Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Visibility of Racism

I was alerted to the picture above by a friend who is currently living in Switzerland. It's an anti-immigration poster. To North American sensibilities, it is shocking how blatant the racism is, even after hearing about anti-immigration sentiment (directed largely at Muslims) all over Europe.

Of course, this is not to say that we don't have racism over here. We often have to look harder to find it, but there are Canadian- and American-based neo-nazi sites and forums. Do a Google search for "stormfront". I sometimes visit them just to see what they are talking about. The smarter racists (an oxymoron?) will claim pride in race/culture, but that façade falls away quickly when you read the comments on these sites, which rarely talk about pride and instead are obsessed with hatred and stereotypes so crude, they make stories about the deep south in the 50s sound progressive. I'm not kidding; you couldn't make this shit up if you tried.

I don't believe we'll see an end to racism in my lifetime. I think we need to accept it and continue to deal with it. I'm not talking about being complacent; I'm talking about continuing the fight against it. The fight is never-ending, which is why I'm an activist.

My fantasy would be that all racists might have, say, blue skin, so that we would be able to identify them easily and know who to avoid. The reality is that racism is something that many people know not to reveal. It slips out now and then, sometimes when and from whom you least expect it.

There is a long-standing argument about whether it is better that racism be open or hidden. I have heard that in many parts of the US, visible minorities (most often blacks) still suffer fairly open discrimination; in these cases, many victims of racism say that at least they prefer to know where the racists stand. I've also heard many reports of racism in Canada against visible minorities, but in many incidents there are no open comments - no "hard" evidence. Racism hits the headlines in Canada when a whistle-blower inside an organization makes a public claim of discrimination (which will be immediately denied), or a private email with incriminating comments is mistakenly misdirected. Yes, we do have systemic racism in Canada. But we like to keep it quiet.

Call it Political Correctness if you want, but I prefer it our way. In this day and age, I am comfortable with the idea that racists feel they have to keep their thoughts behind closed doors, that they have to fear being "found out", that they know their attitudes are not acceptable in the mainstream. Keep them on their toes. If they want to teach hatred to their children, they'll also have to teach that these attitudes are not tolerated by the majority.


L-girl said...

Excellent post. I love the blue skin idea. Wouldn't it be nice.

Sadly, even that wouldn't work, as racism isn't an all-or-nothing thing. Many people subscribe to racist stereotypes and are less comfortable around people who look or speak differently than they do, but are not neo-nazis, wouldn't advocate violence or round-ups or even unequal laws. In fact, they can look at the neo-nazis and think, I'm not like them, so I'm not a racist.

I agree that it's better for racism to be socially unacceptable. It gets people out of the habit. It makes them think before they speak. It gives people out of the mainstream / majority a voice.

23fevrier said...

I arrived in Canada in 2002 from Europe, France and I settled in Montreal, Quebec. I spent the last six years in that province hoping to get a job based on my qualifications. Last summer, I finally moved to Toronto and got a job with the Association of Ontario Health Centres as a translator. You can imagine my joy and happiness, something I have tried to do for six years in Quebec and it was impossible for me to get a job because of the colour of my skin. Well, in December, Friday 5th, I was laid off, without warning. The executive director explained to me that I was not a good translator. My supervisor, a Canadian French from Quebec made sure that I would lose my job. In the three months, I worked with the AOHC, he never tried to communicate with me and led me to understand that he would revise my job. What I thought was quite peculiar in that situation is the fact that my work was criticized by a person who had no qualifications or experience in translations, was hired a few months earlier than I was, and never gave me the opportunity to discuss what was happening and how to tackle the job. The Executive director, as for her, just believed what she was told, without questionning it. She just kept apologizing about the situation, how terrible it was and that she thought that I had been informed. And this is an association which is trying to fight social injustice, requesting fundings from the government to do that but when face with a coloured person, she just believed the lies of a racist. I do not understand, in particular, when this country is always claiming about all their endeavours to better the life of all the residents. Therefore, I would like to know, now that I still haven't found a job, have an appointment to apply for financial assistance from the government. The more educated you are here, the worst it seems to be. This association talks a lot about helping visible minorities but we do not need that kind of help, we need a job that we can keep and those people in charge keep a blind eye to such situations, claiming how helpful they are while there are not, so what's left! I can definitely say that I work in a field dominated by French Canadian and it is going to be extremely difficult for me to get a job and keep it. Here, Racism should never be mentionned, in particular, when you are a black person. No, this is not happening, not here in Canada. I thought it was going to be different in Toronto but I was absolutely wrong.
We are supposed to live in a free world but nothing is done at the government level when it comes to race matters. There are laws to make sure that these situations are kepts under the rug, but nothing else. Employers make sure to let you know that anything you will try, will go against you. And if you are already discriminated, why would you try to sue an employer against discrimination when they advised you not to do it.