When I recently read about an Alabama teacher giving her eighth grade class a "racist math test," I had to laugh. This couldn't be for real. Do 13-year-olds even know how to quantify an eight-ball of cocaine? Perhaps this teacher was trying to "break bad" and was looking for the Jesse Pinkman to her Walter White.
When I realized it wasn't a joke -- these kids actually had to complete and turn in this test -- my feelings morphed into anger. I wasn't mad at this one teacher, but at a world where we are constantly confronted by stories of hate.
Have more people become racist, or has the anonymity of the Internet amplified voices of intolerance? I ask myself this question more and more as examples of blatant racism and xenophobia clog my news feed. Maybe media is to blame for throwing bigots into the limelight and fanning the flames of outrage culture.
During the federal election in Canada, we witnessed the politics of division in Stephen Harper's fear campaign. As a naturalized Canadian I couldn't reconcile the image of an "old stock Canadian" with the country and the people I have come to call my own. Canadians in my mind don't share a single trait or experience. I remember growing up in Ottawa and waking up to the sound of reggaeton beats on Canada Day. My neighbours were celebrating the nation they called home by enjoying the culture of countries they left behind.
I shudder to think there are people in the world who would hate me for reasons that have nothing to do with who I am, but because I am black.
In the United States, race is a complex issue steeped in a dark history of slavery and segregation that is still felt today. Many white Americans are unwilling to sympathize or even acknowledge their privileged position for fear of having to relinquish something. But speaking up for the oppressed by acknowledging that the issues of the past haven't ceased to exist doesn't necessarily equate to taking responsibility for historical injustices.
Last week I read that Airbnb banned a North Carolina-based host for life after he used racial slurs against a Nigerian woman who wanted to rent his home. This story is troubling for many reasons, but mostly because this host behaved as if his verbal attack was within his rights as a proud Southerner.
In Donald Trump's America, prejudice is an act of patriotism. And yet what should we expect from a man who would ask a federal judge to recuse himself from presiding over a lawsuit because of his Mexican heritage. The Republican presidential candidate acts with impunity, condoning acts of racism through alienating speeches and his borrowed campaign slogan, "Make America great again." When Ronald Reagan used this same slogan in 1980, it was meant to uplift a country reeling from a severe economic downturn; Trump, it seems, would prefer to see his nation divided and pushed into further decline.
I shudder to think there are people in the world who would hate me for reasons that have nothing to do with who I am, but because I am black. I have two younger brothers who both happen to be very tall; one is innocuously lanky, while the other is built like a linebacker. Does the colour of their skin and the build of their bodies make them a threat? I wish it didn't.
Living in a world where more than 60 million people exist in forced displacement, and nearly 46 million are modern day slaves, can make it is easy to fall into pessimism and accept inequality as an unsavoury aspect of human nature.
Still, I am inspired to believe that the world isn't going to shit when I hear courageous voices using whatever platform they have to stand up in the face of fear. When I listened to Michelle Obama's commencement speech to CUNY graduates, I felt the power of diversity in the following words:
"Here in America, we don't give in to our fears. We don't build up walls to keep people out because we know that our greatness has always depended on contributions from people who were born elsewhere but sought out this country and made it their home."
In the past, I've avoided wading into public discussions about race. I took pride in maintaining what I believed was objectivity. Yet the truth is I've been a coward, afraid of the ramifications of challenging dangerous opinions.
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