War on racism needs new soldiers

By PAT WATSON

A person can get exhausted from combating racism; it is an insidious and unrelenting war and many who have been at the forefront of the battle to beat it back can become despondent when, after years of seeking to make change, with the ebb and flow of progress, very little seem to have been accomplished.

It has been 43 years since the United Nations General Assembly declared March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This was meant to commemorate the day back in 1960 when police in Sharpeville, South Africa fired into a crowd peacefully demonstrating against apartheid “pass laws” killing 69 people.

In the days that followed this year’s observation, some 50 neo-Nazis in Calgary, Alberta attempted to march to City Hall with their faces masked and declaring White pride. (If they are so proud, why were they wearing masks?)

They were met by a counter demonstration organized by Anti Racist Action Calgary and blocked by a reported 500 marchers. While ARA marchers had been cautioned to use peaceful but forceful protest methods, it was reported that there was an outbreak of violence as a result of which a few anti-racist marchers were arrested.

Calgary, by the way, has the highest incidence of reported hate crimes among large Canadian cities.

In the days preceding the March 21 observation, a three-day conference on National African Canadian Policy was held in Ottawa. Not one of the invited politicians, federal or provincial, showed up.

One can be forgiven for being cynical, but we also have to realize that unless – and until – Black voters organize so as to have a significant impact, this kind of snubbing will remain yet another thread in the fabric of our desolation.

We live in a climate where the current federal Conservative Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenny, when given the opportunity to articulate an informed understanding of racism while still in his former portfolio as Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, was uncomfortably unable to do so, expressing, instead, clichéd notions of individual acts of race hate.

There are those who would make a point of heaping criticism on Black people as a failed community, emphasizing all that is wrong with the community as if such ills can be teased apart from the subtle and pervasive effect of racism.

We know that many across this varied community can and do accomplish all the societal measures of success, yet none escape – to some extent or another – the awful toll of anti-Black racism.

Even though Black people comprise the third largest group (almost 800,000) of so-called visible minorities across Canada – behind the South Asians (1.3 million) and Chinese (1.2 million) – it is Black individuals who are the targets of almost half of all reported hate crimes, bearing in mind that such crimes are under-reported.

Surely, the many ills that burden this diverse community cannot all be laid at its feet as if its origins are within. Yet, while the conditions that stem from racism are not of our making, we are still responsible for disentangling ourselves from them. And, herein lies the unresolved challenge. There is no lack of effort on the part of an energetic and passionate collection of activists, but there is a generalized malaise, a resignation, that sits on the larger community.

A lot of people will show up for Caribana. What could we image would be the effect if relative numbers showed up at the boards of education, for example, to insist on fairer treatment of Black students; or represented community concerns in such numbers on the issue of safer housing or fair treatment by the police.

While it would be absurd to shoulder the blame for racism, the problem of suffering quietly, of being incongruously quiet and unresponsive, is another matter.

While those who marched along with the ARA have done battle against racism on the streets of Calgary, there is a multiplicity of other effective modes for continuing to wear away this dilemma. One simple, yet effective, method would be to use the newly re-activated sharenews.com website to blog about the critical issues that affect the community as well as to record episodes of significance.

Because, this war needs new soldiers.

On a tangential note…

In multicultural, multilingual Toronto you will frequently hear parents who are immigrants speak to children in their mother tongue while children respond to their parents in English. They carry on many long conversations in said fashion.

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