The other day I was standing at an intersection. I glanced over at the post on the corner to be greeted by a flyer entitled "Hey, White Person." It was an invitation to join the "alt-right" white supremacist movement for those "sick of being blamed for all the world's problems caused by minority groups and immigrants."
Generally I am not in the habit of reading or even noticing street posters, but this piece of graffiti caught my attention. In fact, in over 50 years of being in Canada, this was the first time I had ever seen such a damning, public piece of overtly racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant propaganda.
It would seem that "closet" racists and sexists have now been provided with permission to express themselves with full voice.
What had changed? In the opinion of experts who watch these things, it is several things, including the Brexit vote, police violence against people of colour, the Syrian refugee crisis and perhaps the most influential anomaly -- the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
Of course, xenophobia, racism and sexism are not new. Organizations that monitor incidents of racism and hate crimes report that while racism has always existed in Canada the dramatic political changes south of the border have had an impact on the tolerance for overt displays of racist and sexist sentiments. It would seem that "closet" racists and sexists have now been provided with permission to express themselves with full voice inspired by the behaviour of president-elect Trump.
For example, a recent front-page newspaper article recounted a Korean bank customer experiencing a series of racist slurs while waiting to be served in line. When she asked the offending fellow customer to stop, she was apparently told "We can do anything we want to you guys. We own you."
Xenophobia is defined as "a fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures or strangers."
Online searches related to xenophobia have increased exponentially since the U.S. election, and starting as far back as the June 22 Brexit vote. Perhaps we can understand the new intolerance by referencing an ancient Bedouin saying -- "Me against my brother, me and my brother against our cousin, me and my brother and cousins against the stranger."
As the new intolerance grows, it will undoubtedly spill over into the workplace and employees will face more overt acts of discrimination, harassment and general disrespect. According to the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, half of the most recent incidents of intolerance occur in the workplace.
The question is what will you do when you see it? Will you operate the way the fellow bank customers and staff did when they witnessed the racist attack cited above claiming "there was nothing they could do?" Or will you take some type of action?
How do we stop the rise of this new intolerance? Perhaps the great leader Martin Luther King gives us a hint when he said, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
Or, as another great thinker once said, "What you do speaks so loudly I can't hear what you are saying."
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Even teens with the same identity -- be it racial or gender -- can be guilty of bullying and discrimination. Ontario's Ministry of Education defines bullying as "a form of repeated, persistent, and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person's body, feelings, self-esteem, or reputation."
Social media can be a platform for bullying to continue even after school is out. Cyber bullying occurs when young people take malicious actions online. through chat rooms, email, social sites and instant messaging.
"You don't need to go into full confessional mode, but have fun with it, if that helps. Or be perfectly honest," Author Jonathan R. Miller said. Miller pens e-books with multi-ethnic characters and themes. You don't have to talk about all the nuances of your family tree every time you're asked about your background, He said. That can be exhausting. Find something that works for you personally.
"I like the word 'mixed' because it's a messy word, and in my experience growing-up mixed is exactly that," Miller said. He suggests that it's important to allow yourself to truly wrestle with questions of identity in environments you consider safe.
If you are struggling with your identity, you don't have to tell the whole world, but confide in a friend that you trust. Having someone to confide in is important. "If you can, find someone who you can talk to about your most honest, ever-evolving, often-messy answer to the question, "What am I?" Miller said.
"Maybe you don't have anyone trustworthy to talk to honestly about your experiences. Write about them. It helped me, sometimes, to get those out," Miller said. It may not make a lot of sense initially and it might feel uncomfortably personal, but write. Keep a journal, write short stories and rename the characters, try your hand at poetry -- whatever feels best.
"You are likely being told at different times, more or less, to hurry up and get off the fence, pick a side and get on with it," Miller said. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be unsure of who you are, even if your peers seem to have their acts together, he said. Teenage years are discovery years. Miller also quoted author Rainer Maria Rilke: " 'Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. ...live in the question.' That's good advice. Difficult to follow, but good."
When it comes to mixed heritage, "you don't have to be 'both' or 'other' or 'all of the above' all of the time. Sometimes the only way to figure out what you are is to choose one thing and be it for a while," Miller said. Explore how it feels to fully embrace a single aspect of your identity, for short period of time. See "what stick and what slides off." It's simply learning, Miller said.
"I can't tell you how many multi-racial people I've met who have chosen a single race or ignored race entirely and been perfectly content with the decision. A biracial friend of mine used to tell me, 'I'm black and white, yes, but I'm black. Period,' " Miller said. He said he knows many people have chosen to identify with only one aspect of their multi-background, while others have embraced the blend.
Find creative ways to occupy your time, Miller said. Join a group or do an activity (with others) where you are empowered to be who you are, instead of having to act how others think you need to be in order to fit in.
Take pride in your ethnic (culture, colour or religion) heritage. You have no control over your heritage, and you can't change that fact that this is who you are. So embrace it and learn as much as you can. "You may feel like it would be an insult to your heritage to embrace one aspect of yourself above the others, but trust me, it wouldn't be. This is important: it is not your job to uphold, with perfect equity and grace, all of the elements that went into your making," Miller said.
"Often they're the 'gatekeepers' that decide whether you're 'in' or 'out.' But what you can do is have a ready answer for the 'charges' they level against you. Whether you use humour, earnestness, or self-righteous anger, it helps to have your defense lined up and ready," Miller said. Sometimes people think all the "members" of their cultural or ethnic community must behave, dress and think a certain way. But as an individual, you can do whatever you want and find your own identity.
Follow Trevor Wilson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TrevorWilsonTWI