Why I will be #IdleNoMore

I was born in 1984 in a hospital in a city called Vancouver. I was told that Vancouver was a part of a country called Canada. I was issued a birth certificate that entitled me (and my mother) to free health care, education, clean water, national defense, voting rights, and a whole host of other privileges that are difficult to innumerate by virtue of both their great number and the fact that most of them are largely invisible to me (as nobody has ever tried to deprive me of them). As you have undoubtedly gleaned from my previous writings, my Canadian identity is something that is both profoundly important and a source of immense pride to me. I love my country of citizenship and birth, and I want to see it prosper and grow.

My mother was born under similar geographic circumstances to parents who were of Irish descent and of German descent. My father was born in a British colony called Guyana, and was told that he was Guyanese. Guyana was purchased from the Dutch, who didn’t own the land to begin with but who had simply settled there are created a colony by force. The thing that allowed the Dutch (and later the English) to hold a claim to the land they called Guyana was the same thing that brought my father’s ancestors to that land: slavery. We don’t know where my father’s people are from originally, and we may never know.

Canada is the only home I have ever known. It is the only place that I could possibly call ‘home’ – I find it deeply unlikely that I would be accepted as Irish or German (as divorced as I am from its history, culture, and ethnic majority), and am no more Guyanese than I am English or Dutch. It was only recently that I learned that, by virtue of the fact that Vancouver is built on territory that was not granted to the English by the people who originally settled her, that while I may be culturally Canadian, legally speaking I am… something else entirely. [Read more...]

#IdleNoMore: Something is happening

It is more or less always true in social justice conversations that if you’re talking more than you’re listening, you’re fucking up. This is particularly true when you’re advocating for a group you don’t belong to. I realized that I was guilty of this a few months back, particularly when it came to aboriginal Canadians. While I think the challenges faced by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Canadians are criminally underdiscussed, what I failed to realize is that the root cause of this is the absence of aboriginal voices in the conversation. If nobody takes your contributions seriously (or worse, you’re not even provided a platform to contribute at all), then even if your problems are addressed, they are done so in an extremely paternalistic and often half-hearted way.

And I was doing that.

Luckily, technology allows me to do something about that, so I put out the call on Twitter, asking for accounts from aboriginal persons, preferably those that discussed political realities and interpretations of news items. A trickle quickly became a flood, and my ‘following’ list exploded. This doesn’t mean that hey now I am magically allowed to talk at length about stuff, but it does mean that I’m slightly more aware of stuff than I was before.

And it’s a good thing too, because something’s happening right now: [Read more...]

A mysterious and puzzling mystery

There are some things, for all our vaunted expertise and powerful scientific tools, that we can simply not seem to answer. We may never be able to figure them out. They are the mysteries of the universe. And this is one of them:

A new poll released by the charitable organization Samara suggests Canadians are less satisfied with their democracy compared to eight years ago. Last spring, researchers conducted a poll using a question identical to one used in 2004, asking respondents about their level of satisfaction “with the way democracy works in Canada.”

Seventy-five per cent of Canadians expressed at least some degree of satisfaction in 2004. But when asked again in 2012, the number expressing satisfaction dropped 20 points to 55 per cent.

It’s weird. Why would people’s confidence in the Parliamentary system decline so precipitously since 2004? What has changed since then? Anything? I certainly can’t think of an answer. [Read more...]

More than time needed to heal some wounds

Earlier this week, fellow FTBorg Ashley Miller told a heart-wrenching story of being disowned by her father:

He was with me for Thanksgiving, to meet my mom and stepdad and brother and rest of my family.  Except my dad.  My mother, who is much wiser than me and deserves full credit for being right, told me not to tell my dad until she could grease the wheels, but I, who wanted to make the boyfriend part of my family, foolishly overreached and talked to my father thinking that she was underestimating his fundamental human decency.

And now my father has just disowned me.

I suppose I am thankful that he waited until the day after Thanksgiving to do it.  Not that he told me, he made my stepmother his proxy as he was too angry to speak to me directly.  I have been disowned for loving someone my father does not approve of.

If you haven’t read it yet, you should. Maybe locate some tissues first.

Many people in the comments and on Twitter expressed dismayed shock that such disowning could happen in this day and age. After all, Ashley’s dad’s justification for refusing to talk to or interact with his daughter is that she’s dating a guy… who is black. How could such a thing be possible in 2012? Surely we are a more enlightened society and culture now than we were in the distant mists of our shameful history, aren’t we? After all, racism was so… yesterday. We’ve moved on, into this “post-racial” utopia we’ve been hearing so much about, where people are “colour blind” and racism just isn’t a serious problem anymore. [Read more...]

PPP looks about to snap

Imagine you had to talk to Republicans. Every day. And pretend they weren’t idiots. How long do you think you’d last before you just snapped?

Public Policy Polling looks like its patience is wearing thin:

49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the election for President Obama. Wefound that 52% of Republicans thought that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama, so this is a modest decline, but perhaps smaller than might have been expected given that ACORN doesn’t exist anymore [emphasis mine].

An animated .gif of an elephant calf getting booted

Give in to your anger, PPP. Come join us on the snark side.

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Tom the Dancing Bug gets ‘traditional’

After the election, Fox News’ resident zeppelin opined:

The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore, and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff, they want things. And who is going to give them things? President [Barack] Obama.

He later “clarified”:

If you look at the exit polling, you’ll see that a coalition of voters put the President back into the oval office. That coalition was non-tradition, which means it veered away from things like traditional marriage, robust capitalism, and self-reliance.

Instead, each constituency that voted for the President — whether it be single women, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, whatever — had very specific reasons for doing so. [...]

Traditional American voters generally want a smaller government in Washington, more local control, some oversight on abortion, and believe in American exceptionalism.

Tom the Dancing Bug (a.k.a. Ruben Bolling) sets Bill straight: [Read more...]

The terrible burden of religious persecution

Part of the reason I have such a difficult time taking complaints about the “persecution” of Christians in North America (and indeed, most of the world), is because by degrees they demonstrate again and again that they have simply no fucking clue what persecution looks like. To wit:

Jamaica’s public transport authorities have banned lay preachers from addressing commuters in public buses. Jamaica is a predominantly Christian country, but many passengers have complained about the noise and disturbance. Drivers have been instructed to politely warn religious ministers that they are no longer allowed to evangelise fellow passengers. Preachers say the decision infringes freedom of speech and religion.

No, Jamaican dickhole priests, your rights are not being infringed because people are telling you that you’re not allowed to push your superstition to people riding the bus, on their way to actually doing something worthwhile in the world. Your rights are intact. You can still say whatever you want, you’re just not allowed to do it with absolutely no regard for the feeling or comfort of other people. You know, like a non-sociopath.

I am reminded of this comic: [Read more...]

The freedom of religion

I have to admit that I have a massive throbbing hate-on (read it again) for the phrase “freedom of religion”. It is an over-used canard that really has no useful value. The protection of a right to freedom of conscience, along with similar protections for speech, ensures that any religious belief or practice is protected. Carving out a specific protection for religion is redundant.

What it is a reflection of, as far as I can tell, is a cultural obsession with the totems and taboos of worshipping various failures of rational thought. We fetishize our ignorance, call it “religion” or “faith”, and then incessantly remind everyone how important and central it is to the human experience, to the point where people don’t know how you could possibly live a life without it. So of course it has to have special protection. After all, if we don’t protect something so essential to human functioning, how could we have any rights at all?

Bullshit.

And yet, we continue to do it. We enshrine it in our laws, we plaster it on bumper stickers, we even create entire government ministries to oversee it. An office, by the way, overseen by a person who is capable of saying stuff like this in public:

In too many countries, the right to believe in and practise one’s faith in peace and security is still measured in blood spilled and lives lost. This is not an abstract debate. Blasphemy laws target religious minorities.

And then saying this:

Nothing is easy. And you really only get one chance to get it right. We know that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.

Oh really, Mr. Baird. Thanks for pointing that out. Let’s look at a couple of blasphemy law cases then, shall we?

Greek Church charges playwright, actors, with blasphemy:

The actors and creative team behind a play that depicts Jesus Christ and his apostles as gay face charges of blasphemy in Greece, according to court officials.

The production of Corpus Christi, a 1997 play by U.S. playwright Terrence McNally, was greeted with protests by priests and the right-wing Golden Dawn movement during its run in Athens in October. The Greek-language staging was eventually cancelled earlier this month.

Greek Orthodox Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus launched a lawsuit against the production and called for charges of “insulting religion” and “malicious blasphemy.”

Because, and I think the whole international community can agree, there’s nothing more important happening in Greece right now than cracking down on people who insult religion. Even though the play is about political corruption. None of that in Greece though…

India arrests two for Facebook status:

Police in India have arrested a woman they say criticised on Facebook the shutdown of the city of Mumbai after the death of politician Bal Thackeray.

A woman friend who “liked” the comment was also arrested, they said.

The women, accused of “hurting religious sentiments”, were released on bail after appearing in court in the town of Palghar, police told the BBC.

Yes, it would be just awful if people were allowed to express dissatisfaction at things that are tangentially related to deeply held religious beliefs! Don’t you get how deeply they’re held, you guys? Deeply! Like… really deep!

It seems to me that religion isn’t exactly under existential threat here. If anything, it’s got quite a bit of muscle to flex. And while the supposed goal of this “Office of Religious Freedom” is supposed to be about protecting minority groups, Minister John Baird expresses this ‘freedom’ in explicitly faith-y terms. Not a freedom to believe and practice according to the dictates of one’s own conscience, but a freedom to “draw upon one’s faith to contribute to the greater good of society—something greater than oneself.”

I’m, it hardly needs to be said, skeptical.

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Oh, Canada…

It’s really easy (and fun!) to point out the raft of egregious racism that in many ways defines the American political landscape. Part of the appeal of framing racism in an American context is that cornerstone of Canadian identity: rage/jealousy of our bigger brother. Without our American counterparts against which to contrast ourselves, the challenging of forming a Canadian identity that isn’t just another colonial throwback to our British roots is challenging*. Another part of it is the fact that the hypocrisy of America proclaiming itself as some sort of bastion of freedom is belied by its history of deep hostility and belligerence when it comes to the freedoms of people of colour (PoCs). The idea that America is ‘post-racial’ or any such fantasy is only sustainable if you ignore major parts of reality (which, to be sure, Americans have traditionally not had much difficulty doing when it comes to other elements of their politics).

But a big part of why I personally discuss racism in an American context so often is because, quite frankly, that country provides me with a steady diet of material. I don’t have to scour the web for examples of racism to help illustrate some point or another. Last week’s blitz illustrates perfectly that I will never want for scintillating news stories. Some might argue that this is because Americans are super-racist. To be sure, some of the most shocking and dramatic examples of racism are present in American history, and its regular refusal to come to grips with its own history means that they are doomed to repeat it frequently and tragically. Some might argue, though, that the reason American media produces so much about American racism is because it’s newsworthy. It means people care enough to highlight it.

Which is why I find this story so interesting: [Read more...]