For many Canadians, especially white Canadians, the events that have unfolded in Charlottesville strike a deep chord of condemnation. For the most part, Canadians immediately denounce the efforts of white supremacists and Nazis. Most Canadians would agree that there is only one side to be on, the side that rejects this form of racist violence and hatred. Many Canadians would also assume that this is a uniquely American problem. This is false.
This weekend, like every other weekend where a violent story of discrimination mainstreams into Canadian screens, people all over the country took to their Facebook and Twitter pages, denouncing this violence and expressing their shock, horror and disgust. The chorus of "this is not us" was swift and overwhelming. Hashtags like #doesntspeakforme are trending, and Facebook filters with ribbons for "standing with Charlottesville" are helping some Canadians feel less uncomfortable.
I worry about this. As a university educator, I think about how our systems are failing. If the average white Canadian can leave our schools with the perception that "this is not us," we have failed. We are not without guilt. White nationalism, fascism, Nazi sympathizers, settler-colonizers, religious xenophobia, anti-blackness, anti-LGBTQ and many forms of extremist nationalism are deep in our history. It may not be who we want to be, but this Canadian life is full of this violence.
Another person — who isn't white, straight, cis-gendered, Christian, passport carrying — that person's body is marked to protect your ignorance.
If you are white, you've had the privilege to ignore this fact, and like all privilege, it's structured in a way that helps you deny it when confronted with it. That luxury rests upon material oppression and assault on others. Another person — who isn't white, straight, cis-gendered, Christian, passport carrying — that person's body is marked to protect your ignorance.
The majority of Canadians live within two hours of the U.S. border, which should serve as good reminder that we are not so separate from this history. And while we have distinct national identities, policies and governments, our histories are deeply intertwined. We are both countries which were forged through brutal armed assault on Indigenous peoples, which included chemical violence.
Our countries have histories of slavery and continue to be build through exploitative labour practices with migrant people of colour. Our cities and waters were stolen by dispossessing Indigenous nations and enforcing heinous colonial policies such as Indian residential schools. Indigenous people were only allowed to vote in the 1970s. Indigenous women were forcibly sterilized into the late-80s. The last state-run Indian residential school closed in the mid-'90s.
In university classes, this is the point where white students frequently say, "But this is in the past... I am not responsible for those actions. If this happened now, I would do something." This is white privilege, and it emboldens white supremacy. What begins as a structured erasure of racial violence through selective memory, becomes selective inattention to oppression in the here and now.
It is 2017. There remain over 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. If you are black, you are 17 times more likely to be racially profiled in Canadian cities like Toronto. Despite the ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, our Liberal government has continued the Harper government's practice of ensuring that Indigenous children receive less public funding for health and social services than any other children in the country (70 cents to the dollar).
Since 2013, hate crimes against Muslims in Canada have increased by 253 per cent. Since 2016, there have been targeted efforts to recruit new youth members to organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, which have distributed pamphlets in communities like Abbotsford, as well as digital efforts linked in Canada. There is a rise in vigilantism.
A few days ago, August 9, was the one-year anniversary of the death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie. He was a young Indigenous man, who was in a passenger car with four other people when he was killed by a white man who they had approached to help them with a flat tire.
This knowledge should enrage us, break our hearts, sober our minds and compel us forward.
While it is easy to point at the likes of Donald Trump or David Duke, and their obvious racism, it is much harder to look at ourselves as implicated in this same vicious violence. Again, this is a product of white privilege. But we must face the truth. We cannot escape through pithy platitudes, misappropriated MLK memes or trite calls to "come together."
We must sit in the unsettling knowledge that we have a profound problem with violence, and this problem is enduring. These days, our country is a bit obsessed with reconciliation discourse, but we need to know the painful truth, first. This is us. This knowledge should enrage us, break our hearts, sober our minds and compel us forward.
We must move through these entanglements of oppression in the pursuit of justice. But, there is no justice without the truth.
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