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OPINION: The scary use of the “R” word

by Katelyn Thomas September 4, 2018
OPINION: The scary use of the “R” word

Today, we can’t be just not racist––we must be anti-racist

If you feel like you have to explain why something isn’t racist, a) it probably is and b) you’re on the wrong side of history. At an event organized by the Federal Liberal Association in St. Jean on Aug. 16, a woman interrupted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech by incessantly yelling his name until he had no choice but to acknowledge her.

“I want to know when you will give us back the $146 million that we paid for your illegal immigrants.” Those are the words that Diane Blain shouted at the top of her lungs (and into my ear) in a corn field off Highway 133 in Sabrevois, Que. Surrounded by flabbergasted Liberals who were just there to have a good time, Blain threatened to throw a punch at any person who asked her to calm down.

In the midst of the madness, Trudeau attempted to appease the woman by outlining a few ways the government is giving back to Quebecers. Once Trudeau felt he had given her an appropriate amount of attention, he resumed the speech he had come to give. But she wasn’t satisfied. “You didn’t answer my question,” Blain said. As she repeated it, a man found his way to her side to chime in with, “We are not on Mohawk territory.” (We were, in fact, on Mohawk territory).

So, Trudeau put aside diplomacy and called it like he saw it. “This intolerance regarding immigrants does not have a place in Canada,” he said. “Canada was built by waves of immigration that were welcomed by First Nations, who showed us how to build a strong society, and the people who come here, generation after generation, to build stronger communities, this is what makes us stronger as a country. Madam, your intolerance does not have a place here.”

The crowd erupted in cheers, and Trudeau exited stage left. But later, the internet exploded. I was shocked to find that even some Liberals felt Trudeau’s reaction was a little uncalled for. I later realized this reaction was largely due to the footage that circulated online shortly after the event. The video conveniently begins later than the kerfuffle did, meaning you don’t hear Trudeau’s initial level-headed response.

Some say Blain’s question was valid and that Trudeau called her racist to avoid having to answer it. I call bullshit. Trudeau called her racist because he, like any compassionate person, doesn’t believe the borders of our country are where we should draw the line between which humans we care about and which ones we don’t. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to asylum, reads: “If you are persecuted at home, you have the right to seek protection in another country.” It saddens me that this concept continues to be questioned today.

Racism isn’t always blatant; it manifests itself in many different forms. Trudeau recognizing and denouncing an instance of subtle discrimination means he has an awareness that we should expect from all our leaders as well as ourselves. Being non-racist simply isn’t enough. We have to be anti-racist. We have to actively denounce everyday racism in our thoughts, speech and behaviour. The first step in doing so is calling it by its name.

Racism has always been racism. People aren’t taking things more personally than before. We’re just reaching a point in time where people feel empowered to demand better. And they should.

If there’s one thing I was left with after the bizarre evening I spent in a corn field, it was immense faith in the leader of our country and a sense of hope that change is on the horizon.

Photo by Katelyn Thomas

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