Racism is Over?
In the recent film festival favourite Dear White People, written and directed by James Williams and Teyonah Parris, the president of a fictitious Ivy League School, Winchester University, in the US declares that racism is over in America – especially in the wake of Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency. Perhaps it is for white people but is it true for the so-called Visible Minorities and other minorities based on gender and sexual preference?
I heard this same declaration during redress. Many Nisei and Sansei told me the issue of redress was a non-starter; after all, “racism was over”. It wasn’t like it was back in 1942 anymore, they insisted. Of course, that was beside the point. Redress was a human rights issue. Still, they felt it was not relevant to their lives.
But that was the 1980s. After all, it is 2015 and surely racism is truly no more. The US elected a Black president, perhaps there will be a woman in the White House in 2017, women are premiers across Canada, a Muslim is mayor of Calgary, and we have an openly gay premier of Ontario. Yet take a look at the 2014 Civic Election in Toronto. With Olivia Chow running for the office of Mayor and several visible minorities vying for council seats, the best and worst in Torontonians came to the forefront.
I’ve known Olivia since her Dan Heap days in the late 70s to the early 80s, before Jack Layton, and I can truthfully say she was never a quitter; she was always a fighter who stuck by her principles no matter the situation. From the beginning, I recognized the strength in her to withstand most things. And time has proven me correct. There were several civic and federal campaigns, the decline and death of her husband Jack, and Ramsay Hunt Syndrome that paralyzed part of her face. During the 2006 federal election, a Liberal party executive compared her to a “chow chow” dog on his blog. She carried her successes, failures and tragedies with grace and dignity.
Yet when she ran for mayor, I felt my heart break with all that she had to withstand. Rob Ford, the disgraced former mayor, never admitted to being a racist though his attitudes spilled out on video and on several occasions, allegedly drunk, stoned or not. “Chinese people work like dogs,” he stated emphatically as councillor. This seemed to create an atmosphere within the so-called Ford Nation that racism was permissible and even preferable. It was no more clearly demonstrated than during the 2014 elections.
Olivia Chow was the victim of 1000s of racist attacks on Facebook alone. At one point early in the campaign, she received 1600 racist, sexist and offensive posts on her wall, the least of which called her “Chairman Chow.” Compare that to Rob Ford who received a mere 191 negative comments in a six-month period.
Jim Duncan, a heckler from Etobicoke (the heart of Ford Nation), wrote things like “I don’t want a socialist mayor.” And “Chow has returned nothing. Has taken from taxpayers for decades. Can’t string two words together and couldn’t organize a one car funeral.”
He naturally denied that the above was a racist jibe. He told a Toronto paper, “My comment had nothing to do with her ethnicity, or the fact that English isn’t her first language.” Mighty white of him. Most critics agree, the man wasn’t discussing ideas, he was attacking Olivia.
Speaking of newspapers, I was appalled by the Toronto Sun’s “political” cartoon of Olivia as a racist caricature days before the election. See the original cartoon, a response by the Toronto Star’s Heather Mallick and David Fujino’s letter of protest on the Toronto NAJC website.
Then there was Kristyn Wong-Tam, re-elected Ward 27 councillor. She often gets questions like “Where do you come from?” and “You speak good English.” On the campaign trail, she heard people say, “Oh Olivia, I will vote for you.” And after the election, “Oh Olivia, I’m sorry you lost.” Really? Wong-Tam is younger, taller and does not look in any way like Olivia Chow. She is more often than not on the local television news. So she is highly recognizable.
Wong-Tam righty says, “It (the ignorant comment) dehumanizes us. You are assigned to a particular tribe, which has its own tribal behaviours and characteristics – like black men are deemed as aggressive and violent. We often still live in post-colonial times, where we can’t ignore so many aboriginal women are missing. If they had been young, blond, white women, everything in this country would stop at a standstill until we solved the crime.”
So I would say, “Dear White People,” racism and discrimination still exist even if it is 2015.