Saturday, October 3, 2015

We Have Met the Enemy. . .

An important part of my youth was spent in the United States in the 60s and 70s. I grew up against the backdrop of the fight to end legal segregation and the racism that was at its root. I was never, I don't think, naive enough to believe that I would see an end to racism in my lifetime (this disease runs too deep to end in one life or even one century). But I was aware that progress was being made.

When I came to Canada in the seventies I realized quickly that Canadians liked to think of themselves as superior to Americans on this front. And in some ways they were. Certain racialized groups were much more accepted by average Canadians. But it didn't take me long to realize that others were just as victimized by racism as anyone in the US. The open and painful bigotry displayed by people around me against East Indian immigrants was shocking. And the Racism against Indigenous people was socially accepted and made the racism I had witnessed in the US pale in comparison.

It is now about 80 years since the Germans elected the NAZI party to power. It seems like a long time, but it is only one lifespan really. To their credit, the Germans seem to have made an incredible effort to learn from the worst parts of their racist past. Today even a right of centre politician like Angela Merkel has led the way in pushing racism aside and welcoming tens of thousands of racialized refugees to Germany. For all of Germany's faults, this is an act of humanitarianism that should not go unnoticed. Canadians seem considerably less interested in learning or atoning from their own racist past. Perhaps this is because, unlike Germans, we have been able to kid ourselves about the depth and profundity of our racist culture. But even a casual observer should be able to see that we have been as guilty as the Germans of attempted genocide.

And if there is any doubt of the dept of Canadian racism, the horrible turn in the Election campaign should bring us to our senses in this regard. We knew it was coming. The Conservative Party was fully aware of when the recent Niqab decision would come down and what that decision would be. They hired a blatantly racist campaign manager, bided their time, and lit the fire at the right moment. This is our Reichstag folks. We are being tested and we have come up sorely wanting. Talking heads like Rex Murphy, or Jason Kenny try to tell us that this is not about bigotry. But anyone who thinks it is not racism and bigotry is either stupid, historically ill-informed, or engaged in wilful self-deception to try to cleanse their soul of the terrible stain of this historical moment. We all know what is going on, but the saddest part is that we kept telling ourselves that we had learned from the past. But Santayana's dictum sadly applies here - those that don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

I feel much like a progressive person must have felt in Germany in the 1930s when they saw the NAZIs consolidating their power. Sure, today we are not talking about 'death-camps' in our own nation but the spirit is the same. We are turning back refugees, bombing foreign nations for pure political gain, creating two-tier citizenship, race-baiting, and attempting to overcome our own constitution to legalize racism. It is all the same historical thrust - the more extreme forms of racism (those involving guns, ropes, and gas-chambers) have been expunged or watered down, but roots of the actions are the same as ever.

The great political cartoonist (and creator of Pogo), Walt Kelly, once comically misquoted the American naval officer Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, to create an aphorism that should daily echo in our minds - "We Have Met the Enemy and He is US!"


Owen Gray said...

It can be painful to look in the mirror Kirby -- unless we are enthralled by our own image.

Lorne said...

A trenchant analysis of our moral blindness as a nation, Kirby. We have always, as you point out, felt ourselves superior to the Americans in the race department, but this campaign has shown how little it takes to bring out latent prejudice.

Collectively, we should be ashamed of ourselves for so easily succumbing to Harper's race-baiting.

Mary Lynn Tipton said...

Good blog. It's amazing that Canadians seem to be blissfully unaware of their racism.

Scotian said...

Sadly, I can find no fault in this post of yours, it matches my own reasoning and observations. Like you I have been well aware of the truth about racism in this country including against certain immigrant groups at various times and especially against aboriginals. Unlike you I am not only a born and bred Canadian but one whose direct family lines predate Confederation (which at least protects me from Harper's latest citizen stripping laws), and one of my fears with the rise of the Harperium was that this would be allowed a more open place in our politics. I remember that it was the underlying racism and xenophobia in the early Reform movement when Harper was still a major policy force within it that turned me away from considering it an acceptable political option for me and pointing that out to others to explain why they should not support it. One of my neighbours at the time found that message so alluring it made him a Reformer for life, and his wife was appalled by it because of that, but he was an old retied military man and alas full of bitterness (like Harper he HATED PET, he was convinced PET was having gay orgies at 24 Sussex Dr) and in Reform he found the voice he had been looking for in that intolerance.

I used to make the point that too many Canadians, ESPECIALLY progressive ones smugly felt secure that this sort of thing could never happen here. I said time and again that the mindset of "it can't happen here" is actually one of the most dangerous ones for actually making whatever "it" was in it viable and possible to happen here, but alas to no avail. As you said, Walt Kelly got it right when he said "We have met the enemy and it is us.", and it is that enemy that we must guard against, including with these things like minority protections against the whim of the majority while also making sure the majority is not ignored either. We need to have a society of dynamic balancing not static balancing, and whenever the xenophobia card gets open play it destabilizes in a major way.

Well written as usual Kirby.