On the Virginia Protests, White Supremacy and Donald Trump

Reading the headlines about white supremacists rallying at the University of Virginia makes me wonder: Shouldn’t it be easy to condemn these people and their racist viewpoints? Shouldn’t we be able to, unequivocally and without hesitation, say that their actions are wrong? I am curious especially because the President of the United States seemed to be unable to do these things at his press conference today.

Watching Donald Trump speak, I was, like many others, waiting for him to utter the words “White supremacists.” But he did not call the protesters what they are. He didn’t even acknowledge that they were any more in the wrong than the counter-protesters (some of whom, by the way, were hit with a car in what many are calling an act of domestic terrorism).

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” Trump said. His words have prompted many to ask: “What sides?” The torch-carrying, Nazi-saluting white supremacists started this protest last night; the “other side” would be, I guess, the people counter-protesting. There are not “many sides” contributing to the hatred and bigotry—there is only one.

That Trump didn’t outright condemn the protesters speaks volumes. His campaign rhetoric emboldened people because it made it seem like it was OK to act upon stereotypes and to discriminate against people. And his policy and legislation as president—from his Muslim ban to his recent immigration policy which would reduce the number of legal immigrants to the U.S. and give preference to those who speak English—only further invigorate white nationalist sentiments.

After the election, David Duke, former leader of the KKK, said that Trump winning was “one of the most exciting nights of (his) life.” Today, Duke said that, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump.” Trump has rebuked Duke in the past, but today he failed to openly decry the values of the white supremacists.

More and more, our societies are becoming more diverse. Many of us believe wholeheartedly in the undeniable truth that people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are, and deserved to be treated as, equal. So people like the white supremacists in Virginia feel threatened. In a Twitter thread, user @JuliusGoat made an excellent point about the protesters. “They are chanting ‘we will not be replaced.’ Replaced as … what? I’ll tell you. Replaced as the only voice in public discussions. Replaced as the only bodies in the public arena. Replaced as the only life that matters,” he said.

The actions of the protesters, as well as Trump’s response so far, are disturbing for a myriad of reasons. Had the protesters not been white, it’s likely that Trump would have issued a much stronger condemnation of their actions and words. Furthermore, that white supremacists are marching at all—in a progressive America, in 2017, no less—is a chilling indication that we, as a society, have not come as far as we may like to think.


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London Terrorist Attack: Do Not Use Tragedy to Justify Hate

As a writer, someone who loves words, I am rarely speechless. There are always words at my fingertips, on the tip of my tongue, in the depths of my brain. But there are some moments, some days, that leave me unable to form my thoughts into words and my words into sentences. Today, reading about the attack in London, England, is one of those days. Because what do you say when tragedy strikes?

You say you are thinking of the victims, of their families. You try to focus on the tragedy at hand, the incomprehensible nature of it all. You try to be a little nicer to the people around you, because, now more than ever, the world needs love. But in the back of your mind, as you turn your speechlessness into constructive words, you know that this is bigger than one attack, that there are more victims than the four senselessly killed yesterday.

There is a kind of cycle that unfolds whenever there is a terrorist attack. There’s immediate fear, of course. This gives way to panic, which is not always immediate. This panic manifests in isolationist policies, in orders to ban people from certain countries of certain religions. And this serves as propaganda material for terrorist groups, who then perpetrate more attacks, which triggers the cycle all over again.

Caught in the middle of this cycle are the innocent Muslim people who are not terrorists, who are, themselves, victims of terror. It seems so painfully obvious to me to say that not all Muslim people are terrorists; Dylann Roof was a white supremacist who committed a mass murder at a black church, and no one calls all white people murderers. But this simple fact is one that many people—including, unfortunately, many people who are key decision makers in governments around the world—do not understand. This is not helped by media reports which are quick to judge any attack as an Islamic terror attack, and any attacker as Muslim.  

There is so much anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and Islamophobic sentiment in the world right now. Inevitably, some people will use yesterday’s tragic events as proof that this rhetoric is justified. Some may even take their beliefs a step further and commit hate crimes against Muslim people. This is not okay. Nothing can justify acts of hate.

The terrorist attack in London is a tragedy. As more information unfolds in the coming days and weeks, I implore you to spread the message that this tragedy cannot justify hatred. Do not use this horrific attack to condone Trump’s travel ban, or his Islamophobic and xenophobic statements and actions, or the decision to not admit refugees, or any acts of violence or hate crimes targeting minorities.

When a shocking attack happens, you may feel speechless, at a loss for words. But try to move past this. Find something productive to say; find an important message to spread. Let your words, and your actions, help the people who are suffering. I am heartbroken about yesterday’s terrorist attack, and grateful for the emergency responders who helped out on the scene. Those two things are part of the message I want to spread. As is this: that, as tragic as the London attack is, it cannot be used to justify hate.


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Acceptance and the Quebec Mosque Shooting

On Jan. 29, six men were killed while praying in a mosque in Quebec City. The men killed were “parents, civil servants, academics.” The man who killed them was called a “criminal extremist” by an RCMP commissioner.

When I heard about the shooting, I was crushed. As Canadians, we see all of these terrible things happening across the border, and we thank our lucky stars that we live in Canada. However, as I have written previously, we are not immune to terrorist attacks, to shootings, to hate; and Canada is not the utopian human rights refuge we may like to imagine. We are a nation built that was through colonization, and sometimes even injustices like genocide. And Canada still faces some serious, unacceptable inequalities.

I tweeted about the shooting at the mosque, and there were a few things I wanted to get across in those 140 characters: That I felt physically pained by the news of the attack. That I was thinking of the families of the victims, and of Muslims across Canada and across the world. That this hate-filled action is not reflective of a country trying to reconcile its past and move forward to be an accepting nation (a similar message to my post from last January about the hate crime against Syrian refugees in Vancouver: “This is not Canada”).

I thought my message was clear. I stand with Muslims, in Canada and worldwide. But I guess some people who are looking for a certain message will find it even where it was not intended. Because I noticed today, a month after tweeting what I believed to be a message of solidarity, that someone had responded with a racist remark.

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My tweet from Jan. 29, and, above, a reply.

When I saw this tweet, I felt as sick as I did when I heard the news of the shooting. It’s not that this person misinterpreted my message, per se; it’s that this a reminder of what some people truly believe. Unfortunately, this Twitter user represents the views of too many people, including the president of the United States.

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Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees at a Canadian airport. (Image credits: The Globe and Mail)

We can tout Justin Trudeau’s acceptance of over 25,000 Syrian refugees as proof that Canada is a welcoming nation. We are, sometimes. However, there is a fine line between tolerance and acceptance, and the latter is not a hate-filled shooting, and it is not a hate-filled tweet.

I will end with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” I may disagree with people who are racist, but I think they can learn to love. It is my hope that people like that Twitter user can learn to accept people who are different than them and stop advocating for violence against them, or for them to “go home.” Canada is all of our homes—and we all have a role to play to ensure it is an accepting place for everyone.


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This is Not Canada

Last night, Syrian refugees attending a Welcoming event in Vancouver were attacked with pepper spray. Global News reported that around 15 people – including children as young as two years old – were sprayed by a man riding past on a bike. Some people who were not refugees were also hit by the spray. The attack is being classified as a hate crime at this point. “It was tragic,” said Tarek Ramadan of the Muslim Association of Canada, adding, “It was not good for these people who came from five years of war.”

This is not okay.

Victims of a hate crime?! It is cruel irony that the refugees were at a welcoming event, and were treated in the complete opposite of a welcoming manner; but worse irony that they came to Canada seeking refugee from years of war and violence and found themselves victims of a violent attack. The Syrians who came to Canada were promised a new life – a peaceful one. They deserve that, and more; but unfortunately, some people disagree.

This is not right.

Unless we are refugees or immigrants ourselves, it is impossible to imagine what the Syrians who came to Canada have been through – or what they are still going through. If the people who don’t support the refugees were the ones fleeing from the cramped quarters of a refugee camp, or escaping living under the threat of terrorist attacks and being surrounded by a civil war, they would think differently. There is an appalling amount of ignorance in some people’s minds;  but a lack of understanding does not justify a hate crime.

This is not acceptable.

I have to remind myself that the actions of one do not reflect the thoughts of many. For that one person who misguidedly attacked the refugees, there are thousands of Canadians who support the refugees, who condemn the attack (Prime Minister Trudeau among them), and who are shaken to their cores that this attack happened.

This is not just.

The thoughts of all of us who truly welcome the refugees will hopefully help to heal any emotional wounds from the attack, and hopefully help set the record straight for some of the ignorant people. Unfortunately, even a million welcoming and supportive thoughts could not change the fact that this attack happened, that what was supposed to be a safe place of refuge was – and to some extent, is – marred by hate. I am so sad, so ashamed, and so sorry that Syrian refugees were attacked in the place they were told would welcome them with open arms.

This is not Canada.

 

Nelson Mandela’s Torch

A few days ago, the world lost one of its brightest lights: Nelson Mandela. For those of you who don’t know, Nelson Mandela was a black South African who fought against apartheid (legal segregation of people of different races). Mandela spent 27 years in prison, but was released, and became the first black Prime Minister of South Africa.

From of his inspiring story came a multitude of quotes. There is one quote in particular that I think is extremely thought-provoking, and I would like to share it with you.

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The idea explored in this quote seems simple, but to be honest, the first time I read the quote, I was stunned by how much sense it makes.

We are not born with any real knowledge. Through constant question asking, and curiosity-led exploration, young children discover the world around them.

We don’t just learn by teaching ourselves, though.  Another large influence on our thoughts, opinions, and overall knowledge is what others have taught us (whether it is them talking to us, or them having written a book that we read and learned from). So what if the people we learn from are biased, or don’t teach us what is “right”?

 Defining what is “right” is a challenge in itself, because it means different things to different people. Right can mean politically correct, but it can also mean what is correct to each individual person.

Despite our different definitions of right, I think something we can all agree on is that discrimination is most definitely not right.

As Nelson Mandela so wisely points out in his famous quote, we are not born hating anyone. Hate isn’t a natural feeling. We are taught to hate; because of the media, because of the people we surround ourselves with, and because of the things that other people impose on us.

This alludes to the fact that we are the embodiment of our experiences, and that if our experiences have taught us to hate certain things, then we will. But, again, as Mandela says in his quote, if we have all been taught to hate, then we can also be taught to love.

We can be taught not to judge others, and to be more accepting. But these things don’t just happen overnight (if they did, the world would be a lot different). So what can we do to change this?

This is a question that Nelson Mandela devoted his life to answering, and I think it is a question that should be more openly discussed. It is easy to turn a blind eye to the discrimination that happens in our society: but it’s difficult to forget when you are a victim of it, or know someone who has been.

Though Nelson Mandela’s light is no longer with us, we can still be inspired by the quotes and stories he has left with us. It is now up to us to carry his torch, and light the way for a better future.