Why We Need To Keep Calling Out Racists

We may be speaking into an echo chamber, but what's the alternative?

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Nov 17 2016, 4:56pm

My uncle, a rabid Donald Trump supporter, has spent the last week gleefully posting racist memes on Facebook.

He lives in Australia and immigrated there from Fiji decades ago. Most of our family, including my parents, left Fiji for Western countries, including Australia, the US, and Canada.

Suffice to say, I couldn't help but point out to my uncle the irony of his view that "Muslims remain in a Muslim country where their way of life is the norm."

The conversation got heated, and ended with him calling me "delusional" like the rest of "the media" while I advised him that most of the articles he posts (he doesn't believe in climate change) are based on conspiracy theories and that as a bearded brown guy, I wouldn't be surprised if he was labelled a terrorist by the same soon-to-be-administration he admires so much. In short: we got nowhere, and I started to wonder if our exchange was actually a microcosm for my job.

I didn't become a journalist to write about race. But in the last year or so, I've found myself focusing on it a lot. It feels like Canada has been having a race moment. While some are content to pretend we live in a colourblind utopia (looking at you, #meanwhileinCanada), damning reports like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the rise of Black Lives Matter, and viral videos of assholes spewing hate make it hard to deny that both systemic and individual racism are the reality for many Canadians.

Conversations about race can be uncomfortable but I've believed them to be necessary if anything is ever going to change.

Now I'm not so sure.

Read more: Canada's Not Immune From a Trump-Style 'Whitelash'

Despite being repeatedly put on blast for his racism and xenophobia, Trump won the presidency, suggesting that his followers, the vast majority of them white, either weren't listening or didn't care.

The most hate mail or Twitter harassment I receive is when I publish a story about racism. In addition to being called disgusting slurs, like "sand n---er," I'm frequently labelled as anti-white. Or a race baiter. Often, it seems like the people who are so vehemently rejecting what I'm saying haven't read past the headline before making up their minds. Their demands that I be fired, kill myself, or go back from whence I came (which is Vancouver, FTR) only serve to prove my point.

On the flip side, it feels like those who are inclined to share my work are already on side. So is there really a point? (And yes, that goes for this column too.)

A recent Vox article suggested that calling a racist "racist" doesn't help. It cites a Stanford/Berkeley study on transphobia that found having brief conversations that appeal to the empathy of people with prejudice views is more effective than calling them a bigot.

We've been hearing a lot of this in the aftermath of the election. How we need to take seriously the concerns of disenfranchised rural white voters, instead of calling them out on their racial biases. I don't think those things are mutually exclusive though. It is absolutely true that politicians need to consider the struggles of that demographic. But putting the work on non-racists or people of colour to appeal to someone's empathy is unfair. It's 2016. If you haven't figured out what constitutes as racism, go read a fucking book. It shouldn't be up to the most marginalized groups to educate or placate the racists around them.

I don't have any real prescriptions for this conundrum. What I know for sure is that in the days since Trump was elected, racists on both sides of the border have been emboldened. We've seen high school students dropping the n-bomb; women having hijabs ripped off their heads; swastikas being graffitied onto synagogues.

The hate is real and it's not going anywhere. It feels like the least we can do is continue to call it what it is and bear witness.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.