BUILDING BRIDGES: Privilege comes at a cost

We must stay mindful of discrimination – subtle or otherwise – to be sure it doesn't bubble over.

I attended a lecture at UBC by author Lawrence Hill.

He is perhaps most famous for his best-selling novel, The Book of Negroes. His fiction has earned him all kinds of accolades, and it was this genre that drew me to his work.

He is also an essayist, activist and a recipient of the Order of Canada.

I mention this so you understand why I would ask a novelist – during the Q&A period that followed his talk entitled Refugees in the World and in the Imagination entitled Refugees in the World and in the Imagination – about Canadian politics. I asked him how Canada can avoid a political situation like the one we see south of the border.

It’s an enormous question, but this is where it came from:

From where I sit, Canada is like a pot of boiling water. There’s a lid on it, but the heat rises and the steam builds. Every so often, the lid is pushed up by the steam and people might get hurt. Then the lid slams back down, and the water returns to a simmer. The heat rises and the cycle continues.

I look at that pot and I wonder how to keep the heat low enough to avoid the big outbursts.

Lawrence Hill’s response to my question was social activism.

Social activism is about calling out situations where people are treated unjustly. It’s as much individual action as it is gathering for a march. It’s about naming open hate as well as subtle discrimination – and we are each responsible.

Further, aside from calling out day-to-day injustice,

We need to be wary of political agendas; we need to understand how a candidate’s platform affects people outside our own circles. Through the power of our vote, we not only choose our fate but that of our fellow citizens.

An American friend of mine told me a family member voted for Donald Trump in last fall’s U.S. presidential election simply because he was not a Clinton.

Being a white male, he is less likely to feel the adverse effects of that decision. That is privilege in action, and it is dangerous.

But let’s turn our attention to our own soil.

Could that happen here? If we’re not mindful, yes. If we forget that privilege comes at a cost to others, yes.

When we look at a candidate’s platform, we need to look at it through the eyes of our most vulnerable.

After all, we measure a nation’s greatness by the way it treats its marginalized populations, to paraphrase Gandhi.

Since the fall of 2016, much of our attention has been drawn across the border, but I’d like to remind us to be ever more watchful on this side of the line.

Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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