SPEECH by BILL SUNDHU: “Walk To Embrace Diversity”, on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Kamloops, BC, March 21, 2019.

The Charter of the UN is based on the principle of the dignity and equality inherent in all human beings. It recognizes that Racism is repugnant to the ideals of any human society. This is a dark time for human rights. The time for platitudes and touchy-feely speeches on diversity has passed. “There comes a time when [we] must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but we must do it because Conscience tells [us] it is right.”[1] If my words make anyone feel uncomfortable then I can only hope it is an opportunity to ask hard questions of ourselves – open our hearts and minds; to question some of our preconceived notions and assumptions. That’s not a bad thing – for, we all have blind spots and prejudices.

The United Nations proclaimed the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966. Every year, March 21 is recognized as a day where the international community can come together in an effort to eliminate ALL forms of racial discrimination.

Racist extremist movements based on ideologies that seek to promote populist, nationalist agendas are spreading in various parts of the world, fueling racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, often targeting migrants and refugees.

We condemn nationalist populism and any form of racial superiority ideology that advances exclusionary or repressive practices and policies that harm individuals or groups on the basis of their race, ethnicity, national origin and religion, or other related social categories.

We can all agree on that. But, that’s not enough.

 

Inflammatory language and dog-whistle politics are creating a climate of fear – and must be denounced. Islamophobia and white supremacy when unopposed – spreads and it kills.

When political leaders refuse to name and disavow it, or give space to those who preach it – they normalize it.

Real Leaders use their platform to call out and oppose – they don’t use it to empower white supremacists – for wedge votes and the desire for power. And, you can’t invoke “Canadian values” tests, “barbaric practices”, “Old Stock Canadians”, refuse to condemn Islamophobia (M-103), use coded language, and play fast and loose with the facts and policies on migrants and refugees. You can’t hang out with Islamophobes and racists and aspire to be good leaders for our country. Never mind the votes, condemn it.

It’s not enough to express condolences and condemn violence and murderous acts of hate when they occur. It’s too late. And, we’re sick and tired of “thoughts and prayers.”

Silence and doing nothing is also a choice. Indifference is the breeding ground of injustice. The Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel, reminded us:

“Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence
encourages the tormentor never the tormented.”[2]

Leaders make your choice. Never mind the votes. Condemn it.

Whether its islamophobia, anti-semitism, white supremacy, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, or xenophobia, we’ll be standing up and speaking out against hatred. All of Canada’s political leaders – local and national – should do the same.

But that’s not enough.

Keeping the peace and security, of individuals and groups, avoiding threats and violence is only a bare minimum.

What is our responsibility?

Racism is a pernicious evil. It is an affront to human dignity. It is a negation of the human personality. It is still with us. And, it hides and manifests itself in varied and complex – insidious ways.

The comedian Chris Rock, says all his white friends, only have one black friend. Think about that, for a moment. “The more contact we have with each other and learn about one another, the less likely we are to fear one another. This may sound trite, but the more we know about other groups, the more likely we are to pass that information on to one another and improve social cohesion. In turn, we are better able to identify and challenge those bent on dividing society.”[3] It is our collective responsibility as diverse societies to recognize our diversity and to uphold the human rights of others from those that would undermine or attack our fellow human beings.

Does a person’s colour or appearance affect who you imagine as your leaders – your MLA, MP, Provincial Premier or Prime-Minister? Does socialization in white supremacy or colonial history result in your predominantly imagining white persons in positions of power or is that the default position? Does the workforce of the city of Kamloops truly reflect the diversity of the street and our community? These are uncomfortable topics. But, if we don’t ask the right questions, we might not find the right answers to a more humane and inclusive society.

Because doing nothing is not good enough.

(Walk for Diversity, Kamloops Immigrant Services Society, 2019)

In a pyramid, every brick depends on the ones below it for support. If the bricks at the bottom are removed, the whole structure comes tumbling down. Indifference, minimization and veiled racism – not challenging racist jokes or putdowns, saying “why can’t we just get along”, a white ally speaking over POC, tokenism or claiming reverse racism, victim blaming, and paternalism are examples – of the lower level bricks – of the pyramid of racism and discrimination. Racism must be confronted at its roots, so it does not incubate and grow.

We need an antidote to complacency. And, we have to stop thinking about racism as someone who says the N-word or its equivalent. The academic Robin DiAngelo writes,

“Why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism – they just don’t
listen…Day in and day out, most white people are absolutely not receptive to
finding out the impact on other people. There is a refusal to know or see, or to
listen or hear, or to validate.”

They will insist, ‘Well, it’s not me’, or say ‘I’m doing my best, what do you want
from me?’ She defines this a white fragility – the inability of white people to
tolerate racial stress. This, she says, leads to white people ‘weaponising [their]
hurt feelings’ and being indignant and defensive when confronted with racial
inequality and injustice. This creates a climate where the suggestion or accusation
of racism causes more outrage among white people than the racism itself. And if
nobody is racist, she asks, why is racism still a problem? What are white people
afraid they will lose by listening? What is threatening about humility on this topic?”[4]

“Racist beliefs and practices are frequently invisible to everyone but those who suffer from them. Too often (white) Canadians tend to dismiss evidence of their racial prejudice and their differential treatment of minorities… The discomfort or denial of racism is so habitual…that to even make the allegation of bias and discrimination and raise the possibility of its influence on social outcomes becomes a serious social infraction, incurring…wrath and ridicule. This discourse has become a central rhetorical strategy. It functions as an expression of resistance to forms of social change. Demands of marginalized minorities…are discredited as an ‘overdose of political correctness’.[5]

“Contrary to what some people think, racialized people are often reluctant to relate their experiences of racism. Few enjoy recounting incidents in which they felt humiliated. People tell their stories at great risk.”[6]

Some of us will even have experience or knowledge of those persons who wrap themselves in the garment of being a moderate or progressive ally. And, he or she might defensively and falsely accuse a POC or Indigenous person of having called them a racist on the slightest or mistaken pretext. This person then expresses his or her outrage and (white) fragility by holding out the racialized person for public shaming. This is a kind of narcissism where the white person plays the victim, twists the story and is complicit in racism. Attacking these racialized voices and person is not only a denial of racism, it is suppression.

In his famous letter from the Birmingham Jail, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, warned of the real danger:

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers.
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely
disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable
conclusion that the [Negro’s] great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is
not the white citizen’s councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate,
who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which
is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with the goal you seek, but
I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes
he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical
concept of time and constantly advises [the negro] to wait for a ‘more convenient
season.’

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute
misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more
bewildering than outright rejection.”[7]

In the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood – we embrace each other – and we must listen and do so carefully. The consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves. We can learn from each other.

Racism and discrimination exists in every society. The challenge is to be true to the values we profess – on which we claim our country is predicated – and to ensure our ideal of equality and human rights. St. Augustine said, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

We need courage to deliver on the promise of equality, non-discrimination and human rights. It is a test of our commitment to true equality and justice. Our rights are interdependent, inter-related and indivisible. We need each other. We need a community that values and needs everybody, for a great life, and common future together.

Please look to a person next to you, and say “I am here for you.” Do it now.
Because we are here for each other today, tomorrow and every day – in solidarity. We All Belong Here. Peace and Love, to each and every one of you.

Thank you.

#FightRacism

[1] Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

[2] Elie Weisel, The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, the Accident, Hill Wang Farrar Strauss & Giroux, 2008.

[3] https://theconversation.com/the-psychology-of-fear-and-hate-and-what-each-of-us-can-do-to-stop-it-113710

[4] Robin DiAngelo, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/16/white-fragility-racism-interview-robin-diangelo

[5] Frances Henry and Carol Tator, The Colour of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society, 3rd edition, Thomson-Nelson 2006, pp. 22-29, 352.

[6] Report of the Ontario Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System, 1995, Toronto: Queen’s Printer, p. 35.

[7] Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, 1963, pp. 84-85.

 

About Bill Sundhu

Canadian lawyer, Former Judge, Member of Kellogg College of University of Oxford (Masters Degree in International Human Rights Law 2010).
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *