In the wake of the July 12 verdict exonerating George Zimmerman of the murder of unarmed teen, Trayvon Martin, I've read, overheard, and been directly confronted with adamant assertions that a tragedy like this could never happen in Canada. "Forget the Stand Your Ground laws and the not guilty verdict," I've heard many say, "Because Canada is not as racist as America, a killing like this wouldn't ever happen here in the first place."
Are race relations in Canada so much further advanced than in the US that the Trayvon Martin tragedy would never happen here? I'm not so sure.
While I'm of the firm belief that, in general, it is much better to be a Black male in Canada than it is in the US, Canada does in fact have a long and continued history of exonerating White people who have brutalized, shot and/or killed a Black person, especially males in the context of policing.
That being said, when situating Canada in relation to the Travyon Martin saga, it must be asked: is it even intellectually honest to consider this tragedy along the predominantly Black/White racial lines always assumed in this conversation? I don't think it is.
As troubling as it is to face, the Canadian version of the Zimmerman-Martin horror would actually look something like the following scenario:
Zimmerman is a South-Asian or Asian male. Trayvon is an Indigenous teen girl who was simply walking to her home in one of Canada's upper-middle-class suburban neighbourhoods. Subscribing to typical stereotypes that are passively accepted in Canada, upon seeing the young lady, Canada's Zimmerman sinisterly thinks to himself, "This native girl has gotta be either a petty thief looking to rob one of us, a drunken and homeless wanderer with mental health issues, a young prostitute or some mix of all these evils." In this way his twisted mind would construct the unsuspecting young girl as "suspicious," allowing him to feel justified in deciding to get in his car and follow her.
Instead of Canada's Zimmerman adding this innocent Indigenous teen girl to Canada's shameful list of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, he ambushes her, grabs her, and aggressively berates her with accusatory questions about what she's doing in his neighbourhood. Angered by the frightened young girl's shocked silence and frantic resistance to his unprovoked attack, the man beats the young girl and throws her in the back of his vehicle. He drives her to the outskirts of town, finds a remote location and pushes her to the curb; abandoning her battered, bruised but still-breathing body on the side of a dark cold and quiet country road: a starlight tour.
After the girl and her horrified family go to the police, they arrest our Zimmerman. This is when Canada's Zimmerman gives his stereotype-flavoured version of the events: "She was drunk, you see." "She had passed out on my neighbour's lawn." "She looked like she had gotten into a fight." "I figured she was from a nearby reserve, so I decided to try to help her, you know, give her a ride back."
This carefully-crafted fable would justify the predicament of the young Indigenous woman and detach him from any wrongdoing. His story would conveniently confirm the unconscious biases and stereotypes that warp the hearts and minds of too many Canadians. "But how could he be a racist?" many in the Canadian public would think. "After all, he's a minority too."
American influence has led Canada to silently surrender so much sovereignty over the society's public psyche that we consistently confuse America's struggles for racial justice and equality for our own. This allows us to enjoy the false sense of security that the Trayvon Martin killing and subsequent verdict could never be a Canadian tragedy.
The tragic irony of such assertions is that it is precisely this thinking that allows far too many Canadian George Zimmermans to walk free in our society, design our public policies, and infect our collective memory, heritage and nationality.
If we really want to imagine what the Trayvon Martin tragedy would look like in Canada, we'd have to look at the histories, living conditions and ongoing struggles of First Nations, Métis and other Original Peoples in this country.
Only this kind of honest, Canadian-centred self-reflection will reveal to us that, here in Canada, if we can't stand up for Indigenous well-being, rights and treaties, we can never understand the true purpose of throwing up our hoodies for Trayvon.