To paraphrase an old saying: if you are not contributing to change, you are contributing to the problem.
Why I have decided to not maintain social order under such circumstances
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
Systemic discrimination is built on conformity and complicity. Racism and other prejudices have succeeded in the past because people abided—regardless of whether they believed that it was moral, or not. While some of us may have more social education than others, we are all responsible to speak-up against prejudices when it crosses our paths; regardless of how much or little knowledge that we have on the topic of social issues or social structures.
When an ideology—such as ethnocentrism or any supremacism—is being repeated over and over, it becomes a norm. This process is sped up when that ideology is confirmed by others—both passively and actively. Active confirmation looks like explicit, outward approval, through words or the likes. Passive confirmation can be as innocent as staying quiet and not acknowledging that something that was said or done was wrong. Passive confirmation of others’ discriminatory words or actions is as damaging as active confirmation as it further perpetuates these harmful dogmas. Harmful ideologies can persist when confirmation from others occurs with a simultaneous lack of interjection.
Every day we see the harmful by-product of groups thinking that they are superior to other groups as is evident through their actions and words. Dave Chapelle’s ongoing trans and queer comments are perfect examples of a cis/hetero-folk feeling superior to trans/queer folk. Recently a Philadelphia man forcefully raped a female metro rider in broad daylight: an example of male supremacy. And, let us not forget the countless murders of BIPOC persons by police—which, without the mass of protests and acknowledgement that occurred in 2020, probably would have flown by under the radar.
Luckily, there has been an uproar against Dave Chapelle’s special being featured on Netflix—which has similarly brought the hateful themes of his comments to public light. Sadly, the rape that recently occurred on the Philadelphia metro was not stopped by other metro riders, which allowed it to go on for as long as it had. Racism, misogynism, transphobia, homophobia and ethnocentric beliefs all came from somewhere, just as they are all going somewhere—and that direction is each individual’s responsibility.
Silently confirming oppression and this lack of interjection may explain why many of us were taught a skewed and incorrect history in our younger school years. Throughout my elementary school and high school, my teachers taught and maintained this colonialist ideal. Canadian history classes consisted of learning about brave European explorers who discovered Canada. We proudly wore red and white on Canada Day; the country’s industrialization was viewed as progressive, as were residential schools and the 60’s Scoop, among other Canadian atrocities. Indigenous history class was separate from Canadian history and was not mandatory—instead, it was an elective. Ironically, we simultaneously learnt that Hitler and the Nazi’s actions were immoral.
Do I think my teachers wanted to teach us that Europeans are culturally superior? Probably not consciously. Do I think my teachers wanted to teach us that Canada was a colonial superpower? Also, probably not consciously. Norms and ideals preserver when they are not questioned, and when a counterargument does not emerge. I graduated high school in 2011, during this time many social issues had not yet been brought to light. Facebook had just surfaced; Twitter was under the radar, and Instagram only existed as a whiskey-photo sharing app. There was only a grain of salt’s worth of the social confrontations which we currently have. My teachers had probably never heard an alternative to the content which they were teaching so they excepted the biased histories which they were told and subsequently taught them to us. And, for many years I similarly accepted those biased histories as truth.
Before I elaborate on why we have a personal responsibility to stand up against supremacism, let me note that while some people are crudely discriminatory and overtly harmful to those who they view as inferior as shown in the above examples, it does not always exist so evidently. Prejudices equally occur through subtle means such as stereotyping. This belief is a cognitive framework that allows us to speed up the processing of social information, or rather is a cognitive shortcut. In psychology, this term falls under the realm of heuristics: mental shortcuts that provide quicker and easier conclusions to problems and judgements. For those who have been exposed to certain discriminations towards minority groups, and have accepted what they have heard as truth, that information is cognitively easier to access than it is to employ higher cognitive functions such as analyzing or evaluating. Again, this is no excuse; it is everyone’s responsibility to resist stereotyping, but also to educate oneself. To paraphrase an old saying: if you are not contributing to change, you are contributing to the problem.
Being a white female, the only direct discrimination which I have faced is against women, and maybe a bit of classism, having been raised in a poor neighbourhood. That is not to say that I have not witnessed other prejudices to those close around me. My long-term partner is a Mexican POC, and while we come across racism directed to him, more often, it comes in the form of indirect slurs and stereotyping. There has been an evolution in how I deal with this—as well as discriminations against other minority groups. Aside from slowly learning about social structures and what social issues are rooted in, something that has encouraged me to be more vocal is acknowledging that not all conflicts are negative—and that maintaining social order will probably just stagnate whatever issue has come about. Just as I hope that someone stops to tell me when I say something inherently harmful or wrong, I will step in when something said or done is bigoted.
This past long weekend an extended family member of mine was invited to our family dinner—let’s call him Bob. He seemed like an alright guy, was very talkative and had high spirits. Upon introducing my partner to him, Bob did what a lot of Canadians do and brought up an anecdote to illustrate his knowledge of Mexico by describing a resort experience which he had while there. He explained how once when he and his wife left the resort to go to a supermarket, there were gunmen at the shop’s exit who held him at gunpoint for not having tipped the clerk. While my little brothers love the extremity of his story, my partner and I immediately calculated its legitimacy. While that would make a great Narcos episode, the chance of that actually happening—considering my partner who lived 25 years of his life there had never experienced such a thing, nor heard of such a thing, were slim to none. We told him this, to which he laughed. Situations like this further perpetuate the false narrative of Mexicans being beggars and dangerous inherently placing Canadians as culturally superior.
“It’s quite annoying that whenever Canadians, mostly Caucasian Canadians, find out that I come from Mexico, they feel so entitled to give me insight of my own country. And, whenever I argue or share my own perspective, it’s like they feel that their opinion which is based on their five days in a resort is worth more than mine.” My partner shared with the Other Press.
As dinner began, (and the wine intake increased) Bob’s perspectives became more abrupt. We began talking about football teams in Surrey, which brought us to the discussion of Walley as a dangerous neighbourhood, for which our extended family member had great inputs. He began by saying “I’m not a racist but…”, I knew this was the beginning of a disaster. He continued to say how the increase in immigration of East Indian persons in Surrey has contributed to the city being dangerous and unlivable, and how this increase in immigration is represented in the increase in gangs and has separated the city into three: urban, turban and suburban.
A mental dilemma occurred at this moment: I needed to say something, but I did not want to make a scene at the table; we were at my grandma’s house, who we had not seen for over a year due to covid. While a dark cloud was slowly emerging over our dinner table, would speaking up and possibly starting an argument darken that cloud?
Too late, it happened. I told him that he contradicted his opening sentence regarding him not being racist. He attempted to defend his urban, turban and suburban comment by telling us that he “loved all races”. And who knows, maybe that is true; regardless it was evident that he did not think of all races as equal. What started off as a calm discussion quickly spiralled into “Young Chinese men in Ferraris are to blame for the fentanyl crises”, and “Most gang members are not white”.
Everything that Bob was saying sounded like a regurgitation of the worst politically right-leaning news stations I had ever heard. The media has forever played a role in systemic racism by painting minorities in a certain dim light. The ‘Chinese people are responsible for the fentanyl crises’ scapegoat is a popular one. But too often it’s a scapegoat that has increased animosity towards Asian people. Not to mention that there is a psychology behind why segregated persons—who are most often BIPOC—join gangs. There’s a documentary that outlines both the social and psychological factors as to why gangs are formed and why people join them, titled Crips and Bloods, Made in America.
I do not think that Bob meant any harm. Even his introductory “I was held at gunpoint in your country” seems to have had the intention of bringing up content that was familiar to my partner as means of being friendly. However, this man was repeating racism; what he was saying was not special, just a reiteration of the beliefs of a particular ideology that we have all heard before. Not that that makes it okay.
The interesting thing is that my younger brothers did not understand how this man was being racist; he did not say the N-word or any other explicit racist slurs. I love my brothers to death, but they are racially colourblind, which at its roots, equally perpetuates racism by complying with it—but that’s another article for another day. I think that it is important for people who understand systemic racism—among other antagonisms, to speak up when it comes the time. Not only to support the person who is being prejudiced against but also to shed light on those who do not understand how multi-faceted these social issues are.
If systemic discrimination is built on conformity and complicity, then not having said anything during my long weekend dinner would have just put another coin in the racism-is-okay piggy bank. Questioning the information being thrown at us and making a ruckus is sometimes necessary to be progressive and contribute to creating new, non-supremacist norms.