There is an overwhelming and near-undeniable temptation when presented with a social justice movement to see in it an opportunity for you to mobilize the energy and commitment of its members to accomplish one of your own goals. I remember for example, seeing a lot of passionate people during Occupy Vancouver insisting that what we should do is take all of our anger at the current political/economic system and channel it toward stopping pornography, or finding out what ‘really’ happened on September 11th, 2001*.
Now it is very much an open debate whether or not Occupy was a social justice movement per se, or whether its aims were too diffuse to qualify, or whether by largely ignoring the racial components of the system it complained about, it abrogated its claim to social ‘justice’. That’s not the substance of my argument here. What I will note, just in passing, is that Occupy Vancouver was well-attended by social justice groups, including (obviously, if you know the activism scene in Vancouver) a number of Indigenous organizations.
Which brings us around to what I do want to talk about, which is the role that settlers play in the #IdleNoMore movement; or, more specifically, roles that I want to see them (us) stop playing. First, just to establish some terminology, ‘settler’ refers to non-Indigenous inhabitants of North America (or Turtle Island), and speaks specifically to the fact that while we may live here, we are not the original inhabitants of this land. More information can be found here if you find this term troubling.
There are two general patterns of behaviour that I want to comment on, because of how often I see them and how deeply they annoy me. … Continue Reading
One of the fascinating aspects of privilege is the way in which it totally skews your perception of what ‘average’ is. I would think, for example, that things like street harassment or sexual assault or other forms of misogynistic abuse are fantastically rare. After all, I’m a guy who spends a lot of time with and around women, and I almost never see street harassment or hear stories of people getting assaulted. It wasn’t until I actually asked the women in my life about their experiences that I saw just how widespread and pervasive these behaviours are – they just don’t happen when guys like me are around to see them. My male privilege makes the ‘norm’ of a safe and fair society seem plausible, when the lived experience of my friends and family is anything but.
So when one is confronted about their privilege, or when their privilege is even simply discussed openly, an interesting thing happens. From the perspective of the privileged, the critics are attacking what is right and normal! Why on Earth would someone criticize a just world? There’s certainly no rational reason to do that. Nobody without a particular axe to grind, or maybe even an outright hatred of a particular group would level such accusations against the norm, right? And when those criticisms continue unabated, there’s only one possible way to see it: as demonization: … Continue Reading
Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I am a big believer in the power of diversity. I’m not only referring to racial diversity, but I am of the belief that our racial identities inform our day-to-day experiences and the lens of how we see the world. A variety of experiences means a diversity of perspectives, which means in turn that any problem can be approached with a variety of solutions. It just makes sense – a group is smarter when it can rely on a variety of skills, even if the problem doesn’t have an explicitly racial component to it.
As a result, I am a supporter of affirmative action (AA) programs as a method of creating a more adaptable, agile, and smarter workforce. Whether that workforce is in academia or industry, we all benefit from being surrounded by people who are capable, but who also have life experience and perspectives that give us a better chance for a multi-faceted problem-solving approach. At the same time, I recognize (as do most supporters of AA programs) that it’s a non-perfect approach to the serious problem of racially supremacist systems. We have a history that has, at times explicitly, given the bulk of the benefit to some groups at the direct expense of another, resulting in a lopsided distribution of wealth, education, political power, and popular perception. There’s no way to re-balance the scales without someone feeling like they’ve had something taken from them.
Of course opponents of AA say that rebalancing the scales thusly is manifestly unfair. What we should do, they say, is just start treating everyone according to merit, thus ensuring that those who are “most qualified” will succeed. If we take race out of the equation entirely, we won’t be giving unfair advantages to one group, but nor will we be taking away opportunity from those who happen to be in a group that, once upon a time, had members that were wicked. By forcing race into the equation, affirmative action is being just as racist as those wicked ancestors were, just in the opposite direction!
Henry Yu explains the problem with that line of reasoning with a parable: … Continue Reading
We often use college course abbreviations to describe the various levels of social justice discussion. Someone might refer to a “101-level” conversation when we’re talking about identifying racism as a social construct rather than a biological reality. Trying to access the specific ways in which racial constructs impact the lived experiences of people might qualify for “200-level” status, since it requires us to understand and accept the conclusions from the 100-level stuff before we can move on to the real-world implications. Discussing things like intersectionality and the consequences of multiple identities that intersect race is maybe your “300-level” stuff, which is more or less the level I think I can comfortably converse.
But then there’s other stuff that, quite frankly, baffles and confounds even me: … Continue Reading
Hey folks! Remember that time that Clint Eastwood did something hilarious?
Clint Eastwood did end up stealing the show at Mitt Romney’s formal appointment as his party’s choice for the US presidential election but perhaps not in the way he or the candidate would have wanted.
The 82-year-old’s rambling gravel-voiced conversation with an empty chair – supposedly supporting an invisible Barack Obama – proved a bizarre and confusing warm-up act for Romney.
“Mr President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them? I mean, what do you say to people?” he asked. He berated Obama for not learning from the Russian experience in invading Afghanistan. It was George W Bush who ordered US troops into the country.
For your convenience, the word “hilarious” has been temporarily redefined to mean “sad and pathetically embarrassing”. Eastwood, in a fit of improvisational zeal, decided that it would be an effective strategy to bring out an empty chair to symbolize the President and then have a one-sided conversation with him/it in front of an international audience. Columnist Jamelle Bouie noted that the image of an old white man angrily lecturing an imaginary Obama was a perfect encapsulation of the entire Republican election process.
So that happened, and it was weird, and after a couple of weeks we all just kind of moved on from it. Well… almost all of us: … Continue Reading
One of the pieces of political language that drives me absolutely nuts is the term ‘illegal immigrants’. The system of immigration in both Canada and the United States disincentivizes documented immigration by making it nearly impossible and subject to interference by the capricious whims of the party in power. Looking at it cynically, one could make the argument that there is a huge economic benefit to the elite class, who can exploit undocumented immigrants for what is essentially slave labour, secure in the knowledge that threats of deportation are usually enough to quell any resistance to the illegal working conditions. The system punishes the exploited, not the exploiters.
Of course, there are few places in the USA that are more openly and notoriously malevolent to undocumented immigrants than the state of Arizona. Despite the blatant racism inherent in their newly-minted anti-Mexican law that they try to pass off as a way of handling “illegals”, they are still legally allowed to detain and deport anyone who looks ‘foreign’ and can’t prove their non-foreign-ness to the satisfaction of the towering legal intellect of folks like Joe Arpaio.
And, apparently, this lady: … Continue Reading
One common claim that comes up in discussions of social justice issues is the following, predominantly uttered by a member of the majority group:
I am against all kinds of discrimination. In fact, I am never hesitant to call others on their own prejudiced behaviours!
What usually follows is the word ‘but’, and then some explanation of how ze is the real victim of discrimination because people keep telling hir to check hir privilege, often with accusations of being bigoted* or something of that nature. The reasoning, I imagine, goes something like this:
I believe myself to be opposed to discrimination
I behave in a way that is consistent with someone who is opposed to discrimination
Therefore your accusations of my prejudice are misplaced
I can certainly appreciate how much it sucks to have someone call you a bigot when all you’re trying to do is express reasonable skepticism about something. This is especially true when you are a passionate defender of the very people making the accusation. From an outsider’s perspective, it can certainly seem as though the name-calling is completely offside – they should recognize that you are an ally and you are doing your best.
Maybe the following expansion of the above syllogism can help flesh out why this attitude is problematic and will lead you into more trouble: … 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
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
There is a contingent of the freethinking community, and I have no idea how large it is statistically, but a contingent nonetheless that believe the conversation about social justice lies well outside the list of things we should be talking about. Science, religion, skepticism – these are clearly part of the relevant topics for us to discuss. Why do people believe crazy things? How do we get them to stop? What is the evidence? Other things like racism, feminism, sexual expression and identity issues – these sorts of crazy beliefs and evidence are obviously not relevant to our group. These folks rankle and agitate any time any of these subjects are even broached, replete with admonishments to focus on the ‘real issues’, and to claim that people are ‘overreacting’.
Of course, anyone who honestly agrees with any of that is hereby invited to fuck right off.
… Continue Reading