The Harper Conservatives have focused their time in power on dividing Canadians and creating fear for their own political benefit. We have seen countless examples of this from groups that have questions about criminal code legislation being called "soft on crime," to the use of terrorist propaganda to stoke fear when talking about political rivals (just look at the latest online Conservative attack ad against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau using material from jihadist propaganda), to the politicization of citizenship ceremonies and the meaning of citizenship as a whole.
Here is the thing -- "brown" is not a derogatory term. It is not a word rooted in oppression, exclusion, bigotry, or hatred of any kind at the social or institutional level. The term is value neutral. It holds no malice, or intent to harm. It is not a powerful reminder of disenfranchisement and racial divisions such as the term"n*****." As wonderful as it is that people want to step up to the plate to help create inclusion and openness, I just wish it was with some context. Instead, get up off your feet when you hear some of the following slurs that are offensive and have been historically directed towards brown people.
Canada is a dream come true for those who immigrate here. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the envy of the world. Its multiculturalism welcomes new immigrants with open arms, open hearts and open minds. If new immigrants are to become a part of the Canadian multicultural fabric they must know what their obligations as Canadian resident/citizen would be.
Over the following months in 2001, the violence continued in Burundi between the rebels and the government. My passion for my work diminished. I no longer felt like doing anything. I even stopped watching the news on TV, or even listening to it on my own radio station. Everything looked hopeless. In 2002, some Canadian journalists visited Burundi. If I were going to ask for help, it was now or never. Six months later, they invited me to visit Canada, and I jumped on the opportunity. I arrived in Canada with $60 in my pocket -- my mother's life savings.
The new, modernized Physical Education and Health curriculum is supported by the overwhelming majority of Ontario parents. However, there remains a small, yet vocal few, who strongly oppose any changes. Although I currently serve as a School Board Trustee, it's as a parent that I wish to engage in this debate. There is rarely a week at home when my kids don't speak of things I never would have touched at their age. As a father, raising my children in these times, I'm happy to be able to count on the support of professional educators who can complement what my kids learn and discuss at home.
Mr. Leung asked a member of the audience, "If you like Iran so much then why do you come to Canada?" He then demanded to know: "Why are you here?" Some audience members were so offended by his comments and his dismissive attitude -- which one attendee characterized as "arrogant" -- that they decided to leave the event. Mr. Leung is also the Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism. It kind of sounds like a bad joke, doesn't it?
The irony is that it seems to be some Christians themselves who, in an effort to show respect for non-Christians, often pre-emptively remove "Christmas" from their greetings, events, and public symbols. While the intention is laudable, the effort is largely unnecessary. I appreciate and welcome the deep connection Christians have to the symbols of their holidays.
A celebration of our history brings us to reflect on the present. There are certain questions we must ask ourselves. What challenges do Norway, Canada, and other like-minded countries face in our efforts, for example, to promote democracy, protect, and live in an inclusive society with equal rights and non-discriminatory practices? What is our role in the global picture?
When I am nine, my parents and I immigrate to Canada from the wet, hot, and hurricane-ridden island of Cuba. Before May 31, 2002, I have never stepped beyond my beautiful little island, have never seen a landscape without palm trees or the ocean, have never smelt air that isn't rife with humidity with a hint of dog piss, sea salt, and garbage, and I have never wanted to.
I have thus alienated myself from the convention of associating a cultural, national identity to my name. I do not feel like a citizen of said country, but rather, a denizen of the world. I realize my situation is rare and privileged, but I am not insensitive to the many problems revolving national identity around the world.
So when the traditional North American holidays roll around, don't expect me to sanitize them. I don't expect my brother-in-law to dial down Hannukah thinking I'd find it offensive. I don't expect my mayor to skip Eid because I don't celebrate it. I look forward to the Chinese New Year parade and so do my kids. They shouldn't stop it because I'm not Chinese.
It benefits us all to be honest with ourselves and recognize that adopted in 1971, enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and further enacted in law in 1988, Canadian multiculturalism is a socio-economic failure that now stains our national mosaic. There is nothing new in pointing out the failure(s) of multiculturalism. However, what has yet to be engaged as a public conversation is the consideration that, as our society's seeping open secret, the socio-economic failure of multiculturalism is what explains the festering phenomenon of black support for Rob Ford.
The amazing thing about our country is that we're still young. Compared to other countries we're like barely-legal young. We're still losing our baby teeth, learning how to walk, working out the kinks and growing into our clothes. And from what I see, the core of what Canadian-ness is, is multiculturalism. So I have problem with Black History Month, and the reason is this: I don't believe we should assign one month out of the year (and the shortest month, mind you) to one race. Why? Because although, yes, it brings awareness to the history and celebrates its triumphs, it sets them apart from the norm, reiterating this whole notion of "otherness."
The fact is our student populations are becoming more diverse, though that's barely mirrored in the staff make-up of most urban schools. And while there is recognition of a need to hire teachers that better reflect the student population, reaching that goal remains a long way off considering the comparably low number of teachers who self-identify as visible minorities. In the meantime, we need to foster culturally sensitive and inclusive schools where student engagement leads to higher graduation rates, the de-glamorization of gangs, and the nurturing of productive citizens of all backgrounds.
Until we find concrete and genuine ways to take into account cultural differences and the institutional power relations that inform that reality in Canada, Black History Month, like multiculturalism, will continue to be sidelined and watered down to satisfy Canada's mythical narrative of togetherness, racial justice and equality.