Warm fuzzy religious tolerance

The great religious traditions of the world do not agree on much. They certainly don’t agree on the name, number, type, or behaviour of their various gods. They don’t agree on what happens after you die, what you’re supposed to do while you’re alive, and when life even starts. They disagree about how, what, and when you should eat, pray, and fuck. Even groups that are titularly similar – i.e., different sects of the same religion – have disagreements over how to properly interpret the same passages in their holy books. Basically, there’s a notable absence of convergence when it comes to religion as a method of learning about the supernatural.

One thing they can agree on, however, is the fact that the rising tide of secularism is the greatest threat to mankind. We are repeatedly exhorted to stand up for religious traditions in the face of the threat of atheist extremists pushing religious life to the margins of society. Of course it’s a secret agenda – they wouldn’t dare come for our bibles with guns drawn – the backlash would be unbelievable. No instead they do it by the trickiest mechanism possible – forcing everyone to play by the same rules: [Read more…]

Watch for flying pigs

Shit’s been heavy recently. I think it’s maybe time to lighten things up with another ‘good news’ week.

I’ve talked before about my crush on Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin. I really don’t want that to be construed in a disrespectful way, but there simply is no other way to express my fanboy admiration for pretty much every aspect of her legal mind. If I could, I would take her brain out for a nice dinner, maybe go dancing, walk it to the door, shake hands and walk home feeling really good about myself. I have never made a study of the law, but I do have a pretty clear idea of what fairness and justice look like, and every decision I’ve seen come from Justice McLachlin’s court have been more or less in lockstep with those ideas.

Those of you who read last month’s series on Black History know that the central thesis of my exploration of the facts of history was that we can and should use those facts to essentially chart a forward course. We can avoid repeating mistakes and learn from our failures as much as our successes in planning immigration and social policy, and in dealing with each other as countrymen who do not necessarily share a land of origin. The principle is equally valid in understanding not only broad social phenomena, but personal and interpersonal issues as well. At least I think so.

And so, apparently, does the McLachlin Supreme Court: [Read more…]

Yesterday, tomorrow, today

The central thesis of my series on black history this year was focussed on the importance of understanding the whole truth of our history as a nation. This is not only relevant to Canada, mind you – it is universally true that understanding where we came from tells us how we got where we are. Furthermore, it gives us an indication of how we can move into the future intelligently, avoiding the same pitfalls that had waylaid us before. The reason why I thought black history was particularly useful for this task is that a) it has not been well-explored and is not well-understood, and b) it is a particularly egregiously bad slice of our history that we must learn to confront honestly if we are to glean anything from it.

That being said, Canada’s abysmal treatment of black people is far from the worst story we have to tell. For that, we have to turn to First Nations Canadians. The original settlers and inhabitants of the land were repeatedly exploited and conned into agreements that worked to their continual disadvantage. It is only recently that we have been willing to confront our national shame in anything other than an entirely token way, and many (myself included) would argue that we are still not doing enough to not simply make up for historical injustices, but to understand how we non-Aboriginal Canadians fit into their historical narrative.

Just as in the case of black history, learning the history of the Nation of Canada and the First Nations of Canada teaches us about ourselves, in ways that we may find uncomfortable but which are critical to moving forward: [Read more…]

Black is black is not black

Someone recently asked me in a comment if I consider myself African American or Afro-Canadian. I cheekily replied ‘no’, because the option is not so binary as that. However, in light of this morning’s post, I suppose the question deserves a more detailed response. As I have laid out before, I call myself ‘black’ despite having one white parent. I tend to use that label when I am talking to a white audience – among other black folks where the racial signifier is superfluous, I identify as ‘Caribbean’ or ‘Guyanese’ when discussing my background. That being said, more than being a black Canadian or a Caribbean Canadian or a Guyanese Canadian, I am a Canadian.

As we can conclude from our discussion this morning, ‘black Canadian’ is not a particularly useful term. While it is true that all groups enjoy an important amount of internal diversity, this is particularly true of black Canadians, who are from radically different cultural backgrounds. This can be contrasted against African-Americans who, overwhelmingly, descended from slaves and can thereby claim a domestic pedigree far more than the majority of black Canadians.

The great shame of this reality is, for black Canadians at least, that the majority of black scholarship on race and race issues happens within the United States. Those of you who have paid particular attention to my posts about race will notice that most of the journal articles and peer-reviewed studies are from the USA, with very few from Canada. While I do try my best to feature Canadian race stories, it is somewhat slim pickings to find authoritative and compelling items to feature. This flies directly in the face of the fact that black Canadians are very different, historically speaking, from black Americans. [Read more…]

A twisted sense of honour

This may end up being yet another one of those kind of posts where I end up in a crouch against one of my fellow FTBorg. Today’s bone is picked with Matt Dilahunty of The Atheist Experience. I am similarly terrified of dueling with Matt, but I would be remiss if I let his comment pass unchallenged.

On Sunday’s episode of The Atheist Experience, a caller asked Beth and Matt for their opinion on ‘honour killings’, in light of the recent conviction of Mohammad Shafia. Beth and Matt were, in the least shocking plot twist imaginable, opposed to them. No big deal – killing is wrong, killing because of something as misguided as patriarchial, misogynistic concepts of “honour” is even more wrong. I’ve said as much before:

There’s no honour in murder. It is the weak-willed act of a coward who lacks any human decency. One might be able to persuade me that there is honour in the suicide tradition of Bushido, in which failure to act honourably moves the samurai to take his/her own life. I’m generally against the idea of suicide, but a person’s life is their own to do with what they want. What he is not entitled to do, however, is murder someone else to restore his own sense of ‘honour’. Any society in which one person’s mental state or social status trumps another’s right to the security of their person cannot stand.

Matt then pivoted from what was essentially a good point about the intolerability of murder in a sustainable society into a terrible point about religion. His argument, as best I could understand it, was that Islam provides a context in which honour killings are permissible. The implication of this statement is that Mr. Shafia’s Muslim beliefs fueled his decision to murder his three daughters and first wife. I’ve also expressed my objection to this concept:

[Read more…]

Africentric school approved in Toronto

There are periodically – not often, mind you, but occasionally – points in race conversation when I am tempted to throw up my hands and say “you’re white, and you don’t get it! Just accept that I am right!” Oftentimes race issues require so much unpacking – privilege, history, demographics, sociology, the list goes on – that a seemingly innocuous topic or opinion actually takes a monumental effort to resolve.

Of course my “job”, as someone who blogs explicitly about race as I do, is to do such unpacking so that anyone can walk their way through the argument. Most of the time I am game for this, particularly if I can refer the person back to some article or another that I’ve written in the past. I recognize that the conversation doesn’t get completely explored in the span of a single blog post, and I get e-mails from people telling me that my work here has helped them change their minds about some race issue or other (those are really appreciated, by the way).

But there are periodically points in this conversation where I just want to cop out and say “because I’m black and I’m right, dammit!” One of those times has just reared its nuanced and complex head: [Read more…]

Walking on the gayest eggshells possible

One concept that we don’t discuss much in the “Western” world (a label that I find completely inaccurate and useless) is that of colonialism. Since Canada’s political structure and demographics are made up overwhelmingly of the descendants of European immigrants, we have much less of a post-colonial headache than South American and African countries (and indeed, many Asian countries as well). The United States points repeatedly to its birth as rebellion from its colonial masters, allowing it to throw off the weight of post-colonial detritus. The European countries are the ones who did the colonizing, so their relationship with the subject is quite different. The result of this confluence of historical and political/economic factors is that the only people who really discuss colonialism are members of minority groups.

We’re going to need to understand the issue a lot better:

The UK is showing a “bullying mentality” by threatening to cut aid to countries where homosexuality is illegal, a Ugandan official says. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said at the weekend that those receiving British aid should respect gay rights. But Ugandan presidential adviser John Nagenda told the BBC Ugandans were “tired of these lectures” and should not be treated like “children”.

The issue at discussion here is the proposal to withdraw foreign aid from countries that refuse to recognize universal human rights for homosexual people. The move is lauded by gay rights groups who say that it is hypocritical of countries like the UK to talk about promoting human rights, but to provide aid to regimes that criminalize homosexuality. It is derided, on the other hand, by African leaders who see it as an attempt to force “Western” moral standards on the rest of the world. Uganda is one of the worst offenders, to be sure, but they’re not alone:

Ghana’s President John Atta Mills has rejected the UK’s threat to cut aid if he refuses to legalise homosexuality. Mr Atta Mills said the UK could not impose its values on Ghana and he would never legalise homosexuality. (snip)

Mr Atta Mills said Mr Cameron was entitled to his views, but he did not have the right to “direct to other sovereign nations as to what they should do”. He said Ghana’s “societal norms” were different from those in the UK. “I, as president, will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana,” Mr Atta Mills said.

Because I think it’s important to understand the different perspectives at play here, and because I don’t think the answer to this problem is cut and dry, I will borrow a device from one of my fellow FTBorgs and present this discussion as a dialogue between Mary Washburn from Essex, England and Jason Ngeze from Kampala, Uganda. [Read more…]

A Hallowe’en Public Service Announcement

I always forget until it’s (almost) too late to do this every time Hallowe’en comes around. But it is that time of year again, when college students and young adults all over this great continent dress up as their favourite racial stereotypes because they lack the creativity and human decency to dress as something that isn’t incredibly offensive.

Luckily, there’s a student group in Ohio who are more on the ball than I am:

These posters act as a public service announcement for colored communities. It’s about respect, human dignity, and the acceptance of other cultures (these posters simply ask people to think before they choose their Halloween costume). Although some Halloween costumes aren’t as racist as the blackface minstrel shows back in the day, they harken to similar prejudices. What these costumes have in common is that they make caricatures out of cultures, and that is simply not okay.

It’s points like this that I despair over. Casual acts of racism committed unwittingly by people who are simply products of a system are frustrating, but people simply flagrantly ignoring basic human decency in the service of a Hallowe’en costume makes me sad. It is around this time of year that I find myself having the same fight I always do, and hearing the arguments I always hear. Let’s go through them. [Read more…]

Reading between the lines – execution and de facto racism

We’ve been trained by oversimplification of a complex issue to view racism, indeed any bigotry, as intentional malice springing from some kind of personal defect. If only those darn racists could just be better people (like us), then they’d stop hating and everyone could go hold hands under a rainbow. If the sarcasm dripping off that last sentence wasn’t evident enough, allow me to state plainly that I don’t buy that school of thought for a second. It’s a very handy position to hold, because it excuses the holder from any responsibility to examine her/his own actions for racial bias, and excuses her/him from having to do anything to repair the gulf left by systemic racism. Every time someone approaches me in one of my race discussions, either in person or online, with the tired excuse of “I don’t think I’m racist – race has never been a big deal to me”, I want to shake them violently.

Racism doesn’t show up at your doorstep and announce that it’s there. It is rarely so direct as someone going on a diatribe about lazy Mexicans and how this country was better when you were allowed to lynch an uppity negro for looking at your daughter funny. That kind of racism is, mercifully, fading from popular expression as it becomes increasingly socially unacceptable. That being said, that is only the most egregious aspect of racism – akin perhaps to fundamentalist Christianity. Just because we lock up everyone who tries to bomb an abortion clinic doesn’t mean that the underlying principle of divine permission for all kinds of other, lesser evils is somehow made neuter. We can look at a macro level and see that in the absence of overt (what I call “classical”) expression, racism still operates in a major way in our society.

Today, I thought I’d walk through an example of doing just that: [Read more…]