COLUMN: Prejudice hits home here, too

Hate-spewed messages at Charlottesville shared north of border, writes Taslim Jaffer

The alt-right rally that took place in Charlottesville is not just an American problem, and we need to talk about what it means to us as Canadians.

The hate messages spewed on the streets of that city in Virginia also show up in my local media and in misguided comments by members of our own community.

I’m not sure if these residents identify as nationalists or white supremacists, but to this person of colour, the only difference between carrying a Nazi flag while yelling “Jews will not replace us!” and begrudging refugees, coming down hard on Muslims for ‘not speaking up’ against ISIS or looking down on new immigrants is the packaging.

While it might sound harsh to lump together a Nazi and someone simply ‘annoyed’ at refugees being allowed into our country, it’s worth examining the underlying implication of both thought processes.

One doesn’t need to be marching in the streets, yelling profanities and threats, to be perpetuating an ideology that alienates and discriminates.

Although, apparently, people here in our corner of the world did feel it necessary to join the American neo-Nazis in Charlottesville that horrific weekend. Yes, they crossed the border from Canada-stan – as they refer to our country – and travelled to the South to participate.

This past weekend, an anti-Islam group planned a rally in Vancouver within days of the domestic terrorism that took place in Charlottesville.

When I first heard about the rally, there was not a single cell in my body that was surprised. If the news shocked you, then let that be your wakeup call. And now that you’re ‘woke’ – a millennial term for being ‘aware’, a term coined by a generation hell-bent on destroying white supremacy – let’s consider what next steps should be.

First, be aware of your own prejudices. And then seek to destroy them.

Do whatever it takes – educate yourself, expand your social circle, and figure out ways to eradicate this concept of ‘other’ from your mind. See people who look different from you, speak different languages, eat different food, pray differently, as human beings and find a way to identify with them.

Then, use your voice.

The KKK are now marching without hoods, my friends and neighbours. This is not the time to be silent.

And silent we were not; some 4,000 Vancouverites made their way to Vancouver City Hall to counter-protest anti-Islam, anti-immigration and racist rhetoric, greatly outnumbering the original rally-planners.

But we don’t have to wait for counter-protests and rallies to use our voice. We must speak up every day and every time. Every time you see someone overlooked at the office because of the colour of their skin. Every time someone around you complains about immigrants stealing jobs. Every time you hear a generalized statement about any group of people.

Speak up. It is hard and uncomfortable, and you risk being mocked or alienated or being on the receiving end of someone’s anger. (By the way, this is also what it feels like when you’re being racially targeted).

Understand what privilege is.

Not everyone that has privilege wants it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I also recognize the privilege I have being a relatively lighter-skinned, non-hijabi Muslim woman. I speak English with a ‘Canadian’ accent. All these things make my life easier in some way.

I wish it wasn’t like that. But instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, I think I have a responsibility to ensure that people who are mistreated have equal opportunities.

I would hope that we could all look out for each other that way.

Use your voter power responsibly.

I know people who voted for U.S. President Donald Trump because they liked one or two things he represented. The racism didn’t affect them directly so it didn’t dissuade them from voting for him.

Understand a candidate’s entire platform and how it affects the marginalized people in your community. The integrity of a nation is truly determined by the way it treats ALL its people, especially the ones who need support.

This past weekend, a large group of Vancouverites showed the world we don’t tolerate bigotry. But let’s not get complacent and forget that there are those among us who have deep-seated fear and hatred for people they don’t know. Stay woke, eyes and ears open.

“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, ‘Wait on time’” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Columnist Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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Man gets escorted out of the rally area by several police officers after giving the Nazi salute. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press)

Signs of resistance held in a crowd of more than 4,000 demonstrators Saturday. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press)

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