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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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.

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.

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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Addressing the Aboriginal Human Rights Crisis

Tina Fontaine. 15. Her body was found in the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Claudette Osborne. 21. Mother of three and fiancé. Missing.

Rinelle Harper. 16. Left for dead in the Assiniboine river in Winnipeg.

What do these three women have in common?

They are all aboriginal.

“This is a human rights crisis,”says Dr. Dawn Harvard, interim president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) to me in a phone interview. She cites the failure to protect aboriginal women and girls in Canada as a failure on behalf of the Canadian government. For the families of murdered and missing aboriginal women, Dr. Harvard explains that it is not just about finding and punishing the murderer. As much as the families want justice, what they really want is to not have been in that situation in the first place and to have their loved one back.

It is important to “get past racism, myths, and beliefs that indigenous women and girls are going missing of their own fault, because of their high risk lifestyle,” Dr. Harvard adds, stating that it is not their fault they are born into high risk conditions. She compares some aboriginal living conditions to that of third world countries – some lack hydro, heating, and proper housing. Other areas of concern include education, child welfare, and health.

Raymond Pidzamecky, a social worker from Yellowknife who has extensive experience working with aboriginal people, said by email that “we have to have courage to discuss the extraordinarily lopsided stats that exist for aboriginal people: higher suicide rates, illiteracy, sexual and physical abuse, unemployment, foster care and addiction rates.”

These statistics were discussed two weeks ago at a roundtable meeting in Ottawa, where representatives from each province and territory in Canada, and representatives from aboriginal leadership and the federal government met. At the roundtable, a national inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women was nixed. Another meeting has been scheduled to ensure the actions discussed in this meeting are taken – what those actions will be is still largely unknown.

Dr. Harvard says,  “We know it is racism. We know it is sexism. We know about Residential schools. We know the big picture – but what does a solution look like in the day to day lives of aboriginal women and girls?”

It looks like we might have to wait longer yet for an answer to this question.