Driven to distraction by racism, we mourn the people we could be

A reminder that all is not sweetness and light in Canada with respect to acceptance of our diversity, even if most indicators confirm that we are doing a relatively better job than elsewhere:

A particular Toni Morrison quote springs to mind as the world continues to engage with Donald Trump’s latest cruelty.

“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

Through a tweet aimed at four freshmen Democrats – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley – the U.S. President mused: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”

All four racialized women are U.S. citizens, and with the exception of Ms. Omar, were born in the United States.

Although the tweet is consistent with his specific brand of racism and xenophobia – a Muslim ban, you’ll recall, was a top priority for him after he was elected – Mr. Trump somehow lowered the bar on how you can counter criticism from your opponents, and it is worrying what kind of precedent this will set for other people in power. But focusing on the women he views as extreme can also be seen as an attempt to distract from the larger issues.

So we must not lose sight of these facts, as his tweets draw the ire of a stunned audience: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began raids last weekend in an effort to round up about 2,000 undocumented immigrants ordered by the courts to be removed from the country. Mr. Trump’s Labor Secretary Alex Acosta resigned last week, as criticism grew over a 2008 plea deal he gave to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Both stories were dominating the news before Mr. Trump unleashed his latest racist tirade.

And while we watch the more explicit outbursts of racism in the United States, Canadians risk being distracted from what’s happening here in our own country. We are not immune to people being singled out because of their race and religion.

Random ID checks by immigration officers in the past week in Toronto have alarmed migrant advocates. The number of hate crimes in Canada reached an all-time high in 2017, largely driven by incidents against Muslim, Jewish and black people, according to Statistics Canada.

Then there’s the other noxious way in which we are distracted: Racism and xenophobia slowly chip away at one’s self-confidence and sense of self-worth. When you are made to feel like you don’t belong enough times, it adds an additional layer of weight of fear, self-doubt and paranoia as you try to make your way through your daily life interactions: as police officers walk by you, as you pray at your mosque, while you are in meetings, and as you take public transit.

“Go back to where you came from” is a phrase as intensely familiar to immigrants as the open blue sky. It was directed at me as I walked down the hallway of my school when I came to Canada at the age of 10, as I strolled home on a beautiful spring day wearing a hijab as a teen. Instead of enjoying the lovely breeze, my mind would wander to scary thoughts, such as whether or not I would be attacked. Its impact, as potent as being called a Paki, has been ingrained on my psyche and tints the lens through which I see the world today.

Targeting people based on their race has real consequences on their livelihood, their ability to contribute to the public discourse and their sense of connection to their immediate surroundings, resulting in a lack of social cohesion. In a study conducted by the University of Arizona, 18.2 per cent of black participants reported emotional stress from perceived racism while 9.8 per cent reported physical stress. The numbers were significantly lower among white participants of the study; 3.5 per cent reported emotional stress, while 1.6 per cent reported physical stress.

Racism disempowers the people it’s directed at; it’s a distraction, as Toni Morrison said, a soul-sucking threat to our collective progress. And there is simply too much work to be done, too many policies to change and too many laws to be challenged to afford to sacrifice any person who is forced instead to spend any amount of time or energy defending their right to belong.

Sometimes I wonder what it might be like to not get distracted by the racism and microaggressions I experience. Would I be bolder and braver? Would it increase my sense of belonging? How does it feel to go about your daily life without carrying all these experiences?

I wonder if even these four powerful women, feeling obliged to respond to the remarks at a news conference, on social media, and likely for longer than the life of this controversy on its own, felt that way too.

Source: Driven to distraction by racism, we mourn the people we could be: Samra Habib

What Canada needs now: a strategy against hate: Elghawaby

Amira Elghawaby, the communications director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), with her suggestions on what should be done to combat anti-Muslim activity:

Yet the events of the past few days, both the terrorist attacks and the apparent backlash, must reinforce our commitment to ensuring Canada remains one of the happiest places on earth—for everyone. Our history shows that we have to work for the country we want.

How should we do this?

First, the federal government should immediately partner with Canadian Muslim communities to fashion an effective strategy to combat extremist narratives. This new brand of terror promotion is a contemporary phenomenon that few know how to tackle. The previous government did provide limited funding for an initiative called Extreme Dialogue which highlights the experiences of a mother of a young Canadian who was killed fighting overseas for extremist groups and the experiences of a former white supremacist. There was also some funding provided to explore community resilience through workshops and public fora. We need more of this, implemented strategically across the country.

Second, community stakeholders must come together to find new ways to teach about acceptance and to promote multiculturalism. Again, leadership is key: for example, provincial ministries of education must ensure that teachers are using the resources that national organizations like MediaSmarts and others provide to ensure curricula are taught through a lens that allows young people to identify stereotypes and to challenge popular misconceptions. We need to create safe spaces for our increasingly global classrooms.

Third, police services must bolster hate crimes units and their responses. Victims are often reluctant to report and it’s important to provide both adequate resources and support. Perpetrators must also be swiftly brought to justice.

Fourth, Islamophobia must be considered as offensive and as socially unacceptable as any other hatemongering out there, whether anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia or sexism. This means that even in political discourse, there must be a responsibility to ensure that questions about refugees, for example, are not giving people license to air anti-Muslim sentiments and fuel suspicions about people fleeing the very same type of terror we witnessed in Paris.

Fifth, it’s time to take the Islam, out of ISIS. Most of the world calls this terrorist movement Daesh and ISIS has been widely condemned by Muslim scholars and institutions worldwide. Muslims and Islam should not be synonymous with a group of barbaric criminals. It hurts our communities, it hurts our children, and it only bolsters their false claims. Even law enforcement agencies agree that language has the power to cast suspicion over entire communities, and provide a veneer of credibility to the terrorists’ claims.

Finally, Canadians must choose “love over fear,” to echo the touching sentiments expressed in a Montreal metro earlier last week by three young men who posted a video of their solidarity. Holding each other’s hands, a Muslim originally from Egypt, his friends from Paris and New York, did what many Canadians must do now—defeat the extremist narrative by coming even closer together.

I would also add to her list: maintain the Statistics Canada annual report on police-reported hate crimes (with the shift of multiculturalism to Canadian Heritage, this should be a priority).

Source: What Canada needs now: a strategy against hate |

2013 Hate Crimes Statistics

Hate Crimes Comparison.001

Interesting that in 2013, the number of hate crimes fell by 17 percent, reflecting a 30 percent decline in non-violent hate crimes (mainly mischief-related). For most groups, the per capita rate remained relatively constant, with the most notable decline with respect to Canadian Jews.

B’nai Brith statistics (2014 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents) however show an increase compared to earlier years (their statistics are always higher than police-reported hate crimes).

The National Council of Canadian Muslims recently launched a similar initiative to report on anti-Muslim incidents (NCCM Launches National Hate Crimes Awareness Project) to encourage more reporting (hate crimes against Canadian Muslims increased in this year).

The explanation for the overall decline in reported hate crimes is not clear beyond that it is the minor hate crimes that account for most of the decline.

While self-reporting by different groups is important to raising awareness of, and improving confidence within groups to report hate crimes to the police, there is merit to the consistent reporting  across different groups and categories contained in this report by Statistics Canada.

The EKOS poll: Are Canadians getting more racist?

Interesting contrast with annual CIC tracking survey which continues to show stable support for current levels of immigration as per chart below:


Questions of race and religious dress have rarely been ballot box issues in Canada. Now, however, they appear to be the key factors behind major shifts in the voter landscape.

Visible minorities and Immigration - Ekos

Canada has absorbed a large number of visible minority immigrants over the past twenty years, turning us from a largely white society with ancestry drawn from Britain and France to an extremely heterogeneous one. Initial deep reservations about immigration dropped consistently over that period as we became more diverse. The public embraced the ideal of multiculturalism; dire warnings about ethnic enclaves and a fading national identity never came true. Our research over that period shows national attachment remained very high in Canada, while ethnic identifications actually dropped.

It’s useful to remember how far apart public opinion in Canada and the United States was following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In both countries there was a sharp, immediate rise in opposition to immigration. In Canada, however, that trend soon dissipated, reaching an all-time low around 2005 — when only 25 per cent of us said there were too many immigrants and less than one in five said that too many immigrants were visible-minority. In the U.S., the level of opposition to immigration was nearly three times higher. Canada remained a nation open to the world: pro trade, pro-immigration and pro-diversity. This seemed to confer both social and economic advantages.

Recent polling shows opposition to immigration has nearly doubled since 2005 and is threatening to crack the 53 per cent level we saw in 1993. Not only is opposition to immigration in general scaling heights not seen in twenty years but the number of Canadians saying we admit too many visible minorities has just cracked the 40-point ceiling for the first time ever.

…When we look at how attitudes on immigration and race spread out among the main federal parties, a pattern emerges. Liberals and New Democrats have no cause to be smug; fully one-third of their supporters think too many of those coming to Canada are visible minorities.

But it’s the Conservative party — which owes much of its current success to wooing votes from new Canadians — that seems to have the problem. Jason Kenney, to his credit, wants new Canadians in his party’s corner. But half of the people who support his party would prefer to see fewer non-white immigrants.

Frank Graves of EKOS polling has some startling new numbers

Libre opinion – Le racisme masqué | Le Devoir

A nuanced opinion piece on the questions related to more rigid or more flexible approaches to laicisme by Marie Darrieussecq, including the difficulties in communication with women wearing the niqab (full face covering), and the links to racism and fear of the “other”:

Je précise que je suis aussi peu pour le port du voile ou du foulard que pour l’exposition de femmes nues dans tous les kiosques à journaux de France et de Navarre (ou du Québec). Pourtant, si je suis contre le voile intégral — cet effacement du corps féminin du domaine public comme un objet sale ou « trop » attractif —, je suis beaucoup plus mesurée sur le foulard. Car ce que masque ce débat obsessionnel en France, c’est surtout un racisme vivace. Frantz Fanon repérait dès les années 50 comment l’idéologie raciste isole des éléments coutumiers chez l’autre pour les ridiculiser ou les monter en objets de menaces, en phobies. Mettre en exergue sans aucune nuance le port du voile — ou l’abattage halal —, c’est non seulement réduire les Arabes de France à un rite religieux, mais c’est une des stratégies pérennes du racisme.

Dans le contexte colonial, il s’agissait en effet, pour mieux asservir la culture de l’autre, d’en garder des bouts folklorisés, comme un rappel constant de ce qu’étaient les colonisés et dont les civilisateurs allaient les « sauver ». La même logique continue aujourd’hui : les anciens colonisés menacent, selon le fantasme, de nous envahir. Pour faire consister cette peur irrationnelle, on isole quelques éléments chez l’autre pour discréditer globalement le « barbare » en lui : regardez comment il voile son cheptel de femmes, comment il abat sa viande ! Et c’est bien pratique aussi de laisser croire que la menace sur les femmes vient surtout de l’extérieur…

Libre opinion – Le racisme masqué | Le Devoir.

Jackson Doughart: Canada’s scary intolerance obsession

A good discussion on freedom of speech and intolerance by Jackson Doughart. While I would not go quite as far as he does in his arguments, excessive political correctness is  harmful to society. So enjoy your Halloween.

Doughart comes up with his own variation of Godwin’s Law:

Perhaps we need a construction of our own to fight back against the commonplace manifestation of the intolerance obsession. The industry of manufactured offense, after all, has produced a replete share of inanities, including the recent campaign to remove the imagery of Hallowe’en in schools because of its purported intolerance. This is a silly non-issue, but one which shows how the tolerance doctrine has become the universal solvent into which all public arguments are dipped. And as the case of Professor Somerville shows, the use of the bigotry label as a means of censoring disagreement is far from unimportant or ineffectual.

Enter what we might call Doughart’s Law, or the “reductio ad bigotrum”, which declares any person who accuses her political opponent of bigotry or intolerance as the loser of a debate. Once a person has been caught, the argument is over. Just imagine how much more congenial and effective public discourse would be if empty accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and so on, were off limits.

Jackson Doughart: Canada’s scary intolerance obsession | National Post.

When the Patient Is Racist –

A more open discussion than one normally sees on racism and discrimination on the front lines of healthcare. While our hospital has an appropriate code of  on rights and responsibilities, Your rights and responsibilities,  it is a challenge to implement given the number and variety if people being seen, time pressures, the health and psychological pressure on patients, and the normal human wish to avoid conflict.

No excuse for bad behaviour of any sort but understand why doctors and other medical staff may prefer to duck and move on to the next patient.

When the Patient Is Racist –

Asian, white-sounding names preferred by landlords over Hispanic, black names: study

Similar to blind cv studies, where people show preference and prejudice in interviewing decisions, this study shows some of the same issues with respect to renting.

Asian, white-sounding names preferred by landlords over Hispanic, black names: study.

Statement – Minister Kenney issues statement recognizing the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Funny language – ‘unjust racial discrimination’ begging the question, what is ‘just’ racial discrimination.

Statement – Minister Kenney issues statement recognizing the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Evaluation of Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism

The final death knell of more of a ‘feel good’ initiative than substantive program, although some elements (e.g., hate crimes statistics) continue to be of ongoing use and relevance.

Evaluation of Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism.