Laughing Around Racism. Humor, and the Social Construct of “Race”: Why Some “Black” kids Prefer to be “White”

Humor has become a popular tool in mainstream media. It seems that many serious topics gain widespread attention with the use of humor. Race is a social construct that relies on dichotomies, including sweeping labels that tend to produce categories of us and them. Does humor help challenge social constructs of race? Does it demystify “race” and help bring social justice issues to the forefront? Or does it produce narrow channels of exchange that reinforce established stereotypes?

In the clip below Dave Chappelle explores racism through humor and highlights the hierarchal nature of “race” as a social construct. In the hierarchy of “race”, “white” is the reference point against which everyone else is measured against. In this construct, “white” is “normal” “valued”, “desirable” and “superior”. When Dave says that “Terrorist” will not take “Black people” as hostages because they are bad bargaining chips, he is saying that “race” as a social construct and its hierarchy produce a diminished value of “black lives”.

When you remove the use of humor around the issue of “race” as a social construct it becomes far more difficult to discuss—perhaps even painful. Furthermore, you lose a significant platform. People like Dave Chappelle and Russell Peters have earned fame and fortune as comedians by exploring and some might argue exploiting the social constructs of “race” and “racism”. Without comedians, the platform for “discussing” and or “exploring” social constructs of “race” and “racism” may be relegated to academia and social organizations.

Although “race” is a social construct, it has serious and real consequences both at the micro level and at the macro level. At the macro level, “your” “racial” identity is imposed on you through various constructs that are mediated through complex channels; and as difficult as it is to accept, as a (negatively) racialized individual, you are constantly negotiating your identity with individuals and with institutions, sometimes with what feels like little agency. As Desmond Cole pointed out in his article, The Skin I’m In, There is sometimes a complete disconnect between one’s identity, one’s self-imagery and self-perception and the identity that individuals and institutions impose on them. So when someone literally runs away from you because of the colour of your skin, as someone did run away from Desmond, you do not have the agency to negotiate the contents of your character. Interestingly, they are not running away from “you” but the social construct of “you”—yet they are literally running away from you.

Consider the clip below. Many (negatively) racialized children have difficulty identifying with and having a positive image of their “ethnicity”. Understandably, these children want to identify with the “normal”, the “valued” the “desirable”.  From my experiences, children at a very young age observe and identify visible differences and there is nothing wrong with that. The problem occurs with the value hierarchy that is attached to those differences.

When my son was young we used to take a lot of taxis. Coincidentally, all of the taxi drivers happen to be Sikh men wearing turbans. One day, on a walk back from the park we were playing I spy. My son said, I spy with my little eye a taxi. I look around and couldn’t find a taxi. My son insisted that he spotted a taxi. I replied that I would not continue to play if he did not play fairly. Upset, he pointed at a Sikh man walking across the street; for my four-year-old son, a taxi and a Sikh man wearing a turban were synonymous—interchangeable. That stopped me dead in my tracks. I didn’t even wait to get home. I explained to my son that the individual walking across the street was a person, a human being, not a taxi. I explained to him that there are different people who look different that drive taxis and that it was a mere coincidence that he had not seen them. It was and is important for me to ensure that my son develop and maintain respect and appreciation for differences. I did not want to dismiss any perceived differences. I wanted to acknowledge,  discuss and value them.

Funerals for Youth: Gun Violence and Collateral Damage.

Over the past two weeks, I attended two different funerals. Two twenty-six year-old men were shot in Toronto in a double homicide. Adbiwel Abdullahi and Mohamed Abdiwal Dirie were shot to death allegedly by 23-year-old Kamal Hassan.  Both the victims and the perpetrator were of Somali decent.

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In the Somali culture, it is normal to pay your respect to complete strangers. In a way, it feels like you know them; if you do not know them and they do not know you, chances are they know your parents. When I went to one of the victims’ home to visit his mother I could not help but think. Like so many others, this parent fled Somali’s civil war so that her children would grow up in peace and security, yet her son’s life was cut short by gun violence.

I went to go visit the family of a twenty-eight-year-old murder victim. His parents were devastated. The older sister cried silent tears as she alternated between mothering and grieving. Her husband rocked their infant in an effort to soothe him while the other children played. As I sat with her small children I realized that they were too young to comprehend their loss—there was an uncle they would never get to know.

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When I asked what is going on, why are so many young men losing their lives one woman responded, “blood has become cheap—they don’t value life”. In my second year of university, we lost a friend to gun violence. My friend was the oldest of five children and the only boy. He was the first one to go to university and his family was so proud of him. He had just gotten engaged to a friend of mine—he was adamant that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. One evening while out with friends he had gotten into an altercation with a stranger. The man returned with a gun and fatally shot my friend.

I remember at the time I was doing an internship at Queens Park. I went home early for the day but I could not bring my-self to go to the funeral. I watched the coverage from home. The mayor of Toronto David Miller and Premier Dalton McGuinty attended to pay their respects.

I remember my boss at the time asking me if I thought these neighbourhoods would benefit from greater police presence. Yes, gun violence predominately occurs in low-income neighbourhoods. No, I do not think those neighbourhoods need more of a police presence. More importantly, policymakers cannot afford to think of gun violence as a poor man’s problem or as the “black communities” problem. My friend lived in a middle-class community in Etobicoke and he was shot in downtown Toronto.

Lately, I have been thinking about what causes gun violence:

A lack of appreciation for life?

A warped understanding of respect?

Poverty?

A warped understanding of what it means to be tough or what it means to be a man?

Poor parenting?

Poor communities?

Peer pressure?

Lack of access to resources—including poor cultural capital?

A lack of opportunity?

An inability to perceive opportunity?

Sociopathic behavior?

The answer? I do not know? I feel like someone should call an emergency town hall meeting. Someone should ring an alarm because something is definitely broken and it needed to be fixed yesterday.

Are You Aware of the Power You Wield? Or that You Can be Gosh Darn Awesome?

I remember several years ago listening to Anna Marie Tremonti, the host of CBC’s the Current. She was doing a series on poverty that made me cry. Anna Marie interviewed a couple who were struggling to make ends meet. They had two children, a boy and a girl and putting food on the table was difficult for them.

I will never forget when Anna Marie asked the little girl what she would like to have. The little girl said, I would like to have what other kids have. When Tremonti asked her what other kids have that she would like to have, the little girl replied “an apple”. An apple. She wanted an apple. I could not stop crying.

As a young child I went from living with my parents who were well off, to being adopted by my aunt. With my parents, I lived in a thirteen bedroom home with a plenty of food, a driver to take us to school and help.

In Canada I experienced hunger for the first time. I remember being hungry in elementary school. I also remember wanting snow pants so that I could play with the other kids in the snow and toys that I could take for show and tell.

In middle school and in high school I outgrew my need for snow pants and my wanting of a toy for show and tell. However, I didn’t outgrow my need for lunch. When my son started elementary school I noticed it was difficult to fit everything into his lunch bag. His first grade teacher joked that my son’s lunch looked like a picnic basket. I did not even realize that I was over packing his lunch or that this was a reaction to my childhood’s empty lunch box. As I listened to this little girl I decided to do something.

When I picked up my kid from school I asked him if there were any kids in his class that did not regularly bring lunch. He communicated that there was this one boy. He said kids usually give him whatever they don’t want.

I started packing lunch for this child and he accepted it. If my son was too sick to go to school we would drop off the boy’s lunch at the office. The school was aware that we were supplying this boy with lunch. The secretary told us that although they knew that some kids didn’t have lunch, they did not have the resources to feed them. We do not have the resources to feed every hunger child (I wish I did) but I do have the resources to feed one more child.

Years later we still pack lunch for the same boy. My rules are, each child gets a healthy lunch. They get the exact same lunch. If one boy gets an apple both boys get an apple. If one boy gets a bag of chips both boys get a bag of chips. This is important to me because when they eat together I want to them to feel like they are being treated fairly.

If you do commit to packing lunch for a child here are some important tips:

Your child should understand why you are doing what you are doing. You can start my talking to them about kindness, compassion, sharing and community.

For me, it was really important that my son respect this boy and appreciate that packing lunch for him was an honour. I wanted my son to respect this boy’s privacy.  I asked my son how he would like to be treated if he was in the position of this boy. This question allowed my son to empathize further with his classmate.

People can be unintentionally cruel or rude. I felt that because my son was dropping lunch off for this boy every day, he might intentionally or unintentionally say something that makes his classmate feel bad. Thus, it was important for me to discuss this potential issue with my son—and to ensure that he was sensitive to the feelings of this boy. As the boys got older, I needed to adapt.

Lunch bags are great when children are younger and they share the same schedule because your child can bring home both lunch bags. As children grow and they have different schedules this can become difficult.

If this is the case, you might want o use reusable lunch bags. I use the glad reusable lunch bags. At $1.50 for 25 bags they are relatively inexpensive. Sure they are not as environmentally friendly but in this case, they are definitely worth it.

Consistency is key. If you do decide to pack lunch for a child, you should know that it is a commitment. Nothing is worse than getting lunch one day and not the next. Children do not have the same reasoning capacity as adults. Inconsistency can send a message that they are charity cases or that they are not worthy.

She had to Pry the Dead Man’s Fingers for her Luggage and Leave Him There

I did not experience the civil war but a lot of my family members did. They would tell me about the day to day fear of living in chaos. Gunfire would ring out some times sporadically and other times constantly for hours. It was not abnormal to see dead bodies. Families were separated. Some never saw each other again others were more fortunate.

My aunt was 18-years-old when she fled the Somali civil war. She told her parents that she could no longer stay and that she would rather take her chances on a crowded boat and from there she would attempt to get to any Western country that would take her. The overcrowded boat capsized. Many individuals died—some had little chance of survival since they did not know how to swim.

My aunt made it to shore. When she got there she saw a dead man who had a tight grip on her luggage. It seems he had tried to use it to float. She said since this was all that she owned she had to pry the dead man’s fingers off her luggage. “What did you do then” I asked her. “What could I do but leave him there” she said.

Her mother and father heard of the boat capsizing and after many inquiries they were told that she was dead so they had a funeral without a body. As a child, I was astonished to hear her story. As I grew older I found that this was not an anomaly but rather the norm.

My younger sister who was around eight years-old at the time had also lived through the civil war. One day she had gone out with my cousin. When they went out it had been quite but during their return to the camp gunfire broke out, my cousin was hit by a stray bullet and died. In another incident, bullets started ringing out, as my younger sister ran for cover, my older who was around fourteen years-old at the time pursued her. He was telling the story this February when I saw him for the first time since I was a small child. “I kept calling out to her” he said “and she kept running for cover while I chased behind her”. It was normal for parents to hide their adolescent children.

Adolescent boys were seen as a potential threat; sometimes they were kidnapped for ransom so mothers and fathers hid them from various militia men. My brother was kidnapped by a militia clan. My family was fortunate enough to mobilize a large group of armed men and they were able to bring my brother back the same day. Many others were not as fortunate.

Parents feared for their adolescent girls. Fathers don’t talk about it but mothers will tell you they feared that their daughters would get raped. My older sister who was around sixteen-years-old at time said she would often hear my mother saying “Oh God please don’t let my daughter get raped”. My cousin and her husband who had also lived through the war and escaped to Norway visited us in 2012.

One afternoon my cousin in-law started talking about the civil war. He told me a story that until today shakes me to the core. He said a woman was being gang raped; a man joined with the intention of raping her and when he saw her face realized that it was his sister. I asked him, what happened to people? What happened to common decency? What happened to mercy and kindness? He said “they existed but there were also monsters”

Indulge me. Image a deep recession results in government breakdown—leading to anarchy where you find yourself in the midst of a civil war. You flee your home with little or no documents. You have little or no money. Gunfire rings above like fireworks on Ashbridge’s Bay on the 1st of July. You lose some family members to stray bullets and others to executions. Staying means dying before death reaches you; bullets, bombs, fear, hunger and the elements of the harsh terrain threaten your defeat on a hourly basis. You shuffle your adolescent boys between homes—in accordance with the patterns of the latest tribal raids. You hide your adolescent daughters between furniture or if there is an unexpected raid, you crotch her under an old lady’s large skirt. What would you risk to get you and your family to safety?

Would you climb on a crowded boat to get away from indiscriminate violence and the monsters? I did not live through a civil war but I would risk my life on a boat. And I would pray that if I were fortunate enough to make it on the shores of a country that the international community would rally around me and host me as I would them.

Many countries including Canada, and the United States were formed by migrants arriving on boats from Europe. Whether it was the Puritans in the 1600s or settlers in the 1700s, 1800s or early 1900s—they were all looking for similar things, freedom from, freedom to, livelihood, peace and opportunity.  Australia was established as a penal colony; boat loads of convicts were sent there with the intention of relieving overcrowding in British prisons. Free settlers later arrived there in search of opportunities. Let us not forget that migration, sometimes driven by need and sometimes driven by desire, is part and parcel of the human experience.

What Does Food Insecurity Look Like? The Militarization of Grocery Stores.

While taking my aunt to her neighbourhood supermarket I noticed what I at the time identified as strange anomalies. For one thing, there was a security guard at the front of the store. There were cameras everywhere; you would have to see it to believe it. There were multiple cameras along the walls. There were cameras in the aisles and cameras along the front of the store. There were so many cameras that I lost count. This was nothing like my neighbourhood supermarket.

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Also, I noticed that baby formula and various other products were locked in a cage. This is also very different from my neighbourhood grocery store.

I visited a friend. She needed to do groceries so I gave her a ride. I noticed that her neighbourhood grocery store was similar to my aunt’s. I visited another grocery store that was ten minutes drive from my friend and sure enough there was a security guard and an inordinate number of surveillance cameras. Also, baby formulas were kept behind a cash register instead of in the aisles.

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I noticed that this was the norm for economically challenged neighbourhoods. It felt strange t be in the presence of so many surveillance cameras and to see baby formula and tooth brushes locked up. According to Health Canada, there are many factors that influence breastfeeding (which is generally healthier for the child and is more cost-effective than formula) post secondary education and higher income were two factors that positively contributed to breastfeeding—two factors that these neighbourhoods generally did not have.  The trend for economic inequality has been getting worse not better. It is possible these types of supermarkets will be the norm across many neighbourhoods in our cities.

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The gap between the rich and the poor in Canada is said to be growing and it is estimated that 20 percent of the ultra rich control nearly 70 percent of the country’s wealth. According to the Toronto Star, The bottom 20 percent control -0.1 percent of wealth—in other words these individuals are in debt. The near bottom 20 percent control 2.2 percent of the country’s wealth. The next 20 percent of people—the middle class control only 9 percent of the country’s wealth. The near top 20 percent control 21.5 percent of wealth while top 20 percent (the super rich) control 67.4 percent of wealth. Over the past thirty-years, the rich have been getting richer and the poor have been getting poorer. Full-time quality jobs with good pay and benefits have been replaced by lower paying part-time jobs and or contracts.

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The Canadian economy has been slow to recover from the 2008-2009 recession. According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate is currently holding at 6.8 percent. According to Statistics Canada, in April 2015 the economy lost 67,000 part-time jobs and gained 47,000 full-time jobs. Higher unemployment or underemployment results in greater difficulty in accessing quality food.

According to HungerCount 2014, a comprehensive study carried out by Food Banks Canada, 841,191 individuals accessed food banks every month. Food Banks Canada asserts that this number is 25 percent higher than the 2008 figures.

The report communicates that one- third of food bank users are children and families and nearly half of that number is two-parent households. Forty-three percent of food bank users are single-unattached adults; in 2001 this number was 30 percent and has grown to nearly 50 percent of individuals accessing food banks. Of those who access food banks, one in every six households are said to be currently or recently employed.

Poor income distribution policies and lack of investments in innovative social programs can only further aggravate the income inequality gap. The Financial Post reports that studies done by the Canadian Payroll Association conclude that 51 percent of working Canadians would find it difficult to meet their financial requirements if their paycheque was delayed by one week. That is 51 percent of working adults. That is an astounding number.

Poor has become a dirty word in this country. Poverty has a criminal element to it. Economically disadvantaged communities are over policed, under-served and marginalized. As income inequality grows, and households scale down the income latter, those communities will grow.

If You Want to Rape Her You Will Have to Kill Me First

General Tom Lawson in an Interview with Peter Mansbridge

In her report titled External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces (ERA) former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps’ report on sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Canadian Armed Force (CAF). According to Deschamps report, “…there is an underlying sexualized culture in the CAF that is hostile to women and LGTBQ members, and conducive to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault”. The ERA found a disconnect between what Deschamps describes as the strong policies of the CAF on sexual harassment and sexual assault and experiences of soldiers on the ground.

The ERA describes what it labels as a sexualized environment “characterized by…frequent use of swear words and highly degrading expressions that reference women’s bodies, sexual jokes, innuendos, discriminatory comments with respect to the abilities of women, and unwelcome sexual touching”. The ERA also heard reports of sexual harassment, date rape, inappropriate “relations” between lower ranking women and higher ranking men which they described as “dubious”—relations that are tantamount to sexual assault.

Although women were the primary victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault, they were not the only victims. Men were also the target of sexual assault. The ERA’s investigation revealed “…violent sexual attack by men against their male peers, including gang rape. According to the ERA, perpetrators use sexual assault as a weapon to demonstrate power, dominance, control and to ostracize victims.

The ERA communicates that they these acts are carried out with near impunity. Inappropriate sexual behavior, sexual harassment and sexual assaults are under reported because the CAF has failed the victims. The ERA states, “…re-victimization and frustration appear to be the standard consequences of reporting” sexual assaults. The message from the top down seems to be that it is okay to sexually abuse your colleagues. The ERA states, “even more damaging are the stories that circulate of complaints of sexual assault that result in little or no repercussion for the aggressor”.

I remember a time when I could not wait to turn sixteen so that I could join the CAF. Reading this report made me think, what a terrifying place to work, I’m so glad that I did not join the CAF. In an interview with Anna Marie  Tremonti  on CBC’s the Current, Julie Lalonde, a sexual assault prevention educator based in Ottawa says that she was sexually harassed at the Royal Military College after being invited to speak about the prevention of sexual assault. Lalonde states that she feels that the military failed her; she communicates that after five months  of pursuing the military and pleading for a chance to sit down and acknowledge what had happened to her, she did get an apology from the defence department. That came at a high cost. Lalonde now travels with a security detail because of credible death threats.

In reaction to General Lawson’s comments on her experience, Lalonde asserts General Lawson was insulting and demeaned her experience of sexual harassment by calling it “…a good exchange”. Beyond insulting and demeaning, it is quite problematic because it contributes to the normalization of the “rape culture” of the CAF.

In an interview with Peter Mansbridge Tom Lawson stated, “because we are biologically wired in a certain way there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others…we are men and women in uniform, much as we would very much like to be absolutely professional in everything we do and I think by and large we are, there will be situations and there have been situations where largely men will see themselves as able to press themselves on our women members… ”. What is absolutely striking is that General Lawson states, “…there will be situations…”; he is clearly condoning this “rape culture” by anticipating and accepting sexual harassment, sexual assault and gang rape as a norm.  It is one thing to say this is what it is. It is another thing to say this is what will be.

Lalonde communicates that the views towards sexual violence expressed by cadets at RMC were “absolutely shocking”. According to the ERA report, military personnel dismiss sexual violence because they feel that this behavior is reflective of civil society at large. I know of no public organization or private organization that tolerates sexual harassment and sexual assault. Sexual assault is not unique to the CAF.

Obama Addresses Sexual Assault in the Military

The United States Armed Forces also is said to have a rape culture and the numbers are staggering. According to Global Research the U.S. Department of Defence’s 2012 Annual Report on sexual assaults in the military was approximated at 26,000, which is said to be up by 35 percent from the 2011 report which estimated sexual assaults at 19,000.

Although no mainstream media that I know of in North America has dared to cover the United States military rape culture and how it impacts war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, you only have to search online to see images or read reports of American soldiers gang raping Iraqi women. In an effort not to further victimize these women, I chose not to show these footages.

This epidemic is not new for the Canadian or the United States army. In an interview with Macleans Magazine, 51 year old Lise Gauthier communicates that she joined the CAF when she was an idealistic 18 year-old; since joining Gauthier states she has been raped, assaulted, and sexually harassed by her male counterparts over fifteen times. According to Gauthier, her refusal of explicit sexual advances by superiors led to her termination in the early 2000s. Gauthier tells Macleans when she finally confronted the CAF by detailing the harassment and violence she experienced, she was told that her story was “…implausible…”.

CAF is a national institution which has many feeder sources. In my opinion, part of tackling this crisis in a meaningful and sustainable manner is talking about, teaching and emulating respect for girls and women throughout the institutions (civilian and military) in our society—including the home. CAF is a federal jurisdiction and education is a provincial jurisdiction—however, the CAF can work with the provinces to develop and introduce age appropriate curriculum that aims to teach children and youth respect for women, ownership and consent. Sex education is part of the curriculum in Ontario schools; however, rape education is not.

I have someone very close to me who shared an incredible story with me; this individual’s uncle-in-law was fleeing war. He and some friends were driving to safety when they picked up a young woman. After stopping, the uncle-in-law left for a while and when he returned he returned to his friends conspiring to rape this young woman. He was shocked at what they were planning to do and he became angry. He reminded his friends that they too had sisters, mothers, nieces and cousins. He told them that in order to rape her, they would have to kill him first. Oddly enough, it is one of the friends who relayed this story; the man expressed his gratitude and said that the uncle-in-law stopped him from committing a horrible injustice. It took one person to speak up. Leadership and courage matter.

Australian Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison message about unacceptable behaviour

Much do you think thrift stores should charge for your donated goods?

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I understand that thrift stores have to make money. Although they get goods through donations, they have to pay for rent, heat, electricity and they have to pay for the labour costs of their employees among many other hard and soft costs.

Is there a price point that is too high for donated goods? Or should the market dictate the price of goods—even if those goods are donated by people with the intention of assisting the less fortunate or the price conscious consumer?

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It’s clear that thrift stores utilize a social justice framework. They make direct appeal to charity, equity and access to goods for all.

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I know when I donate, I am motivated by altruism. I want someone else who may not otherwise have access to affordable goods to enjoy them. When I find goods that I have donated “too pricey” I feel ambivalent. On the one hand, these organizations have to turn a profit to remain operational. On the other hand, how much is too much? If you donate a book so that someone else can enjoy it, is a price point of $99.00 too much?

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I paid a visit to my local Value Village and recorded some of the prices. I want you to decide if you are comfortable with the price points that I share with you.

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$99.00 X2

$99.00 X2

$129.00 Jeans

$129.00 Jeans

Jackets

Jackets

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$49.99 boots

$49.99 boots

$49.99 purse. Original sale price-brand new was $99

$49.99 purse. Original sale price-brand new was $99

A pair of earrings for $199.99

A pair of earrings for $199.99

Eye Glasses

Eye Glasses

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Beat up table

Beat up table

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Chair

Chair

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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: An Opportunity for Real Change

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Indian Residential Schools were first established in the 1870s and lasted until the 1990s. The ultimate goal of the Indian Residential School was cultural genocide. The aim of governments was to destroy the cultures, languages, beliefs and overall way of life of Aboriginal Peoples. The goal was to completely assimilate Aboriginal Peoples to mainstream Western European Culture. Total and complete assimilation was seen as the ultimate solution to the “Indian problem”. It was thought that if you could assimilate Aboriginal peoples you would no longer have to deal with various pressing issues including but not limited to treaties, land claims, self-determination rights, social rights, and economic rights.

Although governments adopted many strategic measures aimed at annihilating Aboriginal peoples ways of life and assimilating them to mainstream culture, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) focus was on one particular policy—the Indian Residential School (IRS) policy and the horrific and  indelible legacy it left behind.

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Brave men and women came forward to share horrific stories of abuse and neglect. Parents were robbed of their children as the government legalized mass kidnappings in which children were forcibly removed from their homes. According to the TRC children were taught very little; they were taught basic reading and arithmetic skills. The children were used to do labour work for the school; in some instances they were loaned to farms in the area in order to earn money for the school.

Children were subjected to sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and psychological abuse. If you are a parent, imagine your child being taken away from you and in some cases, never seeing them again. To date, the TRC has identified 4100 children who died in residential schools; the total number of deaths may never been known. We have all been children, as a former child, imagine what it would be like for you as a five, six, seven or eight year old to have your parents in your life one day (and we all know that they are the centre of our universe) and to have them disappear the next. As a young child I was adopted. I was not told or I could not comprehend what was going on but I remember one day I was with my parents and the next day I was not with my parents. It was an earth shattering experience for me. Every phone call was potentially my parents. Every knock on the door, every fleeting voice was potentially my parents.  As a child in this situation, in the best of circumstances you lived between hope and despair. In the case of residential school children—their fate was much worse.

Every single Canadian should read the findings of the TRC and its 94 recommendations. With that said, I comprehend that we need to go beyond that. First, we need to recognize that there is a real disconnect between Aboriginal communities and non-Aboriginal communities in Canada. Decades of what I call strategic ethnocentrism—rooted in racist dichotomies of superiority and inferiority have resulted in systemic discrimination; racist stereotypes of Aboriginal peoples permeate society. Many members of non-Aboriginal communities do not fully comprehend the issues faced by Aboriginal peoples.

Negative stereotypes obstruct understanding and empathy; this has given various liberal and conservative governments near carte blanche in the mistreatment of Aboriginal Peoples. Indifference has allowed this to happen. According to a Queens University study, Aboriginal students are underfunded 20 to 50 percent less than non-Aboriginal Students. According to an article by John Ralston Saul of the Global and Mail, the federal government spends $100 million a year on lawyers to fight Aboriginal claims in court. Furthermore, the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs has been accused of being a chronic under-spender; according to Saul, this ministry has withheld $1 billion in money earmarked for social programs over the past five years.  Government policies and public attitudes towards Aboriginal peoples have macro and micro level impacts.

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At the micro level, families have been shamed into denying their culture, their language and their heritage. On June 3, I had the opportunity to visit the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto located at Spadina Road and Bloor. The space is open to anyone who wants to visit and there is no cost associated with a visit. The primary use of the space is to provide services for Aboriginal peoples including connecting with their communities, languages, and heritage. I spoke with Pierrette Tessier-Campbell who explained that she does not know her own language because her mother was so ashamed of her heritage that she refused to speak it at home.

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Real change comes only when solutions are driven by good faith and a commitment to get it right. Growing up and going through the Canadian education system, I knew very little about Aboriginal peoples and what they were subjected to until I got to university. That has to change. Children should be taught age appropriate curriculum that does not shy away from Canada’s ugly past and current failings. From my experience, children ask the best questions and are the most sincere empathizers. They are also our future. If we messed up the past—our future is a great place to ignite change.

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Work Cited

Drummond, Don, and Ellen Kachuck, Rosenbluth. “The Debate on First Nations Education Funding: Mind the Gap.” Queens University, Policy Studies. Queens University. Web. 4 June 2015. <http://www.queensu.ca/sps/publications/workingpapers/49-Drummond-Rosenbluth.pdf>

Ralston Saul, John. “Truth and Reconciliation Is Canada’s Last Chance to Get It Right.” The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail. Web. 5 June 2015. <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/truth-and-reconciliation-is-canadas-last-chance-to-get-it-right/article24826036/>

“Truth and Reconciliation (2): First Apologize, Then Act.” The Globe and Mail. Web. 4 June 2015. <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/editorials/truth-and-reconciliation-2-first-apologize-then-act/article24827422/>

“Canada, Aboriginal Peoples, and Residential Schools: They Came for the Children.” The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Web. 5 June 2015. <http://www.myrobust.com/websites/trcinstitution/File/2039_T&R_eng_web%5B1%5D.pdf>

Police Carding: Lernaean Hydra of our Times

On Wednesday May 3, 2015, a group of prominent Torontonians including three former mayors of Toronto, justices and civic leaders held a news conference to speak against the controversial practice of police carding. The group which is calling itself Concerned Citizens to End Carding has denounced the practice as damaging, degrading and unacceptable and want to see this practice end indefinitely.

Later that day an impromptu news conference by Mayor Tory pointed out that there has been a moratorium on carding since January 2015 and that it will not be reinstated until the program is revamped. However, he refused to join the chorus of individuals speaking against this practice.

According to Toronto Star city hall reporter Jennifer Pagliaro, the moratorium on carding may be eclipsed by what Pagliaro describes as a new procedure by police which would allow for carding to continue “…without the police board’s requests for transparency—including the need to explain a citizen’s rights during stops”

I agree that carding needs to end; it is just as important if not more important to have a dialogue about the systemic issues that drive practices like carding. If we as a society cannot systematically address issues of poverty, marginalization, access to education and jobs, racism and ethnocentrism—the doctrine that drives policies like carding will not stop.

Work Cited

Pagliaro, Jennifer. “Mayor John Tory Maintains Carding Needs Reforming, Not Ending | Toronto Star.” Thestar.com. The Toronto Star. Web. 5 June 2015. <http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2015/06/03/mayor-john-tory-maintains-carding-needs-reforming-not-ending.html>

 

 

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Police, Carding and Marginalization: A Story through the Lens of Racialized Individuals.


IMG_0483 IMG_0492 IMG_0476In an article written for Toronto Life titled The Skin I’m In, Desmond Cole a journalist, describes his interactions with police in Kingston Ontario, Oshawa Ontario, Niagara Falls Ontario and Toronto Ontario. Mr. Coles asserts that although he is not a criminal, he has been followed by police and stopped by police over 50 times. His first encounter with Kingston police was his time as a university student at Queens; Mr. Cole states that he was walking a white female friend home when a white police officer approached them to ask his friend if she was okay. According to Mr. Cole, police suspicions of him were based on their preconceived notions and negative stereotypes of the colour of his skin. These negative interactions with police have led to feelings of fear, embarrassment and frustration. Mr. Cole states, “I began to see every uniformed officer as a threat… I’m terrified of anyone with a badge and a gun…”

In an Interview with CBC’s Metro Morning host Matt Galloway, NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh also shared experiences of frequent stops by police; he states that while waiting for a friend in Toronto he was approached by police and asked to produce identification and when he refused he was bullied and intimidated. According to Mr. Singh, the colour of his skin is what instigates what he would describe as negative and unwarranted police interactions.

According to a Toronto Star Investigation into race and policing, carding of black individuals is “…three times greater than the proportion they represent in the city’s population”. Moreover, according to The Star, black individuals are more likely to be documented than white individuals in all of Toronto’s 70-plus police zones.

My own interactions with police have either been neutral or negative and I view police officers at best, as unlikely allies and at worst as a threat that needs to be managed. In 2005 I was at a friend’s apartment in the lakeshore area. Her neighbour who lived in the apartment underneath her claimed that he could hear us walking around and that we were disturbing him; to be fair, it was an old building and the floor did squeak a lot. Soon the complaints escalated into threats and I was afraid to leave to the apartment and I was also afraid to stay. We told the man that we would call the police, to which he responded, go ahead I am an ex-cop, see what they do for you.

When the police arrived we explained the situation, expressed our fears and I asked to be escorted to my vehicle. The two officers said they would talk to the man and return to escort me to my vehicle; after speaking to the man they decided to leave me there and waved to me from their patrol vehicle. That incident made me feel as though I was not worthy of serving and or protecting.  My ideal interaction with law enforcement would be one that is documented—from start to finish by several media organizations or streamed live online.

Some individuals in negatively racialized communities share my sentiments. Individuals have expressed feeling disrespected, intimidated, bullied and marginalized. According to Selena Ross of The Globe and Mail, African Canadian Legal Clinic executive director Margaret Parsons stated black communities are “…policed to death…” and is quoted as asking “Is community safety about also keeping us safe from the police as well?”

On June 1, 2015 I decided that I wanted the opportunity to speak with individuals on the ground. Armed with a camera I decided to go to Jane and Finch Mall, located at the intersection of Jane and Finch. I chose this location because community residents have publicly complained about over policing and police brutality. According to Dr. Ajamu Nangwaya, author of the article Fact Sheets on Police Violence in the Jane-Finch Community of Toronto, youth are more fearful of police brutality than they are of issues of street violence—including gang violence. No one was willing to speak to me on camera; off camera, some youth stated that they have been stopped by police on numerous occasions. One young man stated that he had been stopped by police once—several years ago when he was in grade ten. He alleged that police said that there as incident in the community and that they asked him to take his hat off, searched him, asked him personal questions and asked for his school identification. A few others I spoke with, particularly older men said that they have had no interactions with police.

The practice of carding has strained relations with negatively racialized communities. Newly sworn in Chief Mark Saunders of the Toronto police—the first black chief of police in Toronto’s history in an interview with CBC’s Dwight Drummond admitted to being carded on several occasions while he was a police officer. Mr. Saunders attributes his carding incidents to the fact that he was wearing his hat backwards and not to the colour of his skin; although he communicates that he was frustrated at being stopped on several occasions he insists that carding is here to stay. According to Mr. Saunders, he would like to revamp the carding program so that it is not random. The statement itself seems like an oxymoron. With no details as to how he intends to make a “general stop” by police not a random stop, we will have to wait and see. According to the Toronto Star’s article One Officer, Five Years, 6600 Contact Cards, authored by Jim Rankin and et al, police carding is an integral part a police officer’s access to promotions and officers must meet a quota. We will all have to wait and see how newly minted Chief of Police Mark Saunders manoeuvres his way through this challenge.

Work Cited

Cole, Desmond. “The Skin I’m In: I’ve Been Interrogated by Police More than 50 Times-all Because I’m Black.” Toronto Life Main RSS. Toronto Life, 21 Apr. 2015. Web. 2 June 2015. <http://www.torontolife.com/informer/features/2015/04/21/skin-im-ive-interrogated-police-50- times-im-black>.

James, Royson. “Toronto Police Carding Policy Reform Will Require Super Powers: James | Toronto Star.” Thestar.com. The Toronto Star. Web. 3 June 2015. <http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2015/04/20/toronto-police-carding-policy-reform-will-require-super-powers-james.html>

Nangwaya, Amaju. “Fact Sheet on Police Violence in the Jane-Finch Community of Toronto.” Global Research. Global Research: Centre for Research on Globalization. Web. 3 June 2015. <http://www.globalresearch.ca/fact-sheet-on-police-violence-in-the-jane-finch-community-of-toronto/5437581&gt;

Rankin, Jim, Patty Winsa, Andrew Bailey, and Hidy Ng. One Officer, Five Years, 6600 Contact Cards. The Toronto Star. Web.

Ross, Selena. “New Toronto Police Chief Saunders Turns down Calls to End Carding.” The Globe and Mail. Web. 2 June 2015.< http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/new-toronto-police-chief-refuses-to-abolish-controversial-carding-process/article24168683/>

News, CBC. “Mark Saunders, Toronto Police Chief, Stands by Controversial Carding Practice.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 28 May 2015. Web. 2 June 2015. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/mark-saunders-toronto-police-chief-stands-by-controversial-carding-practice-1.3091946>