While delivering a speech in support of the Senate's recent vote to scrap the long-gun registry last Thursday, Tory MP John Williamson stood up in the House of Commons and with the supportive cheers of a number of other Conservative MPs, triumphantly proclaimed, "Free at last, free at last, law abiding Canadians are finally free at last!"
If Williamson's declaration seems familiar, it is because his words are an adaptation of a portion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech, "I Have a Dream." At the end of this speech, King trumpets that once America achieves his vision of a country that is free of race-based and religious-based discrimination, all Americans will proudly declare: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
One can't help but to note how shockingly ironic and disappointing Williamson's stunt truly is. Only a day before Williamson chose to rhetorically defecate on the memory and legacy of King, the world marked the 44th anniversary of the day this leading civil rights leader was shot and killed.
On that day, April 4, 1968, an assassin's bullet burst from the barrel of a Remington Model 760 rifle, ripped into the round and well-known face of King, shattered through his jaw, smashed into the base of his neck and ultimately crushed the very windpipe that gave MLK the powerful baritone that most famously roared the words that Williamson chose to brazenly mock on the floor of the Commons.
Without question, Williamson should be taken to full account and pushed by the Canadian public to answer for why he thought it appropriate to diminish the words and legacy of King, demean the history and memory of the Civil Rights Movement, and degrade the meaning and spirit of King's vision in such an unscrupulous way -- and that, just to score a cute and gloating sound bite for the evening news.
I think we as Canadians deserve politicians with stronger character and much better judgment. Indeed, all Canadians should not only be disturbed by Williamson's tasteless jest, but also publicly demand better from him as one of our representatives in the House of Commons.
I can only imagine the great embarrassment Canadians would feel if his quip were played and scrutinized in the U.S. media now, at a time when the American public is struggling to deal with an all-too-recent set of high-profile shooting tragedies; that of Trayvon Martin, and that of five innocent African-Americans who were unsuspectingly gunned down over the Easter weekend during an anti-black shooting spree by two white men in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Even considering all of the above, I can't help but to feel that, at some level, the collective population of black Canadians also has some responsibility to take for the reckless regard Williamson was allowed to show for the most important figure of the Civil Rights Movement.
While there is absolutely no denying that, in general, black Canadians are still subject to a considerable and unacceptable degree of racial profiling, discrimination and socio-economic disenfranchisement in the fields of education, employment, and business, there is simply no credible excuse that in 2012 there is an absence of an active, respected and united political class of meaningfully influential black Canadians. Period.
Many people, especially a high number of individuals from the black Canadian community, may balk at this latest statement. They're likely to be quick to retort that many blacks are already deeply and variously engaged in a long-fought battle to correct the over-representation of blacks in statistics about school-related discipline, drop-out rates, unemployment lines, deportation cases, and the Canadian prison population.
This a very legitimate point, but it stands as all the more reason why a much higher number of black Canadians should be demonstrating not only a more heightened and sharpened political consciousness, but also much greater engagement in formal Canadian politics. How can change occur without meaningful participation in Canada's more mainstream political structures?
In other words, instead of being an excuse for not playing a bigger role in the Canadian political system, the fact that the average black Canadian finds him- or herself pushed to the socio-economic margins of Canadian society should be what motivates capable black Canadians to work with and on behalf of their communities by playing a much more influential role in the formal political process in Canada.
By this I mean taking up membership in any one of Canada's political parties, attending and participating in party meetings and business, or at the very least, organizing or taking part in letter-writing campaigns to political representatives, writing letters to the editor or even submitting opinion editorials for publication in media sources that are read within and beyond black Canadian communities throughout Canada. Voting alone is simply not enough.
While at first glance it may be hard to see, there is a most certainly a direct and important link between Williamson's dishonourable and appalling misappropriation of King's words and legacy, and the lack of political participation of blacks in the mainstream of Canada's political process.
The link is this: It is highly unlikely (at least one hopes) that Williamson would have even thought to so callously debase King's and the Civil Rights Movement's legacy if he knew that upon doing so he'd immediately have to answer to an effectively critical and vocal mass of blacks in his own party, in any of the opposition parties, and/or in the public where a chorale of black political commentators, journalists, and politically engaged community members would be sure the he were fairly, fully, and frankly taken to task for slighting blacks across North America (if not beyond) in shrewd attempt to score inconsequential political points against his opponents in the Commons.
But alas, such a politically engaged and formally implicated political class of black Canadians does not yet exist. So where does this leave us? Well, ultimately it just means that we Charter-fearing Canadians are stuck with a state of affairs where our politicians are given carte blanche to score pathetic political punches that diminish the historical struggles (and by extension the humanity and dignity) of blacks in North America, and free to do so without facing any meaningful consequence.
It was the African-American writer Audre Lorde who once said, "Your silence will not protect you." That seems about right...