Our Racial Conundrum: Intersections and Parallels

Racism has been with us for generations and every effort to mitigate this “cancer” has failed

By Bongs Lainjo

In one of my articles published by the Montreal Gazette, I highlighted how lucky we as Canadians are in not having to deal with racial hang-ups prevalent south of the border.
Here in Canada, our racial overtones remain subtle, less polarizing and less controversial compared with the fireworks in the U.S., especially at the personal, organizational and institutional levels.
An event not too long ago in Nova Scotia, where a flag was burned in front of a mixed (white, black) couple’s property, the alleged hanging of s black statue effigy in a Halifax Leon’s store (both ironically in Eastern Canada), and isolated racially-motivated incidents across Canada notwithstanding, we inherently remain a racial tolerant society.
One reality in this country and elsewhere is that racism has been with us for generations and every effort to mitigate this “cancer” has failed. In the latest survey conducted among Blacks in Toronto, there is every reason, based on the findings, that the worst is yet to come.
But it’s not only about Blacks. Indigenous Canadians are also having their share of this unacceptable and malicious treatment. The big question that should preoccupy the minds of every responsible citizen is, “when will all bottom up?”
Historically, especially in the U.S., racial issues and their disparities continue to be a silent, and to many extent, divisive issue. The general tendency has been to shy away from discussing it and hope the problem will go away.
The undulations of racial disparities have spiralled from the days of the civil rights (marked by peaceful demonstrations), to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 to the brutal treatment of Rodney King in 1991 by the LA police force, to the murder by the NYC police of Amadou Diallo in 1999, to the Brooklyn rioting during the Dinkins regime, and even here at home, the Oka uprising (yes, there were racial overtones involved) and many other undocumented circumstances.
Dinkins, in his memoir, highlighted his own racial rants with his immediate successor at that time. These incidents do confirm without doubt that communities in particular and the country at large tend to be outspoken when these situations manifest themselves. And the momentum diminishes as soon as the media take them off their radar.
But is talking and exchanging views and opinions by experts enough? Let’s look into that later.
In the meantime, other racially-induced and dismal performances by communities, institutions and governments will be highlighted.
Since “charity begins at home,” let’s look at how our aboriginal communities have been marginalized, institutionally kept in enclaves and allowed to fret for themselves.
Statistics do confirm that this strategy has exacerbated an already dire social architecture. For example, according to StatsCan, literacy rates are significantly lower when compared with non-aboriginal communities with only four per cent of natives with university degrees representing one quarter of the general population with one in three, or three times the rates for non-aboriginals not completing high school. Infant and child mortality rates are dismal, rampant spread of addiction and alarming suicide rates continue to escalate, abject levels of poverty, shorter-than-national-average life expectancy, extremely high unemployment rates, etc. And yet, these are communities that are not only our founders, but people who fought in tandem with the British against the invading Americans.
The latest development of our government condoning with starving and under-nourished Native children instead of providing appropriate nutrition is nothing but poor judgment and human cruelty and should never have taken place.
A similar incident occurred in the U.S. when African-American airmen were deliberately infected with syphilis in the Tuskegee study between 1932 and 1972, and were left untreated. In essence, they were used as guinea pigs. Social exclusion of any form has no place in any community, especially in the developed world where democratic processes are meant to include relevant checks, balances and functional oversights…
In the U.S., Blacks continue to experience their unfair share of the American dream. There too, their social indicators are no better. High school drop-out rates according to Education Week Data base is 9.6 as compared to 8.1 per cent in the general population; single family lead homes are common; rates of incarcerations (according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, about three per cent and more than six times the national average) are extremely disproportional to the percentage of blacks; unacceptable levels of unemployment (14.8% compared with 6.7 among whites, according to National Urban League); high homicide rates: Blacks against Blacks and Blacks against others, etc. As we all know by now, the biggest losers in Detroit’s latest bankruptcy are African-Americans who make up ninety per cent of its population.
Can we learn to live together harmoniously?
In the latest Trayvon case, the US president finally did the right thing and spoke out. He touched issues ranging from this case to his own experience as a black man and to the experience of significant numbers of blacks in the US. At a personal I can confirm these anecdotes. For instance, during my stint in the USA, I lived in a predominantly white community. One day, one of neighbours came to “welcome me” and told me how the neighbourhood was quiet and peaceful. It was only later when I shared this experience with my fellow Americans who laughed at my naivety and indicated to me that real message was “keep crime and drugs out of this neighbourhood.”
As indicated earlier, racial spikes tend to provoke “dialogue.” And yet, as history illustrates, the outcomes have hardly been effective.
And this brings up the issue of dialogue. While talks in an attempt to establish racial harmony are necessary, they by themselves are not sufficient. We need processes in order to achieve results though these processes by themselves do not always lead to intended outcomes. Yes, there has been some progress, as indicated by the U.S. president. The bigger question is how this level of “progress” has lead to sustainable racial harmony?
Talking which has generally been dormant is a good start if it can be sustained. Action is even more compelling as an instrument to genuine achievement.
We all – Americans and Canadians – have a social responsibility to put our racial, religious, political and cultural differences away in the interest of building one unified, integrated and strong country. As immigrants of different generations we all need to proudly stand up and be counted.

Bongs Lainjo is a Montreal based author.