Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Remembering Racism, Seeing It Now

Remembering atrocities of the past is never wrong, and for that reason I was glad to see this article on the cover of today's Sudbury Star. It is a detailed account of a survivor of the Holocaust who spoke at a local senior public school here in Sudbury.

And yet.

Why was there no mention in the article of the fact that, though the persecution of Jews under the Nazis was visible for years before the war started, the Canadian government refused to take Jewish refugees when it might actually have saved lives from the gas chambers? Why was there no mention of the anti-Semitism found posthumously in the diaries of our Prime Minister of that era, William Lyon Mackenzie King? Why not a word about the role that North American capitalists, including the grandfather of the current President of the United States, played in the revival and prosperity of the Nazi-aligned German industrial machine of that era?

Why, when our city is playing host to people whose latest encounter with a white colonial settler state means that they had to be evacuated from Kashechewan, their home, because of bad drinking water, is Canada shown only in the role of a country that defeated and took in some victims of racist persecution, and not as an institution that is based on racist persecution -- of Aboriginal peoples whose land we took, of African peoples whose labour and lives we stole, of colonized peoples of colour around the world whose wealth still flows in our general direction thanks to a rigged global economic system?

Why, when I walked through the city's downtown mall today on the way to an anti-poverty meeting, did I pass a temporary sales stall that included among its wares two full-size Confederate flags, easily recognized symbols that celebrate blatant white supremacy in the Americas and the African holocaust of the Middle Passage? Why, when I raised this issue amongst my fellow activists at the meeting, all white, did many not think it was really that big an issue?

And this Star article ended with a sop to the season of Remebrance Day:

“We are wearing poppies,” he said, pointing to one on his lapel, “because we have to remember the price that was paid to put down this terrible ideology of hatred.

“They fought so we could be free. We must continue to fight to make sure that racism, hatred and xenophobia never rear their ugly head in that way, ever again.”

Yeah, so "we" could be free, but so that Aboriginal peoples could continue to experience soul-destroying colonization and poverty, and (at that time) African Nova Scotians could continue to experience legal segregation, just to pick two examples.

And this whole article, in its focus on what has become a rather exotic racism of the past with no mention of the present, makes it that much easier for white privilege to blind us to racism's current forms. As Grace-Edward Galabuzi wrote in a 2001 report on the racialization of poverty in Canada:

The place of racialised groups in Canadian society faces greater peril from the everyday discounting of the human capital and value of racialised group members in the workplace, in public institutions, in the social service sector, in civil society organizations, in the arts, in the media, and in government than it does from cross-burning, swastika-wielding Heritage Front members, whose form of aggressive racism Canadian society has already marginalized.

[[Edited 05/11/09 -- Removed an aside from the middle of the post.]]


Polly Jones said...

I couldn't agree with you more. It kills me that people take such a simplistic view of things. No one asks what are we doing now that will be obviously criminal in fifty years? And, seriously when is the past and present treatment of Aboriginal peoples going to be truly recognized?

I also understand your feelings of frustration, raising issues only to find people are entirely unresponsive.

Thank you for this post!

DesertPeace said...

Brilliant post! I love your blog... came across it by accident and then added you to my Links.
I lived in Sudbury for almost ten years before moving to Israel. Good to see that the left lives on in that great city.
Visit my blog if you get a chance.