Honoured to have my op-ed on racism read into the Senate Congressional Record by US Senator Ben Cardin (Dem.)
The terrible acts of violence against Black persons in the United States has brought racism, to the forefront, in Canada. But, racism has also been systemic, though insidious here, for generations. Not as openly violent, as in the US, but present nonetheless, in our institutions, workplaces, schools and society.
Over the last 30 years, Canada enacted progressive legislation to protect minorities: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Employment Equity, the Citizenship Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Multiculturalism Act, and anti-hate laws.
Yet data shows that Indigenous peoples still have the highest suicide rate, poorest health outcomes, and most incarcerations; that visible minorities, despite education, are under employed and under-paid; that Black men are carded and suspected of criminality.
Racism is rooted in colonialism. Colonialism sought to tame the savages, to bring them to Christianity, to de-culturalize native populations “for their own good”. It also stereotyped them as inferior, less educable, more “savage and untamed” in their reactions and therefore less trustworthy and prone to criminality.
Stereotyping is the root of xenophobia.
Residential schools in Canada, apartheid in South Africa, and slavery in the Americas were all based on the presumption that Native peoples were one step above animals, barely. The so-called “science” of eugenics, in the early 20th century, confirmed this.
The bubbling cauldron of anti-Black violence and xenophobia has historically never been far from the surface in the USA and is entrenched in all of its institutions.
In Canada, the stereotyping and institutional bias is more insidious and subtle. Though the violence against Black communities is most apparent in some areas of Canada. The violence against Indigenous peoples is evidenced across the country and this age of ubiquitous cameras record and bring them to light.
Systemic racism is never far beneath the surface. COVID19 exposed this. Crisis brings anger and fear. It cracks the thin veneer of tolerance that seems to exist in quiet, polite times. It seeks to blame “the other”. Fear caused the eruption of anti-Chinese hate in Canada and amplified the reality of Black and Indigenous lives.
We are all shaken and empathetic.
But our denial and ignorance can no longer stand.
We must listen and act. We need to collect disaggregated data, based on ethnicity, Indigenous status, religion, race, color, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, and disability. We must match that data against employment, incarceration, health outcomes, socioeconomic status and participation in the social political, economic and cultural life of our nation. This is called getting to the factual evidence.
We must use that evidence to educate the public and teach unvarnished history, in our schools. It will then become apparent that the Chinese and Japanese have been in British Columbia for 160 years; that the Chinese built a railroad that united our nation from sea to sea; that they, the Sikhs and Indigenous peoples fought in WWI and II; that they returned to face discrimination and hardship, but stayed and built a nation.
We must teach about the internment of Ukrainians, the arrest of Italians, and the antisemitism that turned away Jews from our shores during World War II. We must acknowledge the ugliness of our past and learn from it.
We must then take steps to train and sensitise our institutions; we must make them welcoming to the diversity of Canadians that live here. We must set policies, programs and measurable goals to eradicate systemic discrimination. We must track our progress and report to Canadians.
We must, finally, aim for an inclusive society that will respect and harness the benefits which diversity brings.
It is a long road. But if we begin now, it is a worthy goal to show the world that it is possible to put aside conflict and live together, as many different peoples, in peaceful coexistence.
In order to build a strong, peaceful prosperous nation, everyone must belong—and everyone must build it together.