You Can’t Live in Canada and Express Shock About White Hate in Charlottesville
Things are bad in the US right now, but we have no right to moral superiority.
Art by Noel Ransome
As a black man in this country, there are few things that irk me quite like a shocked Canadian. You know the kind I'm talking about here, the "nice" white Canadian. The ones that look to the south and gasp on cue; as if blind to the shit that happens on their own soil. They'll make tired, been-there, done-that statements like, "I can't believe this hate can happen in 2017," as if to remind their one black friend that they aren't as un-woke as the "racist" of the day. But in the end, it's easy to see it for the ruse that it is.
My first question is always, how could you be shocked? A circus of shitty #unitetherite Nazis with tiki torches gathering on a confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend isn't some anomaly. It happens often enough within our own country as reported by my own colleagues. Our very own VICE News Tonight episode about Charlottesville literally opens with a Canadian white supremacist being welcomed by another Nazi if you also want to get super topical. This is what people of colour have always spoken about, warned about, written about, and cried about: that hate is an actual thing here. It's an active thing everywhere.
But for the white people in Canada who push back on self-identifying with America's racial tensions, you should know why our warnings fall on deaf ears. To acknowledge racism after-all is to welcome the possibility that you, the "nice" white Canadian, benefit from its existence just the same; and this is where that white-fragility plays its hand—through the dismissals. "This is Canada though!" they'll shout, or the classic, "At least we're not like America!".
After the years of demonstrations, #blacklivesmatter protests, accusations of police carding/brutality, and historical mistreatment of Canada's Indigenous people, Canadians still have the nerve to dismiss while gasping at the same time.
Right now there are about 100 active white supremacist groups in this country. There have been numerous cases of swastikas and anti-Semitic material being painted on Canada's places of worship and classrooms. Just last March, there was a protest declaring Islam as evil. A month ago, the Toronto Public Library granted a group neo-Nazis space in their venue to congregate. Aisha Ahmad, a Muslim-Canadian professor was assaulted at a Toronto Symphony by a white man in June. And in January of this year, Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims at a Quebec City mosque.
It's one thing to live in a system where my own full-bodied, black-as-hell participation as a Canadian is met with carding and fear. It's another to be reminded that white-shock is just another form of dismissiveness to that. It's paralyzing, deflating, and oppressive in its truth. But many of us still go on, carrying these unrecognized frustrations until the next major catastrophe forces the "nice" silent Canadian to say something.
What do you think the Black Lives Matter demonstrations were for in this country? Those minor moments of inconvenience when black protestors stopped morning traffic meant something. The problem is that our historical perspective in Canada implies that we're too kind to warrant any real concern over racism. But even the dreaded white supremacists during America's Jim Crow era were kind, considerate family men on the surface; the guy-next-door type. But this never hid the fact that their dangerous ideologies trumped the "all men are created equal" idealism of their country. It takes actionable movements like that of #blacklivesmatter, Indigenous, Muslim and minority voices to cripple that vision of our own faux idealism. Not the selective, albeit, disingenuous horror on behalf of "nice" white folks.
There's simply no excuse for "surprise" anymore. No room for it. Racism, hatred and white supremacy have been visible things in Canada. America isn't something alien. Our historical treatment of the issue is no different from a Donald Trump and his "many sides" sound bite. His statement, while vague in its condemnation; gave rise to a false equivalency between the Nazi and anti-Nazi. I see this as no different from Canada's own casual erasure of its own problems.
A "nice" tweet by Justin Trudeau isn't going to help matters. The "nice" white Canadian and their "shock" isn't going to help either. Only acknowledgement, and the active speaking out against this country's see-no-evil, speak-no-evil approach will. Until that happens, you can keep your shock.
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