We cannot sit and watch silently – a silent spectator is not our role.
America and Canada share a border, many things in common – and many differences too. To some degree, we share a culture – and we often share similar failed experiments.
At the moment, we’ve been experiencing and experimenting with different ways to deal with the COVID-19 virus.
We are doing better, but we should not be smug or overconfident, because the whole planet is still in the early stages of this new disease nobody understands yet, for which a vaccine is a far-off wish. We have no certainty when or if our situation might get better or become far worse. Nobody knows.
And now another one, another crisis. It’s about race. And policing. And societal behavior – different issues, different history, different experiences – and yet the same in too many ugly ways.
COVID-19 – a pandemic ‘global lab experiment’ in geopolitics, medical science, technology, social media, partisan politics, and fear-mongering. This crisis is not felt as real everywhere or for everyone. In some places, it is tragically critical. In others, better managed, and some have done a superb job.
Canada’s performance is neither stellar nor embarrassing.
Alberta’s, among our provinces, has been first-rate.
I don’t say that because I live here, but because I’m glad I live here. Many Albertans, particularly those in the north and rural areas, are relatively unscathed, unaffected, and many feel they are rightly angry that the government’s reaction to protect us all has been an overreaction. Yet, in every Canadian city with a major international airport, meatpacking plants, and management-lite nursing homes, not so much. This impacts everyone differently. If we see ourselves as part of a ‘global community,’ it’s easy to see a ‘collective remedy for the collective good.’
And now – in America, in Canada, and in most first and second world countries – there is a crisis on another front.
Or is it?
Suddenly, ‘black lives matter’ has surged to prominence. Its impact is being felt in many places – mostly large cities with loot-able shopping malls, dodgy police-departments, and with a panting media, anxious for anything that will sell newspapers, advertising, and bump COVID-19 off the front page.
And in the United States, it’s an election year, a lot of people have more available time, and many have more than one reason to be stoked up with waves of anger and frustrations – and then a cruel and unnecessary action by a police officer lit the torch of far more issues than systemic racism in police forces – and the problem of long-wrong racism has overtaken the news and the politics of the day. Yes, in Canada too, we have sharp divides among police, politicians, and ordinary citizens about what is right, wrong, fair, unfair – long overdue for redress.
It seems the consequences, of a police officer killing George Floyd, has put a torch of ignition to many issues, possibly of sea-change magnitude.
Whether this gives rise to real, lasting change remains to be seen.
But it could be.
The kind of change that comes along every generation or so.
For me, it is reminiscent of race-riots in the ‘60s, women’s issues in the ‘70s, and more recently #_____ – whatever issue or talking point seems to gain the most traction. These issues aren’t new – but it seems a new generation is sinking its teeth into them for the first time. Tragically some brutal deaths and mistreatments happened – but without them, would the catalyst have been there?
Before I go back to the COVID-19 issue and try to connect these dots, because I think they do, I want to rant a bit about some hypocrisy in my own country. Yes, Canada’s prime minister is siding with the protestors against systemic racism in Canada. Good. Good for him. Good for his Liberal Party. Good for the historic governments of this country, and our British conquerors before that. Good for everyone who recognizes that black, brown, and every other hue of Canadian origin and skin color is valuable – that they matter, they always have, and ought to have equal rights to humane treatment. Something they’ve always deserved. Fixing policing practices is, both here and in other countries, like skimming some icing off the cake – scraping away the most visible symptom to get it off the front page, to get it off the evening NEWS.
So what is my burning issue?
It’s about power. Sometimes it’s about race. Sometimes it’s about religion. Sometimes it’s about history – but it’s always about power.
Often that is intertwined with money, but not always. Look around the world. For instance, Iran, where white people are a tiny minority – it’s not about race, it’s about religion – and more specifically, about which sect of religion. Look at Ireland and Northern Ireland – it was religion and power. Look at the history of the former Yugoslavia – all white, but history and religion determined who had power and who was weak once the oppressive Russian thumb was removed. Look at South Africa – not during apartheid, but after. It was then about rival tribes; it was about power. These are a few examples I know of – and I don’t profess to be a historian or scholar, but it seems that the most populous group have and hold onto the power. With power comes money and control – and with money and power and control, comes domination of those without numbers, money, or power.
I won’t rant about mass shootings – the other issue which frequently grabs media attention just long enough for politicians to chime in about why we need fewer guns and more police, and that issue too fades from the front page pretty fast.
Whose side am I on?
All lives matter, and what matters most is how we speak and act when media lights are shining somewhere else, and the politicians are distracted by some other issue du-jour.
What we have on this planet, and in every country, is systemic power structures. They keep the weak in their weakened state. It doesn’t matter how many walls Americans put up, illegal laborers pick the lettuce and strawberries, clean hotel rooms, and mow the grass at golf courses.
Just like our American friends to the south, our history of systemic racism, which the media-frenzy very conveniently ignores, is the life of those who were here first.
Indigenous Canadians. American Indians. Australian and Kiwi aborigines. These peoples were guardians of their land, supreme environmental activists with a rich spiritual history – they took care of each other and didn’t go to war with each other. They were conquered by those with power and money. The thumbs that hold them down continue to manifest that history. The news media will pounce on people who say politically incorrect things. And we all applaud.
Real change takes time – and from time to time, people yell, march, protest, and vent their frustrations as they are undoubtedly correct in their feelings that they ought to be equal, have legal rights to equality, but are powerless. Each time there is an uproar or protest, we pay lip-service to the sound of change. But the minute the crisis-du-jour is over, we realize that was just noise. Real change takes longer and doesn’t grow from explosive rhetoric on the evening news.
It comes slowly and painfully.
We can, at best, move things along. But each time some political wannabe says he’ll change things for the better, our answer should be, “Poppycock.”
Yes, I am glad I live here – in my city, my province, my country. When it comes to being happy or proud, we can all thump our chests about many things – but on this issue of race and power, there is no country without a shameful reality.
We shouldn’t just look at it when there is a headline or a crisis – but we should play a role in change.
Spectator is not a role.
Silence is not action.
Change is long overdue – and, to end on a positive note, if this pandemic has taught us anything at all, it is that a lot can change in a hurry when we want to badly enough. Yes, the pandemic is an emergency deserving of massive collective action, whatever the cost.
It seems to me that if we want racism to end – similar scale action is needed. Otherwise, nothing will change enough soon enough.
p.s. and, while I’m ranting, let me add some thoughts on those who defensively and cowardly say, “All lives matter.” – those folks are entirely missing the underlying reality.
I’ve been reading and hearing so many high-level officials in organizations, corporations, and governments denying there is systemic racism – they underscore their ignorance with comments of no systematic racism. As if their conflating those terms somehow diminishes their insensitivity and willful blindness. All lives do matter, but those in power will always charitably mimic that sentiment and go about business as usual. They accept change grudgingly and very slowly.