By Laurelle Harris
Racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia happened and the world took note. We here in Canada took note. Many expressed their shock and their outrage when an advocate and ally was murdered. Or when they saw the images of demonstrators carrying torches and shouting, “Jews will not replace us!” Or when the Ku Klux Klan protested in the streets against those who dare to insist that the glorification of the Confederacy – those who committed sedition and went to war for the right to continue to enslave human beings – has no place in the public square.
When news of the events in Charlottesville broke, I was not at all shocked. For people of colour, LGBTQ peoples, Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities, this is only the latest outward expression of what happens to folks like us all the time.
Don’t get me wrong. As a black, Jewish, queer woman, I know that I embody what white supremacists hate most, and that all they see of folks like me is that we are wrong. Our bodies are commodities. We are scapegoats. It was painful to bear witness, incredibly so. But I was not shocked. If it was shocking to anyone, they haven’t been paying attention.
Hatred, racism and bigotry are all around us, right here at home. Indigenous women are still being murdered or are missing. Six Muslim people were murdered by Alexandre Bissonnette, a domestic terrorist, while at prayer at their mosque in Quebec City a few short months ago. There have been many occasions over the years where anti-Semitic graffiti has defaced public and private areas in Winnipeg — as recently as last week. The list goes on and on.
For some Canadians, it is easy to focus on the events in Charlottesville, where people felt comfortable enough in their own racism and anti-Semitism to publicly cloak themselves in it, as an isolated scourge to be rooted out and exposed. It is much less disruptive to our daily lives when we believe we know who is on the team of the righteous and who is not. It is easy to say, “Sure, we have some problems in Canada, but not like that.”
Doing so absolves spectators of the events in Charlottesville of responsibility for the world in which we live. We can tell ourselves that it’s the neo-Nazis, the bigots, the KKK who are the primary agents perpetuating racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism (and the list goes on). That, by simply refraining from spewing hate, we are not contributing to the problem.
The reality is that all of us ordinary, non-swastika-and-confederate-flag-wearing folks live within systems – like white supremacy – which act upon us. Systems from which some of us derive benefits, while others are simultaneously being harmed in order to produce those benefits. If we are not challenging ourselves, if we are not learning and then teaching others how systems of oppression confer privilege arbitrarily and not based on merit, if we are not able to identify and then call out racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of oppression, and then do something about it, we are not doing enough. If we are too fragile to examine our own complicity in the oppression of others, we are not doing enough.
If we really want to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed, if we want to honour the sacrifices made by Heather Heyer and countless others in the pursuit of justice, we should make real her mother’s expressed belief that they didn’t “shut her up” – they “just magnified her”.
I’m starting with me.
Laurelle Harris is the Chair of the Women’s Health Clinic Board of Directors.