September 6, 1996 Halifax Herald
Canada must eradicate denial to eradicate racism
Canada must eradicate denial to eradicate racism
In spite of ongoing efforts to eradicate it, racial intolerance is still a major problem in Canada. As witness to this assertion, it would be a rarity to find among Canada's people of colour an adult who cannot recall a recent experience of being physically or verbally abused because of his/her race. Further, barbarous criminal acts, including murder and rape, have been committed in recent times against members of these races by white supremacists.
Unfortunately, one of the most deplorable fallouts from white racial discrimination is that many Canadians of colour have also become racially intolerant. However, for this commentary, the focus will be on how white intolerance towards people of colour is sustained in Canada. In a future column, I'll address the problem of racial bigotry now found among many Canadians of colour.
Historically, the unleashing of white supremacist racial discrimination in the Americas dates back to the arrival of Columbus. Thus, white supremacist attitudes are deeply engraved in the sub-conscience of white North Americans. Denial of this fact among Canadians of European descent is widespread.
Because of this denial, efforts to eradicate racism from our society are greatly hampered. For instance, because of it, our children are not taught in school about how legal means, as well as many other unsavoury methods, were used by our country to persecute its citizens of colour. An example: In the legal field, laws such as the Indian Act and the Chinese Exclusion Act, which were enacted specifically to legalize discrimination, are not subjected to discourse in most education facilities.
Denial is also exhibited in this manner: In spite of abundant proof to the contrary, dominant society apologists still try to deny that the majority of their forebears were racist. They try to exonerate them by citing historical events, such as the fact that Canada was the destination of Blacks fleeing slavery in the Southern United States, and by stating that Natives were well treated. In response, lets take a quick look at what really happened to the vast majority of ex-slaves and their descendants, and briefly examine the fate of Natives.
First and foremost, ex-slaves were not welcomed as equals in Canada and were not permitted to reside in white neighbourhoods. Up until recent times, their descendants were all but denied education and other essential services, and employment for them in high paying vocations was mostly a dream. And further, unlegislated segregation was so blatant that the use of most public places by Blacks and Natives was severely restricted, and abuse by degrading racial slurs was commonplace. During the First World War, racial discrimination against Blacks was so widespread that many white soldiers, including high ranking officers, refused to serve with the patriots among them who wished to serve their country.
This quote from a letter written by Lt. Col. George W. Fowler in 1915 to the Acting Adjutant General of the 6th Division in Halifax, exemplifies the level of discrimination Blacks faced: "I have been fortunate to have secured a very fine class of recruits, and I did not think it fair to these men that they should have to mingle with Negroes" (Source, Canada's Black Battalion, by Calvin W. Ruck, 1986). To cater to these segregationist attitudes, the Black Construction Battalion was created and located at Pictou.
Turning to First Nations: I've often cited examples of racial persecution endured by our peoples in my columns, therefore, I'll just recite two to refresh memories: Natives were denied by law the right to vote until 1960, and couldn't legally buy a six-pack of beer or other alcoholic beverages until the mid-1970s. Today, Native inmates make up an unacceptable high proportion of the prison population, and our exclusion from the political and social life of the Nation is routine. Many other discriminatory practices, such as store personnel following Native and Black clients around while they shop, are still endured on an ongoing basis.
In addition to the open racism endured by Natives, systemic racism is suffered. This form of racism has its roots in this centuries-old European racist line: "Prior to European settlement, the Americas were occupied by savages." Very little effort is being made today to refute this maliciously false statement, or to enlighten the country to the fact that Canada was actually founded upon the ruins of complex and viable non-white civilizations.
An African acquittance of mine once told me: "Canada is a Nation which likes to pontificate about the unacceptable human and civil rights records of other Nations. It does so while studiously ignoring the multitude of racial problems that exist, or have existed, in its own backyard."
Lets admit it: Since Europeans occupied what is today Canada, appalling and barbarous inhuman acts, including genocide, ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide, slavery, separation of peoples by law, internment, imprisonment without cause, forced relocation, etc. have been committed by whites and their governments against people of colour. When it comes to race relations, we are not a Nation with a saintly past. Therefore, lets open our minds and acknowledge this: Canada was and still is to an unacceptable extent, a white supremacist Nation. With the denial ended, we might be able to eradicate from our society the sickness called racism!
Daniel N. Paul