How To Combat Racism

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.

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Too Young For Politics

I read this post today about young people being liberals. This section particularly struck a chord:

As I pondered the deluge, one sentiment from conservatives struck me: that I was too young to understand the wisdom of conservative ideology. As if my neocortex needs to evolve for another ten years, until finally developing that Personal Responsibility Radar that seems to be a byproduct of age.

I’ve heard the “too young” excuse too often concerning politics and it aggravates me every time. The quote above is about conservatism but the same principle applies to politics in general. Politicians want the youth vote, just not the youth opinions or ideas. It’s condescending and insulting. Apparently, you have to be alive for a great number of years before you can have a grasp of how the world works. Only then can you really manage to screw it up (look at the gridlock in the US Congress).

This reminds me of a conversation I had with some friends where I suggested someone should run as a party leader (I’m Canadian by the way). Every single person told me he was too young to take on that kind of responsibility. The MP in question is forty years old. Not exactly right out of high school. How old do you need to be before people don’t question your competence based solely on your age?

The current average age of the members of the Canadian House of Commons is 50.52. The average age of the Canadian population is 39.9. The Canadian population isn’t exactly being represented by their peers. And it’s not just about age. Women, visible minorities, atheists, and LGBT people are all underrepresented in politics. Important decisions that affect all these segments of the population are being made by old christian heterosexual white men. Let’s face it, this is the part of the population that has the most rights. It’s given them advantages. They’re not exactly in a hurry to make things better for everyone else because they don’t think everyone else has it that bad. Not to mention that it takes away their advantage over others. It’s easy for someone who has the right to marry the person they love to tell others they shouldn’t have the same right. No skin off their back. They should be allowed to shove their religion down our throats but atheists should just keep their lack of beliefs to themselves. It’s ok for women to be paid less than men for the same job. They just have a job for fun anyway, right?

Being young doesn’t make you ignorant. A thirty-year old can do just as good a job as an MP as a sixty-year old. It’s possibly they could even be better. Someone younger would probably be more adaptable to change and more willing to adopt new policies. Things would probably move faster in government. I could also be wrong. The thing is, we can’t know for sure until we try. We have to be better about supporting candidates that are not the usual suspects. Then we have to ignore the millions of dollars worth of propaganda that will urge us to support the old white guy. I think we can do it. I think we should do it. it might just make the old white guys shut up and listen to us for a change.