Thursday, 11 June 2020

Systemic Racism in Canada

Racism in Canada is a fact. No one is denying that or arguing about it with the possible exception of Rex Murphy. Link I believe that it is also a fact that open prejudice is less overt in Canada than it is in the United States. We are a politer people, for one thing. Instead of calling Michelle Obama ‘an ape in heels’, she gets the label ‘callipygian’. Conrad Black was the perp in this case and I have despised the man ever since I read that column. Link

 I am white, middle class, well educated, in my 57th year of a solid marriage and damn lucky to be Canadian with roots here that go back some generations. I am also lucky to have grown up in a community that was, to an extent, mixed race. I went to school with black kids, socialized with black kids and was unsurprised that my parents socialized with black professionals. And I got my education about racial epithets in Grade 3, when I repeated a comment my teacher had made to a classmate, calling him ‘her little chocolate drop’, and the classmate pushed me down a set of stairs. I liked chocolate and I liked George. He neither apologised or explained, but his hurt was clear. The lesson stuck.

 All my life I have believed that all the kids of whatever race and religion got the same schooling in my home community, with the exception of the Catholics who had a separate school system. As they still do, in Ontario today. The black kids were more heavily represented in a couple of the high schools, but as far as I knew, got exactly the same courses and calibre of teachers. I was smug, in fact, about how my community handled race.

 After writing that, I wondered just how good my recollection was. I have been looking at photos from a Windsor History website and it hit me that almost all the photos, elementary and secondary, were of white kids only.  And so, I did a quick literature check. Guess what!  Link I also found a nicely structured timeline of blackhistory in my community. Descriptions of actions in the 1940’s and 1950’s reveal a mixed bag of prejudice and fight against prejudice. See 

 I left my city to go to university and have never lived there again. Looking back at that time (and the yearbooks) I realize that there were very few black students. At the time I was oblivious. I recall going to a movie with a black male classmate and being puzzled at the glare I received in the lobby from a friend. I was engaged to be married to a guy who was not at the university and if I thought anything, it was that she believed I should not be with another male.

 I tried to teach our daughters not to let race get in the way of friendship and fellowship. I probably overdid it. My younger daughter tells me that racial prejudice and epithets were a factor in her schooling. If she told me that at the time, I probably told her to ignore the perpetrators as not worthy of attention. If I thought anything, it was that these creeps were too few to matter. I followed with interest the efforts to overcome racism in the USA, but I was a young mother with money to earn, kids to raise and a house to manage, and it did not appear to me to be my fight. After all, I thought, overt prejudice is illegal in Canada and those experiencing it could have recourse to the courts. Police beating up African Americans for no reason? Only in the States. Even a stint on the city’s Board of Education did not teach me much. Kids of all races were in trouble for various reasons. A few years working in the Board’s Personnel department did not cause me to count the number of blacks in positions of responsibility either. We had black teachers. So, no problem.

 I am white, middle class, and, I have come to realize, a stupid person. Over the last few years, I have learned more and more about the ‘racialized’ experience. And it just makes me sick. The fact that I don’t think I contributed to it is pretty lame. By not noticing, yeah, I have been on the wrong side. What was I thinking? Well, that the LGTBQ community needed some support. That agism needed fixing. That women are second class citizens (both of these latter from personal experience). But that Canadian blacks were routinely being subjected to hassle and worse from the police just went under my radar. I read about what I assumed were isolated incidents and also assumed that this would be dealt with. That the First Nations people were also hassled and worse is something I knew from reading but also assumed that the assurances from our politicians that this was being remedied were true.

 What I have just had shoved down my throat is that we cannot trust the police force not to use force when it is not needed. That police seem to be allowed to act on biases without penalty. That quite a few of our institutions are systemically unfair and that nothing has been done to change them. And that all this has happened and is continuing to happen because people like me, and including me, have not been paying attention and have not been enforcing change.

 Demanding change is not the same as getting change. I learned this in a very minor political position, on a Board of Education in fact, where, once elected, I quickly found out that as an elected official I was doing the equivalent of riding on an elephant with no reins. If you whacked the animal hard enough with a goad, you could get a minor change in direction, but the minute you stopped whacking, the change stopped happening. Why did this occur? Because the majority of the people in positions of responsibility were content with things as they were. Most of them, like me I suppose, were people of good will who thought that the bad stuff was aberrant and could be dealt with case by case. Bullying in the school yard was normal, always had been, and was relatively innocuous and besides, the kids would grow out of it. Or toughen up. Or you put a program in place and your elected official bogs off, happy. And never stops back to ask if the program is working or still in effect, even.

 Someone should ask if the school yard bully has grown up to be a person who will kneel on someone’s neck for eight minutes, ignoring pleas for air. Has the kid who teased someone about skin colour turned into an adult who blocks access to medical care at a reasonable price for ‘those’ people because they don’t look after themselves and don’t deserve it? Have the ‘elite’ groups of middle school madness become adult NIMBYs? And, equally frightening, what are some kids learning at home and internalizing. Because, don’t believe that little kids are innocent and are taught bias. Kids are inherently biased, like chickens pecking the one that looks different, and have to be taught, carefully taught, that all people are equal. When they see adults literally getting away with murder, what do they learn?

I am convinced that any of this is not going to be changed by a top down fix. That there are laws on the books and a Charter of Rights is nice, but not good enough. The elephant just keeps clomping along and here we are still sawing at the reins. Any change will only begin when a majority of people demand it and keep demanding it. Starting with sorting out the police, ditching politicians with tin ears and being aware, on every street, in every office, classroom and store, of prejudice in all its many subtle and overt forms. And calling it out, then and there, as it happens. In fact, by stopping being stupid and complacent and enabling. Yes, all lives matter, but the priority for our ‘racialized’ brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, matters more.

Note to readers: I am trying out 'New Blogger' and not getting the links to work. I have therefore included the URLs.


  1. What a fine piece of both general analysis and introspection.

  2. Very well said. Your penultimate paragraph is particularly good. These institutional racists got where they are by playing nice and insidiously affecting policy at all levels.

    Right now, in the US, the republican party is refusing to rebuke or acknowledge this maniacal presidentbecause while he is in the big chair, they are quietly remaking the court system, installing 200+ far-right judges on the federal level, many being lifetime appointments. They turn a blind eye to the obvious racial disparities and inequities, even now, choosing to focus on "Law And Order" and distractions. It's beyond shameful.