Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (you can get an HTML or PDF version here). It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the Harper government is downplaying this event to the point of practically ignoring it. As a Canadian, I will admit that I sometimes take the Charter for granted. I have grown up with it all my life (I was two years old when it was signed) so those rights were always a given for me. I think it’s important to mark these kinds of anniversaries and remind ourselves of the road that we had to travel.
It turns out that the Charter is also an inspiration to other nations as a roadmap to human rights. That makes me proud to be Canadian. I am not happy with the way my country is being portrayed and the way it is behaving under Harper’s government, but I hope that celebrating achievements like the Charter reminds Canadians of what our country is supposed to be about. I hope they are still able to remember it at the next federal election after Harper has spent five years misrepresenting my values as a Canadian. We should get back to being an example and an inspiration for the rest of the world.
You should all read the Charter, even if you are not Canadian. It’s a great read and it’s only seven pages.
I’m going to start by saying I don’t have the answer. I’d love to have it but people being how they are, I don’t think there is one way to combat racism that will work for everyone. Like everyone who doesn’t live under a rock, I’ve been following the story of Treyvon Martin’s shooting in Florida. The Crommunist has a few great posts about the story with some really interesting insights. He also has a really interesting post about racism he put up as a warm-up to the two about Treyvon. In it he mentions that he thinks we all have racist biases, no matter how much we think we don’t. This kind of stuck with me and has made me think about it for the past couple of days. I don’t consider myself racist so I really wanted to spend some time considering that statement.
I’m a white woman living in Montreal so it goes without saying that I never experienced racism directly. I grew up in a relatively liberal family but in conversations with my parents as I was growing up, I detected some racist undertones (with my father much more than my mother). I want to clarify here, I don’t believe my parents to be racist in an open and extreme manner. They don’t think that a black person is somehow inferior to a white person. Having said that, I think it would bother them if I brought home a black boyfriend. I also think my father would be much more bothered by it than my mother. I actually had this conversation up front and out in the open with my mother when I was a teenager: what would she think if I brought home a black boyfriend? She gave me the answer that everyone should give: it wouldn’t matter as long as he treated me well. I remember feeling that her answer seemed to have come a little too quickly and automatically. I pressed her and asked again if it really wouldn’t bother her. She responded again that it wouldn’t but then hesitated and said something along the lines of “I would always worry that the cultural differences would affect how he might treat you.” That took me off guard. What cultural difference? All of my black friends at school had grown up in Montreal just like I did and it bothered me that my mother assumed that because their skin was a different colour that they somehow had different values. Thinking back on this, I realize that Crommunist is right: we all have racial biases.
Having grown up in a metropolitan city, I think I have less biases than some people. I know some people who do a double-take when they see an interracial couple and that kind of thing doesn’t even cause a blip on my radar. I am a woman so I get tense walking around at night and having a man follow me (much in the line of thinking of Schrödinger’s Rapist), but I’m not any more nervous if the man following me happens to be black (or hispanic, arab, etc). I think my bias comes more from the fact that I don’t notice injustices as much as I should. As I was looking around my office today, I noticed that out of about forty of us, I could only see one visible minority (hispanic). That’s pretty sad given the fact that my classrooms were much more racially varied but until I actually consciously made myself look at it, I had never noticed. That’s where I am biased (there may be more ways I’m biased but that’s the one I found that jumped out at me). I don’t notice these injustices. And you can’t fix what you don’t realize is broken. So I think that raising awareness is probably one of the most important things we can do. I also think that it’s important to realize what our own biases are. That way, we can actively try to work to correct them. For example, if I’m ever hiring, I will make an effort to correct the lack of visible minorities in my office.
I am saddened and quite frankly disgusted about what happened to Treyvon Martin. I’m not an idiot and I know there is still blatant racism still present in our society. It doesn’t make it anymore sad when things like this happen. That Treyvon got shot and killed merely for being black in what some asshole decided was a white neighbourhood is tragic. That the asshole in question didn’t get arrested is abhorrent. I am so angry because it’s looking like this guy is going to get away with this without even so much as a slap on the wrist when we all know that if the positions had been reversed and Treyvon had been the one with the gun, he would have gotten charged in twenty seconds flat. That’s not acceptable. We should not stop bringing these injustices to light until they don’t happen anymore.
That can’t be soon enough.