Where the Fight Against Racism Went Wrong
Today I watched a documentary on the issue of human trafficking. It featured the stories of ex-prostitutes, pimps, johns and the people of law enforcement who serve in the fight against the sex trade.
Toward the end of the documentary, I realized that amongst the many reactions I had, one of them was the gratitude that I had toward the men who chose to fight this particular cause.
One of the officers, Daniel Steele, the Vice Sergeant of the Denver Police had described the reason behind his passion for fighting sex trafficking.
“I just have no tolerance for people who think it’s okay to force women into being slaves.”
Looking at how powerful the influence of men fighting for injustices against women, where most of these acts are committed by men themselves, got me thinking about non-marginalized people fighting against racism, acts mostly committed by non-marginalized people.
A few weeks ago there was the issue of two white student journalists being banned from attending and covering a Racialized Students Union meeting at Ryerson University.
While people debated the merit of both sides of the issue, the stance I took was very difficult to articulate. It was a mix of understanding the importance of safe space for marginalized and racialized groups, but a lack of understanding as to why the journalists were not permitted to attend the meeting, which RSU coordinator Vajdaan Tanveer confirmed was because the student journalists were white.
Since then, I have heard the argument of how them being there would have compromised the ability for group members to be open and honest about their experiences.
Since then, I have heard the argument of how they wouldn’t have been able to understand the experiences of others because they had never experienced racialization.
Since then, I have heard the argument of how they are a part of the problem because they belong to the hegemonic group that essentially, has done most of the racialization.
But since then, I have pondered the irony of students being banned from attending a meeting focusing on the experience of being racialized based on the colour of two peoples skin.
I have wondered how a group that prides itself on “campus-wide” initiatives could possibly contradict their own mission statement by being exclusive to only the racialized group.
And since then, I have truly wondered if their lack of acceptance for the two white students was an act of racialization in itself, believing in my heart that it was, but feeling too guilty of being “part of the problem” to admit it.
Here’s the real problem.
Somewhere along the lines, pride and pain took over the mission of conquering and peace. The lines of division and segregation that a racist society drew in the sand in history got darker and bolder over time and separated us even more.
And now we’re not even in the same sandbox anymore.
In another case, protestors gathered in Downtown Toronto for a Black Lives Matter protest towards the end of 2014. The organizers instructed non-black protestors not to speak to the media if they were approached. They wanted the protest to focus on black voices.
While I understood the intention, I truly did not comprehend the method.
After watching this documentary today, and seeing far too many race crimes, protests and just everyday acts of intolerance, I’ve come to the conclusion (or at least now can confirm what I long believed) that racism can’t just be fought by blacks.
It can’t be fought by sitting in a room and talking about the instances you were the victim of racialization. That might help you heal, but it won’t help stop racism.
Racism can’t be fought by silencing the voices of others, hoping the audience will then hear our voices louder.
Racism can’t be fought without making alliances with other races, to show the rest of the world that racism is the issue of people who haven’t even been victims of racism.
To show them that yes, racism is your problem too.
Racism isn’t just an issue that ethnic minorities face. It’s a society-wide issue that needs to be addressed by those who are oppressed, those who have been oppressed, the people belonging to the groups who historically, have been oppressors, and those who know nothing about oppression whatsoever.
Racism is not a competition.
It’s not a competition to see who’s been the most oppressed, or who’s worthy of fighting the cause vs. those who aren’t. It’s an issue that needs to and especially cannot be defeated by society unless we stand as a united front.
After I watched the documentary today, I imagined what my response would be if I were a man.
And if I were a man watching that documentary, I would realize that sex trafficking is a widespread issue. I’d see that there are men; fathers, brothers, police officers, federal government workers who prioritize this issue, one that doesn't affect my gender nearly as much as it does to another, as a worthy cause of being fought.
And so I might not be so intolerant the next time I see a street worker and call her a derogatory name.
When people see their own people fighting a cause that doesn't affect them negatively, they get to thinking twice about the affect of the cause in a broader sense and might even feel more compelled to fight, too.
Sadly the reality is that people need to identify with a cause before they decide to partake in the fight. That’s why racism is a cause primarily fought by minorities, feminism by women, university strikes by university students and TAs, anti-Islam by Muslims, anti-semitism by Jews, etc.
So if we continue to minimize the face of racism by making it seem like a “black” issue or an “Asian” issue or a “Middle Eastern” issue, how will the importance of fighting it ever really mean anything to the group of people that seem to benefit from minorities being racialized the most?
Maybe I’m confused. But closing the doors in people’s faces and telling them their voices don’t matter, at least not in this instance, was what got us to where we are in the first place. Sometimes the only way to avoid the legacies of a brutal and discriminatory history is to rewrite it.
Luckily, we all have pens.