Racism in Canada (especially against indigenous peoples, but increasingly so against immigrants and Muslims as well) is roaring, and people are literally at the point of filling the streets in protest. I am right there with them as often as I can be, and I am keeping the pressure on other people to take concrete action against racism as well. This post is about why I am keeping the pressure on.
For those still unfamiliar with the complex network of racist barriers against Canada’s indigenous peoples, I will refrain this time from asking how in the world you found this blog, and instead refer you to read this indigenous re-write of the story of the ten plagues. And then this article I wrote to briefly summarize the history and present revision of Canada’s Indian Act, which is still in force right now; and which also applies to all indigenous peoples — even those who surrendered their treaty rights to the Canadian government in exchange for sovereign territory, and those who chose not to apply to be legally recognized as a person of Aboriginal status — all thanks to the recent passing of a rapid succession of omnibus bills that violate the Crown treaties, Canada’s constitution, and the very idea of democracy itself. You’re going to have to get used to doing a little homework to understand the nature of racism if you’re new to this topic, and even if you aren’t.
Racism is everywhere in Canada. It’s in our media, in our education system, in our religious institutions (which for many, serve as a complimentary education system), in our government, embedded into our economy (even by the very existence of currency), in our healthcare system and social resources, and even in our language. It’s a systemic infection of our society, and not unlike psychosis, many of us are unable to even recognize how sick and in need of treatment we really are. But unlike psychosis, the sickness of racism is an open hemorrhaging wound. If we do nothing to stop the bleeding, our streets will be filled with rivers of blood. And they once were, in fact — rivers of indigenous blood is what it cost for Canadian society to exist in its current state, as tens of millions of indigenous peoples were wiped out by several successive acts of genocide over the course of the past 500 years. We as a society of both Settlers and indigenous survivors have a responsibility to never forget this (but especially Settlers, who have the privilege of forgetting, because that memory is not written into their very blood).
Allow me to be the first to acknowledge that many of us have our own blood memories of genocide, and it is important to acknowledge these histories as well. Buried deep within my heritage, beneath layers of attempted cultural assimilation and internalized colonialism, I am and always have been a Slavic Jew, in addition to the other labels I was given to erase this part of my identity. Knowing this, and understanding that I descended, in part, from a people who survived many centuries of cultural genocide and attempted ethnic cleansing, only to be forced to flee our Eastern homelands because of World War II, is a critically important part of my relationship to ongoing resistance of racism. That I also harbour a deeply troubling suspicion that at least one of my Canadian Settler blood family members was a Nazi sympathizer, and thus, that this is also part of the reason we are here (while the rest of that side of my blood family is still in Europe, with no shared language between us since the generation in which this schism formed, and with a barrier of secrecy and silence about their descendants), is another critically important part of my relationship to ongoing resistance of racism. Half of my family was complicit with the other half being targeted for ethnic cleansing. I feel this fact in my very blood, every day, and this is what it’s like to live with a blood memory of genocide.
So when it comes to the issue of racism, there is no grey area. This declaration is not, as some prefer to think, a false dilemma. You are either actively confronting and challenging racism, or you are complicit with it—and your complacence may be either active or passive. There is no happy hand-holding arena full of fluffy grey-haired bunnies where doing nothing to resist racism is rewarded with affection from the people most disproportionately impacted by it. There is actual harm being done every time we are complacent. That is a fact that has been demonstrated time and time again by mass graves, eugenicist “experiments”, concentration camps, ghettos, and residential schools (which have occurred on multiple continents). Solicitations for further proof at this point would be transparently disingenuous.
While it is also true that not all racism is or results in a form of genocide, this is insufficient reasoning for complacence of any kind. The wound is still there, still bleeding, and still being re-opened with every reminder of where those blood memories came from. The only way to stop the bleeding is to apply pressure to the wound. When the pressure is perpetually torn away and the wound, bare and bleeding, is dragged across a lifetime of broken relationships and cutting words, the wound can never heal. So we also need to stand up, as often as we can and even if it means giving up things that were once important or comforting to us, and create barriers between those open, bleeding wounds and those cutting fragments of severed ties and jagged words.
Complacence doesn’t just sting. It’s directly abusive.