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Tag: Racism

Except By Righteousness

Back in June 2016, I found myself recalling the week following an act of evil. Today I’m there again, this time closer to home and on my side of the Canada-USA border. I was saddened by the news, then heartened by the compassionate response across my country, then angered by those who would callously exploit it to promote their conspiracy theories. As a rule, the game played by any kind of “truther” is one that should not be played.

A lot of what needs to be said has already been said, but there is one thing I’d like to be said louder and more clearly: we can’t just blame Trump for this. To do so would be inaccurate, irresponsible, and unethical. I have no doubt that the political tide that swept him into power may have encouraged this and other acts of evil, but we must not delude ourselves into thinking we are special. Canadians, we’re not better than Americans just because we’ve got a prime minister with better virtue signals and glorious hair. The roots of racist violence in this country go very deep. There is no contest among nations where Canadians can say they score higher than Americans at being less racist, less violent, less evil. And indeed, within this country, some of us seem to think that racist violence happens somewhere else – probably in Alberta. And indeed, while my home province has produced an infamous holocaust denying teacher and a sensationalist far right media network, we are not special. From the yellow peril on the west coast to the starlight tours in Saskatchewan, from the Christie Pits riot 84 years ago to the Hérouxville code of conduct 10 years ago: this is a national problem that cannot be scapegoated onto east, west, rural, or urban. It is not new; it was not invented by Stephen Harper nor Donald Trump. The antecedents to this recent attack belong to all of us.

“For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.” – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Can we be better than that? Absolutely. In big ways and in small ways, chipping away at the big problem has not been an even or an easy process, but I believe it’s not only worth doing, it’s worth doing right. That’s why my posts on political topics lean towards self-critique more than just calling out what I see as being the wrongs of the world: the internet provides us with a vast surplus of hot takes about how bad the bad people are. That’s low-hanging fruit. What I want to reach for, what I want to signal boost, is the more challenging ideas about how we can build the kind of society where it’s harder to imagine a man walking into a mosque and shooting people. To me, winning is not being on the right side of history or being better than that other person. It’s living in a world where this kind of evil is unheard of. One place I can start is remembering that I am not a better person because I live in 2017, in Canada, or in a city. My religion does not confer any special status upon me, nor do my political views qualify me for some kind of title. It’s easy to say that of other people, but worth asking of oneself too.

In remembering not to take false pride in my origins, I am reminded of the words that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is quoted in the hadith as saying: “There is no virtue of an Arab over a foreigner nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness.” This I can only assume was said to declare the faith as universal, mirroring Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 about there being neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither female nor male in the faith of Jesus Christ. No matter which tradition we were raised in and/or still practice, there is a wisdom in these words which transcends cultures and religions. I think we would do well to not only affirm the obvious meaning when it comes to visible differences, but also to check ourselves for other sources of misplaced pride. For there is no virtue of a Canadian over an American, nor a Torontonian over a New Sareptan, nor a Californian over an Alabaman, nor a Republican nor a Democrat; except by righteousness.

White People Talking

In this post I’m going more game-of-life, philosophical, and political than usual. A few things have happened in the past few days: my local university had another case of deplorable posters. Twitter user @jaythenerdkid posted an excellent sequence of tweets on how social justice work isn’t always just. Another man in the USA was executed by police for the crime of being black. About all of these things, white people will be talking. We will be talking about racism in the media, about policing, about political correctness, about what makes “us” good white people as opposed to those “bad” ones for whom making America great again is making it white again. Last week I wrote about when it is better to not play than it is to win or lose. This week I will talk about what that means in some very serious games.

Full disclosure: I am white/cis male/straight/middle income/no specific disabilities. When I speak of “white people” I am not talking about someone else. I’m talking about myself, most of my friends and family, and others who make up the majority in Anglo-North America.

Yep, this is basically what all my dinner parties look like while we discuss the world’s problems.

One bad habit white people have is to to criticize “political correctness” as a failing. It may be true that there is something there to criticize if you use a very specific definition of it, but the way the term is thrown around generally doesn’t refer to a nuanced critique of insincere theatrical performance of opposition to bigotry. In general, being opposed to “political correctness” equates to the deliberate normalization of dehumanizing terms and false assertions against anyone who doesn’t fit that demographic I belong to. It requires a person to believe that life is a finite, zero-sum game in which the winners rightfully exploit the losers, and it’s right to put winning before any other ethical principle. If it wasn’t white people doing the winning, then we’d be doing the losing according to this wildly defective way of thinking. When talking to someone who rants about “political correctness” it is not worth trying to win arguments with then because the facts won’t matter when fundamental principles clash. I implore my fellow white people to choose better principles, and to “win” against those who choose the zero-sum game by depriving them of an audience rather than pummelling them into submission. Agreeing to and playing by their rules will not lead to anything good.

But what about those people, often white self-styled “progressives” who seem to have appointed themselves the language police? The ones who delight in the gotcha moments of showing how good they are at finding and denouncing bad white people for using the wrong words and phrases. They aren’t interested in the messy work of improving our society and our culture. Their concern is about burnishing their personal reputations and those of the institutions they manage. This is what I think @jaythenerdkid was calling out in that series of tweets. Criticism and discussion should be about understanding and improving the societal and cultural environments in which we live together, not about sorting out the good people from the bad. The winners from the losers. Being an even better racist prover than Señor Chang. This is a game we should not play.

I agree with her that it is particularly odious for a white person to seek the mantle of the saviour, as if it is possible for us to be so liberal, so progressive, so free of the “problematic” that we can solve all the others’problems without having to actually make any room for the people for whom we presume to speak. That’s just not the way it works. Sure, I’m white and I here I am saying anti-racist things, but I claim only to speak for myself and not for the people who suffer from systemic prejudice. They can speak for themselves. They don’t need me to speak for them. My responsibility is to speak for myself and into the spaces which they do not have access. I am concerned with keeping my own house in order, not in winning titles.

So, what does that have to do with white people talking about acts of evil, both small and large? I think we can reasonably come to two conclusions:

  1. White people must accept that there are some ugly realities about our society and culture and that it is our responsibility to do our part in making things better. A failure to do so, and seeking to debate the problem out of existence, doesn’t just perpetuate the unjustified termination of life. It ensures that such happens in unheard silence, and that is evil.
  2. Doing our part to make things better doesn’t mean getting into a pissing contest to see who is the wokest white guy there ever was. In fact, that is counter-productive. Don’t even try. People of colour don’t owe you a stamp of approval for proving yourself worthy. You don’t even need one in order to work on making things better, so just keep making it awkward anyway. If you have the chance to do good without getting an award for doing so, just do it.

So, that’s me, a white person talking about racism. Take from it what you will, feel free to criticize me all you like, but whatever you do please don’t stay silent while this kind of thing keeps on happening. The problems large and small are all getting much harder to ignore. If we keep going the way we are going, allowing people to be dehumanized and killed in silence, we’re gonna have a bad time.