By Peter Globensky and Beverly Sabourin
Despite his numerous failures both as a business man and now as the President of the Divided States of America, Donald Trump has had one remarkable success. Using his rants and rhetoric and his damaging addiction to Tweets, he has managed to empower and embolden those elements of his political base who are rarely deeply troubled by racism and bigotry.
Further, he has granted free license to these racists and bigots, those basket of deplorables as Hillary Clinton so aptly named them, to emerge from the twilight shadows and from under the dusty rocks of American society. White supremacists, they now jack-boot and march down mainstream America instead of the seamy back alleys and bayous to where previously proper conventions had relegated them. Spewing the venom of hate and encouraged by a President and political administration who appear to “tolerate the exercise of their First Amendment rights” the emergence of these fascists and neo-nazis pose a real challenge to Western democracies and more specifically, to peaceful activists and educators who wish to vigorously counter this nascent and dangerous menace.
Closer to home but on a no less ominous scale, the northwestern Ontario community of Thunder Bay recently made national headlines – and for all the wrong reasons. More unnerving then the suspension of the city’s police chief followed by allegations of obstruction of justice and extortion brought against the mayor of the city, were the reports of the suspicious deaths of seven Indigenous youth. These had been preambled by charges of overt racism brought against the Thunder Bay police force and accusations that they had failed to adequately investigate the circumstances of the death of these Indigenous youth.
To make matters worse in exposing what appears to be an entrenched underbelly of racism in this town, the hapless local newspaper (owned by David Radler, Conrad Black’s former partner and co-felon in fraud) publishes a racist and stereotypical diatribe by no less than a retired judge (sic) who proceeded in an opinion piece to attack and undermine the hard-earned rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada. The outrage was instantaneous and fortunately, predictable . Nor has this been the first time the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal has been brought to task for its tone-deaf treatment of Indigenous issues. A former colleague of ours who worked in a professional capacity in the field of multiculturalism and human rights throughout his career, undertook a thorough content analysis of editorials, opinion pieces and letters to the editor published by this newspaper. He determined that their was a remarkably apparent racist, anti-Indigenous bent to the material. This lead to a formal complaint and a hearing before the Ontario Press Council.
All these recent developments sparked an animated discussion between us (Beverly and me) on how best to confront the scourge of racism in our communities. Always the facilitator and professional educator, Beverly echoed the promise of the unfulfilled recommendations of the reports of the Royal Commission and the more recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She has long held that planting the seeds of education is the best way to root out the weeds of ignorance and bigotry which are far too prevalent within our communities.
There is much merit to this solution. Altering all educational curriculum from K to U so that it both provides much greater prominence to the history, challenges and contributions of Indigenous peoples to the development of Canada is, to pardon the pun, a “no-brainer”. All children and young adults must be given the opportunity to learn the unvarnished and often tragic story of the Indigenous journey through Canada’s sometimes dark and repressive history. This must be made mandatory in all elementary and secondary schools across the country. As Vice-Provost at Lakehead University and amidst much mumbled opposition, Beverly fought to have Indigenous Issues made a mandatory course for all students in a degree program.
As is often said, if we are unwilling to learn from history we are then condemned to repeat it. We also agree that “hate laws” need to be fully enforced unencumbered as we are by worries that our “freedom of expression” is being unjustly curtailed if we prevent others from peddling their racist venom.
Our American friends could learn from this!
However, this is a but a medium-to-long term strategy to challenge the ignorance of bigotry, racist stereotypes and misinformation. What is to be done with the current generation of racists and white supremacists who show little to no inkling of revising their world views? How do we negate the impact of their toxic influence? In those instances where the perpetrators are wholly uninterested in reforming their views through reflection or an educational process, there is one solution and its works extremely well when applied judiciously and repeatedly if necessary. It is based on the lizard-brain principle that pain is the best teacher.
The tactic? You shame them at every opportunity. If they speak openly, you retaliate by confronting their racist views. If they write letters to the editor or opinion pieces unwittingly published by the media, you body-slam them and the complicit media with tersely written words in oppositional response. Public and repeated humiliation often forces the perpetrators back underground where they can stew and fester in their own toxic juices. They begin thinking twice about exposing their soft underbellies to public criticism or shaming once again. One can be a racist but few like to be thought of as being racist!
Of course, this is not a universally successful strategy. Those whose egos are stroked by any public attention will often preen themselves in the verbal storms they have created. But more often than not, they are cowered, not emboldened, they are shamed, not encouraged.
To allow racism to fester openly without lancing the boil is to become complicit in its acceptance and allowing the abnormal to become the new normal. This is exactly what is happening in Donald Trump’s new America. The principles of equality and diversity in our society although accepted by most are still too fragile to permit the corrosive power of ignorance and bigotry to corrode them.
Peter Globensky is a former senior policy advisor on Indigenous Issues in the Office of the Prime Minister and Beverly Sabourin is the former Vice-Provost of Indigenous Affairs at Lakehead University