By PATRICK HUNTER
Frankly, I have never held to the proposition that racism will or can be eliminated. Some people will not like Brussels sprouts but they will eat it. Over time, perhaps, they will eat it regularly, but it doesn’t mean they will like it. Here we enter the dreaded realm of “tolerance”, a word that is almost as offensive as other negatively charged words when it refers to people.
I have taken the position that you don’t have to like me or socialize with me, just don’t get in the way of my livelihood or that of my family because we are of African descent.
Anyway, perhaps it is due to the changing media methods of communication but it seems to me that the incidents of racist activities and racist behaviour have multiplied over the last few years. And those are what we hear about largely through the media.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about this tendency from the point of view of apologies. In the wake of the Donald Sterling controversy, which prompted that column, the trend seems to be that people are getting, or have gotten, a sense of freedom to say what they really think and feel about racialized minorities. The caveat, of course, is that they can apologize for having offended those who felt offended. The same may be said for other minorities, particularly in the LGBTQ community. My focus is on the racism however (not to avoid the multiple intersections of discrimination).
The cynic in me wants to suggest that there are some people who do this to gain some notoriety as a way of increasing their profile.
One of the reasons that prompted this particular column is a story in Root, an online African-American magazine that reported on an image of U.S. President Barack Obama, which was placed on the bottom of urinals in a restroom. I know that U.S. presidents and other leaders are fair game for cartoonists and comedians and general critics. I have never seen or heard of a similarly disgusting and disrespectful behaviour towards other presidents.
It probably should not come as a surprise. Since Obama was elected, the “crawlings” from beneath the rocks have escalated and intensified and with unreserved racial overtones.
But the attacks and implications have not been levelled solely at Obama. Throughout the nation, that sense of outspokenness has been somewhat pervasive.
Here, in Canada, it may not have reached the level that it is in the United States, but the symptoms are there. And, as most of us already know, being outspokenly racist is “not the Canadian way”, but it takes on various subversive forms.
Another newsworthy item that has surfaced, again through Root, is the fact that African-Americans are apparently more inclined to be wrongly accused than any other racialized persons. This observation comes in the wake of the latest recognition of the innocence of the so-called “Central Park Five”. Five youths, four African-Americans and one Hispanic, served full sentences for a crime for which they were later vindicated. There is now a proposal to settle the wrongful conviction for $40 million.
There have been a considerable number of cases like this in the recent past. Many of them have involved African-Americans. The Root story is based on the first report of a project called The National Registry of Exonerations, jointly established by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law.
The report looks at 873 exonerations in the United States between 1989 and 2012. Of the 873, they were aware of the race of 90 per cent (809/873). Of the known racial background, 50 per cent were Black, 38 per cent White.
The report is worth a detailed read to fully appreciate the impact of these findings. For one thing, they do not claim to know the true guilt or innocence of the “exonorees”. The definition of exoneration used is that of “a defendant who was convicted of a crime (and) was later relieved of all legal consequences of that conviction”.
Not included in these figures are those, for example, who were not convicted of a specific crime, but may have been guilty in a related lesser crime. There are clarifying notes about who were excluded, which would suggest that there were many others who were similarly falsely accused.
Not too long ago, I did a column on the state of Blacks in Canada’s prisons as uncovered in a report by Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator. The subject of wrongly-accused was not discussed, and it was probably not within his mandate. Nevertheless, there have been occasions where similar wrongful convictions have come to light. I won’t go out on a limb to say that Blacks form a significant number. However, we have seen reports on Canada’s justice system which has confirmed that the treatment of persons of African descent in the system has been far harsher than other group, with the possible exception of Native Canadians.
So, we cannot escape the colour of skin, no matter how much we believe that it does not matter. That reality may not need to be front and centre in our dealings with non-Blacks, but whether we want to believe it or not, that colour barrier is still a function. In other words, it is something for which we need to be wary.