It is more or less always true in social justice conversations that if you’re talking more than you’re listening, you’re fucking up. This is particularly true when you’re advocating for a group you don’t belong to. I realized that I was guilty of this a few months back, particularly when it came to aboriginal Canadians. While I think the challenges faced by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Canadians are criminally underdiscussed, what I failed to realize is that the root cause of this is the absence of aboriginal voices in the conversation. If nobody takes your contributions seriously (or worse, you’re not even provided a platform to contribute at all), then even if your problems are addressed, they are done so in an extremely paternalistic and often half-hearted way.
And I was doing that.
Luckily, technology allows me to do something about that, so I put out the call on Twitter, asking for accounts from aboriginal persons, preferably those that discussed political realities and interpretations of news items. A trickle quickly became a flood, and my ‘following’ list exploded. This doesn’t mean that hey now I am magically allowed to talk at length about stuff, but it does mean that I’m slightly more aware of stuff than I was before.
And it’s a good thing too, because something’s happening right now: … Continue Reading
Having studied a tiny bit of mechanics, I find the subject extremely useful in explaining things like privilege, racism, sexism, and many of the other concepts that are the keys to reading this blog. You simply cannot successfully solve problems in mechanics without being able to recognize all the forces at play on an object, whether it be still or in motion. Failure to account for an extant force, or adding a force that does not exist, will result in you reaching an erroneous conclusion about the behaviour of whatever body is under observation.
Similarly, one cannot look at human behaviour or the impact of institutions and systems without taking all the relevant factors into account. When we allow ourselves to succumb to our privilege (or, put another way, when we fail to account for all of the forces acting on us), we draw conclusions that are not based in reality. We make decisions based on those conclusions, and on our predictions of what consequences those decisions will have. Failure to recognize either or own privilege or the prevailing forces of racism, misogyny, cissexism, heterosexism, you name it, will result in the creation of rules and systems that have unintended results.
Sometimes those results are disastrous and tragic: … Continue Reading
One of the recurring memes that crop up in many discussions of ‘what is to be done’ with Canadian First Nations is the idea that multiculturalism in its current state is unsustainable, and assimilation is the only answer. My response to that is inevitably “you might be right. When do you plan to start assimilating?” You see, the argument is never that non-Aboriginal Canadians should begin to adopt the cultural, religious, and social traditions of Canada’s original people. The argument is always that those who have been colonized should, for their own good, simply acquiesce to the destruction of their way of life because, y’know… we’re bigger than them?
Of course I find this position both absurd and offensive. The problems we see endemic in many First Nations communities – lack of opportunity, abject poverty, substance abuse, take your pick – are not the result of a failed policy of multiculturalism. Nor is it the fault of those people who fail to adopt a “Western”* way of thinking and living. No, the reason we see these problems is because those people with power have failed, time after frustratingly-frequent time, to uphold their end of the bargain when it comes to providing adequate resources and support to these communities. When First Nations Canadians are perpetually considered the ‘other’, ignoring them and their needs become a matter of course.
Which is why I am particularly intrigued by this story: … Continue Reading
The first album I ever bought was Public Enemy’s Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black. I don’t remember how old I was, but I couldn’t have been older than 8 or 9. This album is a classic and sparked a wave of ‘conscious’ political hip-hop that would be nearly drowned out by the explosion of the gangsta genre and the rise of the west coast some years later. At an age that young, I didn’t really understand most of what was being said – after all, I was growing up in the mountains of British Columbia. I’d never even seen a ‘hood, let alone understood the suffering of the people who lived there. It would, therefore, take me several years to understand the track “1 million bottlebags”:
Malt liquor bull
What it is, is bullshit
Colt 45 another gun to the brain
Who’s sellin’ us pain
In the hood another up to no good
Plan that’s designed by the other man
But who drink it like water
On an’ on, till the stores reorder it
Brothers cry broke but they still affordin’ it
Sippin’ it lick drink it down, oh, no
Drinkin’ poison but they don’t know
How could I connect, at that age, under those circumstances, to the helpless rage Churck D was trying to articulate at seeing his friends literally drink themselves to death? And in true Chuck style he pulled no punches in laying the blame (and the bodies) at the feet of predatory liquor companies who flooded black neighbourhoods with advertisements, targeting young black men with their substandard and unsafe product. Combine that with the widespread poverty and accompanying ambivalence toward the suffering of black people by the American government, and it’s no wonder that Chuck was so furious. Good thing those days are over, eh? … Continue Reading
One of the great tragedies of my life is that while I love language, I can barely find enough time to write as much as I want, let alone read. There are writers out there like Teju Cole, Amanda Marcotte, Jamelle Bouie, Sikivu Hutchinson, Touré, Greta Christina, Tim Wise, and countless others whose ability to work the language makes me feel like a rank amateur, scribbling with my own feces on the wall of a cave*. From time to time though, I manage to get myself organized enough (or, more often, I decide to let another aspect of my life slide enough) to read the latest offering from my favourite writers, but more often I watch yet another masterwork sail past me, like I was a goldfish intently watching Shark Week.
Happily, today was one of those days when I managed to scrape together a few minutes, and I was rewarded handsomely:
But it would be wrong to attribute the burgeoning support for Zimmerman to the blunders of Spike Lee or an NBC producer. Before President Obama spoke, the death of Trayvon Martin was generally regarded as a national tragedy. After Obama spoke, Martin became material for an Internet vendor flogging paper gun-range targets that mimicked his hoodie and his bag of Skittles. (The vendor sold out within a week.) Before the president spoke, George Zimmerman was arguably the most reviled man in America. After the president spoke, Zimmerman became the patron saint of those who believe that an apt history of racism begins with Tawana Brawley and ends with the Duke lacrosse team.
The irony of Barack Obama is this: he has become the most successful black politician in American history by avoiding the radioactive racial issues of yesteryear, by being “clean” (as Joe Biden once labeled him)—and yet his indelible blackness irradiates everything he touches. This irony is rooted in the greater ironies of the country he leads. For most of American history, our political system was premised on two conflicting facts—one, an oft-stated love of democracy; the other, an undemocratic white supremacy inscribed at every level of government. In warring against that paradox, African Americans have historically been restricted to the realm of protest and agitation. But when President Barack Obama pledged to “get to the bottom of exactly what happened,” he was not protesting or agitating. He was not appealing to federal power—he was employing it. The power was black—and, in certain quarters, was received as such. … Continue Reading
I’ve had a few e-mails and tweets and comments over the past handful of weeks asking me some version of the following question: “is racism as bad in Canada as it is in the United States?” Many people have heard of Canada as being a place where racism is not really that big a deal, and people like in relative peace and harmony. Then they come to this blog and read about all the horrible racist shit that goes on here, and it shatters the illusion.
I hope you’ll forgive me for skipping ahead to the end of my long-winded and professorial answer when I tell you that I would much rather live just about anywhere in Canada than just about anywhere in the United States. While neither country is perfect, and I have only anecdotes to inform my opinion, I can say that despite Canada’s flaws, the kind of racism we have here is, on the whole, far less violent and extreme than our southern neighbours. And when something racist does happen, it is cause for national consternation: … Continue Reading
This past Sunday, a man walked into a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and opened fire with a 9 mm pistol, killing six people and wounding four others. After a firefight with police, he turned his weapon on himself and committed suicide. I learned of this story days after it happened, as I was far away from any news sources. As a result, there is really very little for me to contribute that hasn’t already been highlighted by countless others. I will briefly summarize my thoughts as best I can.
… Continue Reading
This morning I went on a bit of a tear of a Mitt Romney advisor who said this:
In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity, one suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr Obama, whose father was from Africa.
“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.
And I paused from finding new and creative ways to call Mr. Romney ‘boring’ to point out how insanely and overtly racist it was to say that being white made you more qualified to be President (actually, technically speaking, how being non-white made you less qualified, if you’re willing to split hairs). Having had a bit of time to think the situation over, I’ve reconsidered my opinion a bit. Not about the racism of the statement, but the intent of the speaker.
Back in 2009, a newly-elected President Barack Obama nominated Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. During her vetting process, she was taken to task (by idiots) for a comment she had made in a speech a few years earlier: … Continue Reading
Shortly after midnight on Friday, July 20th, a heavily-armed man burst into a movie theatre and opened fire on the crowd, killing twelve people and wounding nearly 60. This latest act of mass violence in the United States sparked yet another national conversation about the need for gun control, and questions about what could prompt a person with an otherwise-bright future to commit such an atrocity. I lack the necessary knowledge (and the energy) to comment much further about this particular shooting other than to say that I obviously wish it hadn’t happened, and that something must be done to make such events more rare. I do not believe that more guns are the answer to the problem, but that idea appears to have some serious currency in the United States, so I guess take that for what it’s worth.
Such acts are incredibly rare here in Canada (especially compared to our southern neighbour), and yet Toronto has recently been visited by a pair of public shootings that have sparked our own national conversation. The first shooting occurred at the beginning of last month in the food court of the city’s largest shopping mall. Two people, the apparent targets of the shooter, were killed. The motivation appears to be related to gang activity. At the beginning of last week, Toronto was once again visited by the spectre of violence at the hands of armed gunmen: … Continue Reading
One of the most powerful tools we have when trying to parse an argument is the analogy. We can take the elements of a position, plug them in to a different context, and then press ‘play’ to see whether or not the argument still logically follows. So when a religious apologist talks about the perfect love and perfect mercy of YahwAlladdha, we can ask if it would still be considered ‘loving’ to lock your children in the basement and torture them (for any amount of time, let alone eternity) if they disobeyed your rules. We can point out the absurdity of demanding that atheists ‘play nice’ or ‘leave well enough alone’ by pointing to the similarities between ours and other civil rights movements, and show how active engagement in the public sphere is vital to progress.
Accustomed as we are to the incredible usefulness of this tool, there are cases where it goes horribly awry – namely, those cases in which privilege plays a significant role. At once, argument by analogy becomes completely derailed, and to the person drawing the (flawed) analogy, it seems as though the “privilege card” is being pulled out of nowhere. The argument seems to be, to them, that one is wrong simply because ze is white, or male, or cisgendered, or whatever dominant group identity is germane to the conversation – that the mere fact of being in the majority immediately disqualifies your arguments. Then out come the waterworks: “you’re just as bad as those you criticize - my opinion is being dismissed as you complain about people dismissing yours!”
Let’s just jump ahead a few paragraphs to the end of the argument and state unequivocally that your argument is bad, and you should feel bad.
Now that everyone who needs to learn this lesson has stopped reading, let’s forge ahead, shall we? … Continue Reading