Tag Archives: racism

Scoring political points with Québec’s secularism charter

10 Sep

Contrary to what the mainstream English press will have you believe, Québec is not the most racist place in Canada. Racism is sewn into the fabric of Canadian society Québec is just one piece of that fabric.

English politicians have been quick to score political points by capitalizing on easy and age-old divisions: when they condemn Québec, the Parti Québecois or Pauline Marois for being racist they’re saying: “Look at them!” Or, in other words, “Don’t look at us!”

Indeed, the Parti Québecois’ Charte de la laïcité is a gift to Canadian politicians. The Ontario government has jumped at this opportunity and condemned the charter before it was even released.

This condemnation is pretty vacant when you consider that just last Friday, the Ontario government challenged its own responsibility to give OHIP coverage to two migrant workers who were injured on the job. Ontario believes that foreign workers (who are mostly racialized), once injured and unable to work, should be kicked off the provincial health plan.

The Ontario government also hasn’t declared its support for Ian Campeau’s Human Rights challenge to change the racist name of the Nepean amateur football team from The Redskins to something that isn’t racist. Nor have they condemned the National amateur football association for refusing to comment, or for resisting the change in the past.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi jumped into the ring, too. He received wide media coverage last week for having opposed Marois’ planned legislation. Though, rather than acknowledging how far his own community has to go in combating racism, he focused only on Québec. Calgary is one of the most active cities in Canada for white supremacist organizing, one of the few places where white nationalists still try to march annually on Hitler’s birthday.

There are blind spots in English Canada to institutionalized racism and it’s not good enough for politicians to only condemn the most outward expressions of white supremacy. The quick political points scored will only amplify anti-Québec sentiment and Québecers who see this will be rightfully outraged

Canada was built on white supremacy and white nationalism. The supremacy of the Catholic and Protestant churches, tied into the genocide upon which the country was built, is woven into every single Canadian structure. But Québec’s origins, as they relate to its society today, are different from the rest of Canada.

Québec’s history of conquest by England, the push to control all aspects of Québec society by the Catholic Church and the repressive nature of that control has no parallel experience in the rest of Canada. The forced subjugation of French-speaking Québecers at the hands of English capitalists created an unequal society where Québecers were less educated, more poor and more marginalized than most of the English minority in this province.

Québecers’ institutional relationship with religion is also different than in any other region of Canada. They spectacularly and swiftly rejected the influence of the church over their lives through the quiet revolution. But the break wasn’t entirely clean and the role once played by the Catholic Church still influences how many Québecers understand religion and its relationship with the state.

The PQ’s charter advances a secularism that is born from this experience. It’s a kind of secularism, a White, post-Catholic secularism, where public schools still have crosses attached to them and where a crucifix is an image of culture, not of religion. It’s paradoxical, but it’s deeply Québécois.

This political context means that any attempt at creating a secularism charter made by a governing political party is going to be completely bungled, racist and offensive.

While many people had hoped that the charter would have at least stopped public grants to private religious schools, the charter is silent on this. It also exempts, of all people, the politicians themselves from being forced to hide their religious symbols if elected. The PQ: protecting those in power, while oppressing and marginalizing workers.

I have progressive friends who argue with me that public institutions should have no outward expression of religion. This blanket assertion gets messy when you consider how deep Catholicism still runs throughout, and how burning every last vestige of the Catholic Church from Québec is impossible. This is especially true considering the widespread sale of churches in the province: sometimes it makes more sense for a city to buy a church and turn it into a library than simply burn it down. The stained glass is probably old and beautiful and so it’s restored. It also probably has a depiction of Jesus’s beard being plucked off, or Jesus in agony upon the cross.

Just like the quick political points that Wynne and Nenshi hoped to score, this Charter is more about polls than it is about proselytization. If it were about freedom from the annoying folks who try to convince me that Scientology is the way to find salvation, the PQ would just ban proselytism from public spaces. But surely, no one ever converted to Islam solely because they learned Grade 6 math from a woman wearing hijab.

This debate has little to do with religious freedom. The Parti Québécois knows that this rhetoric is popular among enough people that it might deliver them a provincial majority. And besides, demonizing a turban is way easier than balancing the province’s desire to exploit its natural resources and satisfy foreign industry with peoples’ outrage in the aftermath of Lac-Mégantic, for example.

Secularism, when wielded as a blunt object, will marginalize people who are already marginalized. For religious observers, wearing religious symbols is not a choice and they will either be systematically excluded from the public sector, or oppressed into turning away from some elements of how they express their religion.

The legislation is rooted in white supremacy, where the religion, norms, cultures and practices of the white dominant are fine, but the religion, norms, cultures and practices of the mostly racialized other are offensive. In fact, according to Bernard Drainville, the MNA who presented the charter, they’re so offensive that they need to be stopped in particular to protect children in schools.

But the analysis of this has to be thoughtful and careful. It’s not enough to just call Québec racist as if every other province doesn’t struggle with its own racist structures. Canadian critics, especially mainstream journalists, need to avoid applying their own province’s history and current context to analyses of Québec.

Honouring anti-Native protester Gary McHale

31 Jan

Screen shot 2013-01-30 at 11.27.13 PMApparently, stirring up racial tensions in the name of “saving taxpayers’ money” is a noble cause these days. A cause worthy of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal.

Gary McHale, loud, obnoxious, anti-Native Gary McHale has just been told he’ll be awarded the honour in the coming weeks.

To win one of these awards, the Governor General’s website says that one has to “[h]ave made a significant contribution to a particular province, territory, region or community within Canada…”

In fairness, a “significant contribution” doesn’t necessarily mean a positive one.

Yes, McHale has made a significant contribution to racial relations in Caledonia. He’s made being racist nearly okay. He’s battled “political correctness” (as he says) and tried to restore the White man’s proper place in Canada: wherever he wants it to be.

He’s also targeted the OPP’s policing tactics during the process, the reason why his nominators named him.

He was nominated by the prestigious Canadian Taxpayers’ “Federation,” a right-wing organization that claims to speak on behalf of, well, me, despite not clearly advertising the mechanisms for me to vote out the current lot of republicans, libertarians and racist sympathizers.

Their claim is that he exposed that the OPP was spending more than a hundred million dollars policing the events that surrounded reclamation of the Douglas Creek Estates at Caledonia. No word if money was actually saved, of course. No mention of how much the OPP had to pay every time McHale himself organized a rally of obnoxious, anti-Native protesters.

Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less from this so-called Federation. I would choke on my communist gruel if I heard they nominated someone who actually exposed wasted tax dollars, like whoever it was who exposed the ORNGE scandal (the Toronto Star?), E-Health (I can’t remember), the Mississauga gas plant scandal (both opposition parties?) or the F-35 fighter jet embarrassment (Kevin Page).

The nomination is as fitting as the “Federation” is a front group for anything but a voice for Canadian “taxpayers” (which, by the way, is everyone who’s ever bought something, anywhere in Canada).

Yes, it’s fitting that the day after the Idle No More global day of action, a man who is only famous for his anti-Native protests, is awarded an honour of the Queen. Indeed, she holds a position that is the most anti-Native of all.

The centuries of genocide that have happened in Canada were enabled by the colonial project of England (and France, Spain, Holland, Portugal…) and the Queen wears the blood of the murder carried out as a result of her Empire. Of course McHale’s award makes sense.

But aside from the historical appropriateness, there’s another angle. More than 60,000 Diamond Jubilee awards have been given out this year. If you throw 60,000 Diamond Jubilee Awards into a crowd of 60,000 people, you’re bound to hit an asshole or two (or more). And just as likely is that others who deserve the award have been honoured, too (like my aunt who has volunteered for the Timmins General Hospital for 60 years, who, though, has never organized a race-based protest that I’m aware of).

There’s also been some people who have rejected the award. Before this, many activists turned in their awards to stand in solidarity with Idle No More. After news that McHale was award circulated, Bill Montour, Chief at Six Nations (the community that has been most targeted by McHale in the past few years) turned in his medal. “I don’t want to have a medal, carrying the same medal (as McHale)” he told the Hamilton Spectator.

The confluence of the emergence of Idle No More and McHale’s medal honour is really interesting. It’s a reminder of how far Canada still has to go to undo the normalcy of white supremacy.

Although, I’ll give McHale some credit. His brand of racism is a lot easier for average (read: White) people to spot. Maybe if racism in Canada was more of his overt brand, there would be a critical mass of those of us who benefit from this system to say: enough.

…and actually mean it enough to help change our society.

Allegations of allegations of racism and debate obscuring at the CFS general meeting

5 Dec

Racism, accusations of racism and white people.

This trio has stymied many an activist, especially when he or she believes the stakes to be high enough to warrant pulling out this special collision of criticism. When the three collide, accidents are bound to be made.

At the last meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students, this collision played out on Twitter. Representatives from the Dawson Students’ Union claimed either the entire CFS, the national executive or about 100 delegates said that Québec’s student movement is racist (the variations on a theme are from DSU representative Morgan Crockett’s Twitter feed). Crockett neglected to be less ambiguous, instead fanning the rumour mill online and repeating the claim rather than identifying the source or providing context, leaving questions about whether or not anyone actually said anything close to this.

Technically unrelated, though perhaps related to this tactic, the motions that her students’ union served were rejected by other students there. Two DSU reps were unsuccessful in their electoral bids for National Executive positions.

She argued that saying that the students’ union general assembly model privileges the involvement of people with privilege was tantamount to declaring an entire province’s student population as racist.

With 300 delegates at a General Meeting, characterizing anything other than a motion being passed as something that “the CFS” supports is a lie. Thanks to the system of motions passing and failing, determining what it is that the CFS supports or opposes is really easy to figure out.

Last May, for example, the CFS lauded the Québec student movement, encouraged civil disobedience against Law 78, organized two casseroles protests to join with local Gatineau students during the five-day meeting and made a donation of $30,000 to defend students who were targeted during the protests.

So, if Crockett is to be believed, all of the work in May was done to support what many of the same people now think is a racist movement?

I can’t do the necessary mental gymnastics to get myself to believe that.

Crockett didn’t explain the source of the comments, so we’re left to either ignore her, challenge her or believe her. Unfortunately, folks at ASSÉ chose to believe her.

In response to Crockett’s Tweets, Jérémie Bédard-Wien from ASSÉ wrote “Racism and perceptions of the Quebec student movement.” It assumes that Crockett’s Twitter ranting characterized some actual position or discussion. He finishes his article with this: “However, to discount general assemblies or, more generally, structural change on that basis is not only mistaken: it is a political smokescreen used to draw attention away from awkward, yet necessary debates about direct democracy. Because the Quebec example is not one of racism.”

I have yet been able to find proof of anyone discounting general assemblies or structural changes within the Canadian student movement as being necessary to build something similar to what transpired in Québec this year. There were no motions calling for the use of or reorientation towards a general assembly model at the meeting.

Crockett is a vocal critic of the other student federations in Québec, and I suspect ASSÉ has identified DSU as a potential member. However, as membership in ASSÉ and CFS would be possible, I see no reason for the approach taken by Bédard-Wien in his article.

The other question is the one that is at the heart of the debate: the role of anti-oppressive structures in decision making versus the open, general assembly model that will undoubtedly reproduce society’s oppression when in action if oppression is unaddressed. Our societies (here, I refer to Canada, the society I have the most experience with, and Québec, my new home) were built to maintain white privilege and white supremacy. Structures that we create are naturally going to reproduce this inequality.

But identifying this as a fact doesn’t say that the people who participate in these structures are all racist. Claiming so could be seen as an annoying distortion, perhaps leveled by someone frustrated with another aspect of a general meeting in which she (or he) was participating.

Gender speaking lists and identity caucuses try to mitigate the influence of oppression reproducing itself. Where CFS has work to do in other areas, it remains a leader in its approach to ensuring that decisions are discussed and motions are amended in spaces where people of various shared identities are able to meet, organize and be heard.

Rather than being dismissive or even defensive when claims of racism or exclusion are leveled against us or organizations in which we are involved, progressive people should step back and take the time to reflect. This is not a criticism of Bédard-Wien.

For him and ASSÉ, my criticism is this: I don’t think his article reflected the solidarity needed between the two organizations. Allegations like this deserve a phone call to the CFS Chairperson and a demand for clarification, not a response to a fabricated or exaggerated story.

But the more than 300 student representatives present at this general meeting have a responsibility too. They must ensure that the characterization of their meeting was how they experienced it.

The stories about the good, the bad, the inspiring and the frustrating add to the collective history of the student movement on this territory. Don’t leave it up to a few people with Twitter accounts to erase your story and alter how you experienced your meeting.

After all, if someone claims you’ve said people are racists and you don’t respond, the vacuum of voices will respond for you.

Trolls and the spaces created by trolling

24 Oct

I’m sure you’ve heard, by now, about Violentacrez.

He was doxxed by Gawker and in the process called one of the Internet’s most notorious trolls. Indeed, his vile contributions to racist, misogynist, violent, generally offensive, degrading and depraved subreddits should give him the right to own that label. This supertroll lost his job upon being doxxed and is, according to Fox News, now looking to work in the porn industry. It’ll be interesting to see if any porn outlets are interested in hiring a creepy older dude to do what they can just steal off of Reddit (or wherever else). He accidentally devalued his skill set.

His defense is that he viewed his work as Violentacrez as a game. Imagine, a game where the players are real, the effects are real and you get to hide behind your screen? It’s a pervert/creep/etc.’s dream.

I read the Gawker story with great interest. It’s well written and sheds light on a few corners of the internet that I have no reason to normally examine. I don’t need to see that creeps like Violentacrez exist by watching them peddle their vile garbage. As a woman, I’m acutely aware that men like Violentacrez exist.

Gawker has also faced criticism as they too are guilty for some of the crimes perpetuated by Violentacrez, though as far as I can tell they don’t host discussion boards dedicated to incest or dead women.

While much of the analysis has been dominated by the debate about outing Vilentacrez, or the strawman arguments around free speech, there hasn’t been enough from what I’ve seen about what troll culture makes possible online.

Over at Racialicious, an excellent post was re-posted about some of the questions that the Gawker article raises. In the article, T.F. Charlton cites Whitney Phillips’ response and says,

1) troll culture is built on the assumptions of white male privilege, 2) individual trolls like Violentacrez are supported by a “host culture” whose values they reflect–in VA’s case, he was wholeheartedly embraced by fellow Redditors and tolerated by the highest levels of Reddit staff, and 3) there’s not that much difference between VA’s racist and misogynist trolling and the sensationalism of “corporate media culture.”

Trolls and trolling concern me for many reasons, including everything that is mentioned in Charlton’s article. But I want to frame the effect that trolls have on discourse in another way: with such extreme elements from the Right raging online against those of us from any sphere of oppression, what does this do to normalize and shift debate? Charlton (and Phillips) offer a good examination the role of more mainstream media outlets who gobble up stories that include the word “Facebook” in the lede. The reach that trolls (and extreme trolls) have on shifting political discussion goes further than the mainstream media.

The extreme hatred spewed from the Right online (and I keep referring to “the Right” because I simply cannot think of anything equivalent that comes from the “left”) normalizes and entrenches extreme discourse. If you believe in the theory of the Overton window, where extreme opinions help to mix and push along less extreme positions to a more extreme place, the existence of trolls who demonize, terrorize, dehumanize and humiliate from a position of [relative] power is dumped into the ether of ideas and further normalizes what should be considered to be extreme.

Consider Amanda Todd’s suicide where it took feminist bloggers to ask the question, wait… what the hell? A girl kills herself as the result of a man harassing her with photos of her own body and it’s dubbed bullying? In an age where deeply troubling misogynistic harassment can be called the same thing as someone having their lunch stolen, we must acknowledge that the Internet’s metre stick has been moved further to the Right than many people are ready to admit.

Comments from the serial trolls like Ann Coulter and Ezra Levant no longer shock us. Rather, these two maintain their positions of power, keep their TV spots and occupy the time of meme generators who do up a quicky “I can’t believe Ann Coulter tweeted this” image. Indeed, the left creates better memes, but to what extent? What is a Binder Full of Women?

Have we actually reached a place where it takes message boards where the sole purpose to peruse them is to look at teenage girls photographed as dead? Has the Internet really broken us?

Extreme trolls are also dangerous because the “left” has no real equivalent. It’s just not possible to troll someone from the “left” in the same way that many of us get trolled regularly from the Right. What’s the equivalent to someone responding to something I post with “You’re a stupid cnut”?

Somehow, the left’s moral high ground, with its “facts,” “research” and occasional “you’re an asshole” renders it unable to respond directly to these attacks. Our moral high ground is a liability.

Of course, there exists a massive plain between the work of a Violentacrez and your “average” Right-wing troll. But it seems so clear that it’s part of the same messy side of the Internet that destroys both discourse and people. One enables and normalizes the other.

I’m not arguing in favour of fighting one brand of vile garbage with another. I’m just pointing out a deficit that exists. If the Internet is ever going to be a safe space for many of us, especially young women and girls with myriad other identities, we need to fight back in a way that is both constructive and effective.

And we have to call out these connections when we see them.

 

Bizzaro racism

23 Aug

After writing my last post about white privilege I figured it was time to talk about the usual, predictable corollary to that discussion. So predictable that I should have pre-empted the (few) criticisms I received but rolling it all into one big white privilege mega post. But, as I promised when I wrote that, there would be more. And so, my loving readers (I assume you’re loving, anyway), here’s more.

BUT WHAT ABOUT RACISM AGAINST WHITE PEOPLE????!!!!!!

Yes. What about racism against white people?

The concept of “reverse racism” comes from a social theory that many of us are familiar with: the “bizzaro world” theory. In this theory, an alternative universe exists where everything we know to be true is the opposite. Bizzaro Nora is quiet, demure, blonde and pleasant. Bizzaro computers are boxes with cats inside. Bizzaro lawns are red. Bizzaro bowling occurs in the opposite direction (a slight difference, but important to all who bowl). Bizzaro cars have square tires, and so on.

And thus, the existence of “reverse racism” can be understood. It’s bizzaro racism. Yes, in this world, white folks are not way overrepresented in politics, business and those powerful positions. The vast majority of us have to struggle to find money to eat, work three jobs to get by and see no reflection of people who look like them reading the TV news, being Prime Minister etc.

Bizzaro racism is a thing in the bizzaro world. Just like the other bizzaro oppressions:

  • Bizzaro classism: rich people face daily oppression just because they’re rich. They become socially isolated because of this systemic oppression that they live in elaborate dugouts under the earth’s surface.
  • Bizzaro sexism: the women have taken over and have blocked men from becoming engineers, doctors, scientists. They, on average, make 71 cents for every dollar women make. They spend their days at home, cleaning their kids, making food and watching NASCAR racing.
  • Bizzaro homophobia: This is also called heterophobia. The few people who ‘inter marry’ are maligned. Their children are rejected from daycare. The ones who can’t conceive are blocked from adopting. The gays have taken over and the fabulous have oppressed the drab. There is glitter everywhere.
  • Bizzaro ablism: The escalators only fit wheels. Signs are written in a font that you can’t quite understand. No one wants to hire someone who can’t read braille.
  • Bizzaro transphobia: What? You’ve never lived between genders? You can’t understand people, so you’re effectively unelectable.

etc.

Yes, the bizzaro world looks different than the one we live in. But, it’s not perfect either. Oppressions were reproduced by the formerly oppressed (as happens all too often) and white people are uniting to fight for a more equal society.

In our current existence, in non-bizzaro Canada, reverse classism, reverse ableism and so on don’t exist. They don’t exist because oppressions are a function of power. Racism is a social construct that intends to maintain the power of one group of people over other groups of people using race as a differentiator. When people fight against racism, they fight against a system that overtly (think the “neutral race” argument over the $100 bill) and covertly (think the mass underrepresentation of racialized folks in government and the overpopulation of racialized folks in jail) creates a social hierarchy of race. Incomes are racially segmented. Access to power is racially segmented. This is racism.

This shouldn’t be confused with times where peoples’ feelings can be hurt. Yes, white folks can be treated poorly by other people. They can be called names. They can be bullied. This sucks and shouldn’t happen, but it’s not tied into a broader social oppression. This matters because when an oppression is systemic, the oppressed can see it everywhere and their existence becomes a series of moments where they must challenge these racist (or other -ist) norms, or find a way to cope. When a white man is called a fuckface by someone who intends to denigrate him and hurt his feelings, that’s called harassment or abuse or someone being an asshole. It’s not reverse racism.

We should condemn people being assholes, generally, but we should never call a situation where someone’s being an asshole reverse racism. Until reverse classism means that there’s shame associated with being rich, or reverse homophobia means there’s shame in being heterosexual, there’s no such thing as reverse racism.

And, someday, when anti-racist activists have convinced the masses to rid our system of privilege offered to white people based on race, we’ll have a nation that will value and treat everyone in a way that is more equal.

It won’t resemble all of bizzaro world, hopefully. One oppression won’t be replaced by another oppression.

And I won’t have to be demure.