoid taking responsibility for the social and political problems the lawmakers’ incompetence has exacerbated.

From Ontario Premier Doug Ford blaming “international students” and lax border controls for a third wave of COVID-19 that emerged, in large part, from industrial and manufacturing settings, to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney using assumptions of South Asians recklessly holding big family gatherings in Calgary to explain case bumps in the city, politicians across the country find it easier to blame the racialized “other” than to reckon with their own policy decisions.

Even leaders of the Atlantic provinces, vaunted internationally for their management of the pandemic, have leapt at the opportunity to harangue Black residents for alleged breaches in public health orders – even when they have no official basis to do so.

The rationale behind this discriminatory framing appears to be simple: It works. The public (or at least the portions of the public these leaders envision as their supporters) respond to the protective, coercive powers bestowed upon policy makers in a public-health crisis so long as there is an enemy toward whom they can direct frustration and blame for this chaos.

We see this trend taking hold in the rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada, and especially in British Columbia, where nearly one out of every two people of Asian descent experienced at least one racist action in 2020.

By making the never-ending series of lockdowns a manifestation of the personal failings of a few interlopers, these leaders direct attention away from the social, medical and political institutions we have allowed to erode. The racialized other becomes the imagined vector of disease, masking compounding policy failures that have been decades in the making.

These stigmatizing narratives are also reflected in the ways Black and Indigenous patients, in particular, are treated in our health systems. Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman, suffered racist abuse from hospital staff in Saint-Charles-Borromée, Que., as she lay dying. This atrocity emerges from the continuing violence of internal colonialism, which is premised on a racial calculus that considers the lives of Indigenous peoples to be less valuable than those of settlers.

Similarly, the death of Mireille Ndjomouo at the hands of attendants who disregarded her basic medical needs is indicative of a clinical context in which Black women are ignored and mistreated. The message sent, implicitly or explicitly, is that Black and Indigenous people are unruly and in need of control in clinical settings, lest we cause havoc as we perish.

Adding to this messaging is the choice by some jurisdictions to avoid collecting race-based health data about COVID-19 to support targeted interventions and vaccination programs in the communities hardest hit by the virus. This occurs despite demonstrable evidence to suggest that collection of race-based data prompts equity-oriented decision-making at a local level.

Instead, support for racialized communities is often left to advocates, clinicians and other professionals on the front lines of battling the virus who have long recognized that a race-conscious approach to health promotion and vaccine distribution will be key to breaking the pandemic’s hold on communities across the country.

The systematic neglect that afflicts Black communities in particular prompts a sense of distrust in public-health systems that is reflected in the much-debated “vaccination hesitancy” that Black Canadians show. One look at community-centred vaccination clinics in Upper Hammonds PlainsRexdale or Montreal-Nord shows that the work of dedicated doctors, nurses, social workers and community volunteers disrupts these facile narratives.

When people feel heard and cared for, they show up to get vaccinated in droves. Far too often, however, these community voices are disregarded to no one’s benefit.

The two pandemics have also exposed how quickly policymakers turn to policing and punitive measures as a response to any kind of challenge. Mr. Floyd’s murder, as well as the police-involved deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore that occurred in the subsequent months, are part of a perpetual backdrop of violence committed by police forces against Black and Indigenous people.

It is worth noting, as many have, the origins of the police in slave patrols of the 19th century and that the original purpose of the RCMP – then the North-West Mounted Police – was to remove Indigenous peoples from their traditional territories.

But the police are deadly to Black and Indigenous people in the here and now, and that alone is a solid foundation for recent calls to defund – and abolish – the police. These sustained and vigorous organizing efforts have made significant advancements across North America: from removing resource officers from schools in Peel Region and an $11-million cut over two years to the police budget in Edmonton, to a 33-per-cent cut to police budgets in Austin, Tex.

Despite these important milestones, however, policy makers have tended toward either maintaining or increasing police budgets. In Minneapolis, talk of abolishing the police force has given way to modest cuts and accusations of obstructionism by the mayor. Meanwhile, city councils in HalifaxSaskatoonand Winnipeg all increased police budgets, while Calgary’s council gave the police more money than they were seeking.

That these budget increases emerged during COVID-19 despite unforeseen opposition indicates how much the pandemic has facilitated the radical expansion of police surveillance across the country, complete with “snitch lines” that encourage citizens to report their neighbours for protocol violations.

This shift toward “policing the pandemic,” as detailed by Alexander McClelland, an assistant professor of criminology at Carleton University, and Alex Luscombe, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, illuminates the racialized framings that underpin the enforcement of public health emergency legislation. Using police officers to enact orders under the pretext of protecting public health has worked in Hamilton to suppress dissent in tent cities against those very same forces, while enforced curfews in Montreal have led to fines for workers who are deemed to be flouting the rules – even if they carried authorization letters with them.

This approach looks less like health promotion as outlined in the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, signed at an international conference organized in collaboration with the World Health Organization in 1986, and more like the deepening of a web of carceral institutions that abolitionist activists have warned us about for years.

We see a similarly troubling expansion of these carceral powers under the pretext of public health within Canada’s prisons. While some provinces wisely decided to release low-risk offenders at the behest of advocates to prevent devastating COVID-19 outbreaks in jails, prisoners in federal facilities have been subject to extended COVID-prompted “isolations” that may breach international standards for torture.

Not only have these cruelties proven ineffective to mitigate the sweeping outbreaks in many federal facilities, but they are also an outcome of the insufficient preventative measures taken in federal institutions to prevent the spread of the virus in the first place.

In times of crisis, it is intuitive for the citizenry to tacitly assent to restrictions that might otherwise seem like government overstep. A year ago, the idea of mask mandates, group size restrictions or curfews seemed ludicrous. And yet, here we are; the legitimacy of these measures is contrived from their careful design and the democratic promise that they are to be universally applied, limited in scope and temporary in nature.

But there is an acute danger to the amplification of carceral logics, punitive measures and police authority: It is far easier to expand power than it is to contract it. Even if we are able to conquer COVID-19 in the foreseeable future, it is unlikely that newfound police powers will be readily or willingly relinquished. “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Frederick Douglass said in 1857. “It never did and it never will.”


Finally, the two pandemics raise an unavoidable moral question of how we understand social solidarity and the common good. COVID-19 has exposed not just cracks in our social fabric, but chasms.

The policy decisions that have been made during this moment of crisis were about much more than public health. They were, at base, about how we see ourselves as a collective, what we think we owe each other, who deserves to be protected, who should be shown care and concern, who must repel state violence and economic exploitation at every turn, and who must try to fend for themselves.

From the earliest days of the first wave, governments asked us for individual sacrifice for the common good. We changed our lives to protect this imagined community of people we have never seen or met. Our children didn’t go to school, we lost jobs, we didn’t get to bury our loved ones – all in the name of the common good.

And then we watched the video of George Floyd being tortured for eight minutes and 46 seconds. We collectively bore witness to a public lynching in the year 2020, committed by those sworn to protect and serve the common good.

One year ago, cities erupted as ordinary people took to the streets, in protest of the revelation, new to some, familiar to others, that the “common good” is commonly racist. For a moment, it seemed as though a racial reckoning, 400 years in the making, was at hand. For a moment, there was a spark of understanding that though public health and public safety are core functions of government, they frequently involve responses by the state that do more harm than good.

For a moment, there was wider recognition of the duplicitous treachery of a benign discourse of multicultural nationalism while vulnerable populations were immobilized or unable to shelter in place. For a moment, the reckoning seemed possible and then even likely, the public’s captivation genuine and sincere, as if the collateral damage of the pandemic wrought a collective aspiration that we might be able to substantiate a different kind of world on the other side of these entwined tragedies.

But it is now a year later, and we’ve been here before. These moments nearly always prove to be temperamental and temporary.

White American support for Black Lives Matter peaked at 43 per cent last June; that support has now dipped back down to around 37 per cent, the same level as when Mr. Floyd was still breathing. A full 50 per cent of white Americans currently oppose the movement altogether. The rebellions wrought by ordinary folks taking to the streets have been monetized and commodified.

Hollow statements against some kind of amorphous conceptualization of systemic racism have become an effective marketing strategy. Our collective memory of the uprisings has been sanitized to be more palatable to moderates, profitable to the professional class, and sanctioned by the same levels and forms of state power that continue to simultaneously ravage and neglect Black lives and communities.

Sure, steps have been taken and declarations made. Last month’s federal budget announced the government would take steps to fight systemic racism and empower communities. The same document provided an additional $75-million over the next five years to the RCMP to combat systemic racism, even as many are coming around to the idea that the police cannot be reformed, and racism cannot be extracted from the protectorate of the social order.

This is the core tension between a year of tentative and cautious optimism and the well-earned pessimism borne from decades of disappointment with just how fleeting these moments can be.

The two pandemics are interlocking, existential crises, but only one has been treated with the level of urgency required to make a real difference. The onset of COVID-19 was met with the mobilization of the scientific community, accelerated vaccine development, the advent of complicated provincial response systems and on-the-ground co-ordination of entire communities to ensure accessible testing and orderly vaccine distribution. With a little more than a year of decisive action, unprecedented investment, and individual and community sacrifice, we are turning a corner.

The same is not true of the other pandemic, 400 years in the making and still a formidable, resilient and deadly force. Anti-Black racism, and the white supremacy that underpins it, is an existential threat to us all. It fosters social, economic and ecological ruin through division and exploitation. It requires as transformative and all-encompassing an effort to disrupt it as did COVID-19.

The two pandemics were not spontaneous, or even unprecedented, really. Anti-Black racism did not “erupt” in the past year and cannot be resolved by book clubs, equity, diversity, and inclusion trainings and task forces, or good intentions. White supremacy operates at the core of our society and has done so for centuries. We’re not out of the woods; not by a long shot.

When COVID-19 strikes, individuals do not recover easily. Some have damaged organs or permanent lung problems, while others have mental-health issues that arise from the grief, loss, isolation and fatigue. Even for those who have not been ill, our lives have been forever altered.

The new variants of COVID-19 continue to mutate, transform and defy our efforts to bring an end to the pandemic. The toll on human life in this country – 25,000 dead, 1.2 million recovered and 1.3 million currently sick – weighs heavily on our collective consciousness.

The durability and long-term effects of the disease, the way it exposes the precarity and vulnerability of human life, the way it seeps into your mind, body and soul and messes with how you live, breathe, walk, act and exist in the world – this is also the delirious trickery of racism.

There will be no return to normal, after this. Besides, as the incomparable poet Dionne Brand wrote last summer, what kind of person would mourn the normalcy that killed Mr. Floyd? After a year, we are still in a moment of flux, but also a moment ripe with potential.

This is what the late sociologist Stuart Hall might have called a “politics without guarantees.” We cannot be certain that what will emerge in this reconfigured, postpandemic world will be any kinder or more egalitarian than any previous iterations.

There is nothing that guarantees the moral arc of the universe will ultimately bend toward justice. Overcoming the two pandemics will require struggle and vigilance; building the world we envision will take more than a year.

Tari Ajadi is a PhD candidate in political science at Dalhousie University.

Debra Thompson is an associate professor of political science and Canada Research Chair in Racial Inequality in Democratic Societies at McGill University and author of the forthcoming book The Long Road Home.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-two-pandemics-of-anti-black-racism-and-covid-19-are-tied-together/