12/12/2016 11:54 EST | Updated 12/12/2016 12:04 EST

How Will You Stand Up To Canada's Homegrown Racism?

Ian Daffern

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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