Category Archives: racism

Over Representation of Indigenous people in Canadian jails and prisons.

 

In April 1988, the Manitoba Government created the Public Inquiry into the Administration of Justice and Aboriginal People, commonly known as the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (‘AJI’). The co-Chairs of the AJI were Associate Chief Justice Hamilton of the Court of Queen’s Bench and Judge Murray Sinclair at the time the Associate Chief Judge of the Provincial Court. Murray Sinclair later served as the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is now a Senator of Canada.

The Inquiry was created in response to two main incidents:

  • the trial in November 1987 of two men for the 1971 murder of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas. Allegations were made that the identity of four people present at the killing was known widely in the community shortly after the murder.
  • The death (March 1988) of J.J. Harper, executive director of the Island Lake Tribal Council, following an encounter with a Winnipeg police officer. Many people, particularly in the Aboriginal community, believed many questions about the incident were left unanswered by the police service’s internal investigation.

The Inquiry issued its report in the fall of 1991. I was a bencher of the Law Society of Manitoba at the time. The Law Society is the governing body of the legal profession of Manitoba tasked with regulating the legal profession in the interests of the people of Manitoba. I am not proud to say what our governing body did with that report after it was delivered in 1991. The short answer is not much. Our inaction is part of the problem. I understand that now. I did not really appreciate it then, as did few of my colleagues.

The report of the AJI was one of the first reports to draw serious attention to the over representation of indigenous people in Manitoba’s jails and prisons. Almost 30 years later on the CBC radio program The Sunday Edition, which aired on August 2, 2020, guest host Elamin Abdelmahmoud asked Murray Sinclair, now a Senator, some pointed questions. He asked him this, “Senator you were one of the first judges to write about the over representation of indigenous people within the criminal justice system. You did this way back in the 1990s. Why has so little changed this since?”

The answer might surprise you. It surprised me. This is what he said in reply,

“Actually there has been quite a significant change, but the change has been upwards. When we reported on the over representation of indigenous people, the number of indigenous people in provincial jails in Manitoba was just around 60%. About 62%. Now it’s over 77%! And in the case of indigenous women represented about 78% of those who are incarcerated in the case of the AJI report, now its well over 90%! And youth numbers have gone up as well.”

Of course even these glaring figures don’t tell the whole story. In Manitoba  75% of all prisoners are indigenous and across Canada indigenous people make up a 25% of the prison population despite the fact that they represent only 4% of the country’s population. I think the percentage is about 11% in Manitoba.

Not only is this horrendous we have to understand the intergenerational impact of locking up so many indigenous people. Some more shocking numbers might make that clear too. Whether or not indigenous children themselves get involved with the Canadian justice system, indigenous children are 12 times more likely to have their family life disrupted by an agency of government such as a police officer or Child Welfare officer or some official who shows up at their house and takes somebody away or threatens to do so. These are horrendous disruptions and affect children powerfully. As Senator Sinclair said,

“You become the subject of a social control system virtually from the time that you are born until the time you yourself become an adult. So that impact is quite dramatic. You basically come to dislike or distrust those agencies who are doing that because as a child first of all you don’t understand what is going on, but more importantly you often get to resent it because you know that the person being dealt with often is a person that you don’t want taken away and you don’t want to lose in your live and yet you do. Or you yourself get taken out of the household and you don’t want that to happen and you know that things can always be fixed if only somebody would do the right thing and help the family”

Helping families is that not what it should be about?

Does anyone out there suggest that such massive over representation of indigenous people in jails  and prisons is a sign of systemic racism? Is there any other reasonable explanation?

Racism without Racists

 

In recent times in Canada and the US police have got in big trouble because of inconvenient videos of them in action. Often in fact they show them in disgraceful action.

Nicholas Kristof one of my favorite journalists asked an interesting question in a New York Times opinion piece. He asked, ‘what would happen if there were no videos’?

He pointed out that the recent video of the Minneapolis police officer with his knee and full weight on the neck of George Floyd showed racism at its ugly worst. Kristof pointed out that,

“Racism in that video is as visceral as a lynching. Yet there is no viral video to galvanize us about other racial inequities:

  • There is no video to show that a black boy born today in Washington, D.C., Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi or a number of other states has a shorter life expectancy than a boy born in Bangladesh or India.

  • There’s no video to show that black children still are often systematically shunted to second-rate schools and futures, just as they were in the Jim Crow era. About 15 percent of black or Hispanic students attend so-called apartheid schools that are less than 1 percent white.

  • There’s no video to show that blacks are dying from the coronavirus at more than twice the rate of whites, or that a result of the recent mass layoffs is that, as of last month, fewer than half of African-American adults now have a job.”

That’s the problem. Racism is more difficult to see when it is systemic racism. I have called this invisible racism. That does not mean it is not there. The evidence is actually overwhelming as I have been trying to show, but it is convenient for those in power and who are privileged by the current system not to notice it. As a result this form of racism is actually much more dangerous than the visceral kind inflicted by the Minneapolis police officer. It inflicts damage not only on an individual but all people of color. “Even when racism doesn’t go viral, it’s still deadly.”

Bobby Kennedy agreed. This is what he said,

There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night,” Robert F. Kennedy said in 1968 shortly before his assassination. “This is the violence of institutions, indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat.”

 

Kristof marshals some of this evidence:


“Health statistics bear that out. A black newborn in the United States is twice as likely to die in infancy as a white newborn and a black woman is two and half times as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as a white woman.”

 

We have very similar statistics in Canada. We have been afflicted with the same disease–systemic or institutional racism.

Michelle A. Williams the dean of Harvard School of Public Health, explained it well,

Racism is nothing short of a public health crisis, That reality is palpable not just in the scourge of police violence that disproportionately kills black Americans, but in the vestiges of slavery and segregation that have permeated the social determinants of health…Racism has robbed black Americans from benefiting from the advancements they’ve fought for, bled for and died for throughout history. That reality manifests in myriad ways — from underfunded schools to the gutting of health care and social programs, to financial redlining, to mass incarceration, to voter suppression, to police brutality and more. And it is undeniably harming health and prematurely ending black lives.”

Here is a shocking statement from the American Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, “Structural racism is more harmful to the health and well-being of children than infectious diseases, including Covid-19.”

Kristof also pointed out how Sociologists like Orlando Patterson have explained that ,

“while whites increasingly have progressive views about race in general, they often still favor public policies that disadvantage African-Americans. For example, they may oppose multi-occupancy housing in their affluent suburbs, reducing affordable housing and perpetuating segregation. Or they may support a broken local funding system for education that results in apartheid schools.”

This attitude is  what Trump recently pandered to when he promised white Americans that their dreams of a suburban lifestyle was safe with him because he would ensure that Obama era regulations prohibiting federal funds from supporting discriminatory housing in the US would be eliminated. His supporters knew exactly what this meant. African-Americans would no longer be encouraged to move into “their” neighbourhoods.

 

That is why American public schools achieved maximum integration in 1988 and have been dropping ever since, as demonstrated by Rucker Johnson a Professor of public policy at the University of California and author of the book, Children of the Dream.

As Kristof pointed out,

“Structural racism doesn’t easily go viral, but it is deadly. A recent study of insurance records found that when blacks and whites with Covid-19 symptoms like a fever and cough sought medical help, blacks were less likely to be given a coronavirus test.

I wonder about doctors who didn’t get black patients tested — or officials who didn’t allocate tests to clinics in black neighborhoods. I’m sure many were well-meaning and had no idea that they were discriminating. But unconscious racial bias is widespread, resulting in what the scholar Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has called “racism without racists.”

 

There is some astonishing evidence to support this. Researchers have learned that professional baseball umps are more likely to call strikes when they are of the same race as the pitcher! Of course this benefits the whites more since there are more white pitchers. Basketball refs are more likely to call personal fouls against players of a race other than their own. Funny how that happens? Not!

Systemic racism is real and it is dangerous to society. It can be changed but we must muster the political will. As a result it may require us not to focus on violent protesters and look instead at their legitimate grievances. It can be done.

Racism the Old-Fashioned Way

 

As Donald Trump considered ways he could postpone the election of 2020 after he fell badly behind Joe Biden  in the polls, Trevor Noah said, “He’s just going to have to win the election the old-fashioned way–by  using racism.” Sadly that is so true. That is how politicians in America and Canada have won elections for generations. Canada’s first Prime Minister did it too.

Recently, Trump rolled back an Obama rule that tried to cutback on racial discrimination in housing projects with federal support. The Obama rule forced local governments who received federal support for low income housing to look at patterns of racial discrimination and make plans to eliminate it. It was really quite simple, but Trump saw an opportunity to appeal to his base.

This what Trump said in a tweet, “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.” A few hours later he replied to a response, …”Your housing prices will to up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden Rule. Enjoy!”

Later in a speech he said, “I have seen conflict for years. It’s been hell for suburbia. We rescinded the rule 3 days ago so enjoy your life ladies and gentlemen.”

Appealing to suburban voters, Trump had this to say about his rollback: “There will be no more low income forced into the suburbs. I abandoned took away and just rescinded the rule.” As Trevor Noah analyzed it, correctly in my view,

Just in case it isn’t very clear, Trump is saying he is going to stop black people from moving into white people’s neighborhoods. It’s not even subtle enough to call that a dog whistle–it’s too loud. It’s like a dog  megaphone.

As the Daily show suggested, “to some white people, the scariest N-word is “neighbor.”

Racism without Racists

 

In recent times in Canada and the US police have got in big trouble because of inconvenient videos of them in action. Often in fact they show them in disgraceful action. Nicholas Kristof one of my favorite journalists asked an interesting question in a New York Times opinion piece. He asked, ‘what would happen if there were no videos’?

He pointed out that the recent video of the Minneapolis police officer with his knee and full weight on the neck of George Floyd showed racism at its ugly worst. Kristof pointed out that,

“Racism in that video is as visceral as a lynching. Yet there is no viral video to galvanize us about other racial inequities:

  • There is no video to show that a black boy born today in Washington, D.C., Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi or a number of other states has a shorter life expectancy than a boy born in Bangladesh or India.
  • There’s no video to show that black children still are often systematically shunted to second-rate schools and futures, just as they were in the Jim Crow era. About 15 percent of black or Hispanic students attend so-called apartheid schools that are less than 1 percent white.
  • There’s no video to show that blacks are dying from the coronavirus at more than twice the rate of whites, or that a result of the recent mass layoffs is that, as of last month, fewer than half of African-American adults now have a job.”

 

That’s the problem. Racism is more difficult to see when it is systemic racism. I have called this invisible racism. That does not mean it is not there. The evidence is actually overwhelming as I have been trying to show, but it is convenient for those in power and who are privileged by the current system and this form of racism is actually much more dangerous than the visceral kind inflicted by the Minneapolis police officer. It inflicts damage not only on individual but all people of color. “Even when racism doesn’t go viral, it’s still deadly.”

Bobby Kennedy agreed. This is what he said,

There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night,” Robert F. Kennedy said in 1968 shortly before his assassination. “This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat.”

Kristof marshals some of this evidence,”Health statistics bear that out. A black newborn in the United States is twice as likely to die in infancy as a white newborn and a black woman is two and half times as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as a white woman.’

We have very similar statistics in Canada. We have been inflicted with the same disease–systemic or institutional racism.

Michelle A. Williams the dean of Harvard School of Public Health, explained it well,

Racism is nothing short of a public health crisis, That reality is palpable not just in the scourge of police violence that disproportionately kills black Americans, but in the vestiges of slavery and segregation that have permeated the social determinants of health…Racism has robbed black Americans from benefiting from the advancements they’ve fought for, bled for and died for throughout history. That reality manifests in myriad ways — from underfunded schools to the gutting of health care and social programs, to financial redlining, to mass incarceration, to voter suppression, to police brutality and more. And it is undeniably harming health and prematurely ending black lives.”

Here is a shocking statement from the American Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, “Structural racism is more harmful to the health and well-being of children than infectious diseases, including Covid-19.”

Kristof also pointed out how Sociologists like Orlando Patterson have noted that,

“while whites increasingly have progressive views about race in general, they often still favor public policies that disadvantage African-Americans. For example, they may oppose multi-occupancy housing in their affluent suburbs, reducing affordable housing and perpetuating segregation. Or they may support a broken local funding system for education that results in apartheid schools.”

This is exactly what Trump recently pandered to when he promised white Americans that their dreams of a suburban lifestyle was safe with him because he would ensure that Obama era regulations prohibiting federal funds from supporting discriminatory housing in the US would be eliminated. His supporters knew exactly what this meant. African-Americans would no longer be encouraged to move into their neighbourhoods.

 That is why American public schools achieved maximum integration in 1988 and have been dropping ever since, as demonstrated by Rucker Johnson a Professor of public policy at the University of California and author of the book, Children of the Dream.

As Kristof pointed out,

“Structural racism doesn’t easily go viral, but it is deadly. A recent study of insurance records found that when blacks and whites with Covid-19 symptoms like a fever and cough sought medical help, blacks were less likely to be given a coronavirus test.

I wonder about doctors who didn’t get black patients tested — or officials who didn’t allocate tests to clinics in black neighborhoods. I’m sure many were well-meaning and had no idea that they were discriminating. But unconscious racial bias is widespread, resulting in what the scholar Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has called “racism without racists.”

 

There is some astonishing evidence to support this. Researchers have learned that professional baseball umps are more likely to call strikes when they are of the same race as the pitcher! Of course this benefits the white more since there are more white pitchers. Basketball refs are more likely to call personal fouls against player of a race other than their own. Funny how that happens? Not!

Systemic racism is real and it is dangerous to society. It can be changed but we must muster the political will. As a result it may require us not to focus on violent protesters and look instead at their legitimate grievances. It can be done.

 

Revolutionary Violence

 

Martin Luther King made an important point that those in power don’t often enough listen to. That is that even though he famously did not support violent tactics, by ignoring legitimate protests the people in power make violence inevitable. As a result the powerful become the real authors of the violent change they claim to abhor. King argued that the way to stop violent protest was to take seriously the calls for justice. All those in power have to agree to do is share power. When they refuse to share power, or design the system they control to such an extent that peaceful change becomes impossible they are to blame for the violent change that inevitably arises.

The way to stop riots is to acknowledge and then fix the conditions that rioters were rioting against and until they do that durable peace will not happen. This is not limited to racism. It applies to all injustice controlled by those in power.

King led the protests of the 1960s and today the same arguments he faced against violent protests are being levied against Black Lives Matter. As opinion columnist of The Guardian Nesrine Malik said,

“Today, it is the Black Lives Matter movement that is being discredited for not staying in its lane; for refusing to “quit while they’re still ahead”, in the words of one broadsheet columnist. But protests happen in the first place because the “proper channels” have failed – in some cases, because previous protests have also failed…When a statue falls, you don’t see the years of campaigning and lobbying and writing that went before it, and came to nothing. When Extinction Rebellion occupies central London, you don’t see the power – corporate lobbyists, complacent politicians, indifferent bureaucrats – that marginalised these concerns for so long that activists knew there was no other way.”

I too want to see non-violent protests. I am opposed to violence. Yet at the same time I believe that when peaceful protests are continuously ignored the cause of the violence is the fault of the entrenched interests.

I am reminded of the legal concept of entrapment. When courts are convinced that a crime has really in essence been created by the police rather than the criminal, the accused will be found not guilty, even though the accused did commit an illegal act. This is common in drug offences, where police officers work hard to convince “pushers” to sell the drugs to them. Courts have held that in such circumstances the trafficker has really created the crime not the “criminal.”

As Malik said,

“The very nature of being excluded from the spaces in which decisions are made means that the process of managing grievances is already rigged against you. The very position of black people as always appellants, never adjudicators, means that every protest will soon enough be denigrated as violent or disruptive. Their demands will always be dismissed as unreasonable, their priorities confused, their methods off-putting to erstwhile allies.”

Those in power are usually conservatives because they like things the way they are. Who wouldn’t when they have the power? However, such entrenched interests will not be able forever to capture the process of change for their own benefit. They have tried hard to accomplish that, but inevitably in time their efforts will fail. They should fail and they will fail. The rules must be fair. They must permit all sides to be heard not just the side of the powerful. Until that is done, their demands to follow the rules of protest will be ignored. Yet inevitably, the powerful insist that the rules of peaceful protest must be followed, but cannot they do so without permitting their opponents to have a say as well. As Malik said,

“And these rules must be respected – because conservatives will always hold them up to stymie any change, and because liberals are afraid to admit that most of our rules and norms are neither definitive nor universally observed. They are afraid to shatter the illusion and face the reality that so many of these rules are, in fact, broken all the time by people who can get away with it: tax avoiders, labour exploiters, vote manipulators. And so it is those who cannot get away with breaking the rules who are told they must uphold what is left of this order; it is their responsibility to ensure that the slope does not get too slippery and allow us all to slide into chaos.

But as long as concessions have to be prised from the hands of the establishment, rather than reasonably handed over, we cannot live without slippery slopes. Our history may, in time, bless some riots; but it also sands the rough edges off many others, expunging the anger of martyrs and revolutionaries and telling us that their victories, over slavery or Jim Crow, were the benign gift of those masters whose morality carried the day.

Today’s movements for equality are expected to resemble the dramatised depictions of their sainted predecessors – conveniently forgetting the calumnies heaped upon Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi, from enemies and would-be “allies” alike. Random quotes from black icons are cherry-picked out of context from the past and waved in front of the protesters of the present, in an attempt to shame them into the most timid form of political activism possible.”

Protesters should be careful. They may turn the public against their cause by their tactics. Donald Trump is counting on that. He might be right. Violent protests helped to get Richard Nixon elected in 1968. It might happen again in 2020 in the US. Yet protesters should not be so cautious that they guarantee ineffectiveness. People in power will not give up their grip on power by timid entreaties. But when and how far should they go? Here is Malik’s view:

“The premise of change is that risks and chances need to be taken. And the movements that will be born from that demand will never be neat, and never have been. The effort to humanise black lives and win them the rights to safety and the dignity of equality may involve – among many other things – pulling down statues when it becomes clear that polite petitions and humble pleas to decolonise the curriculum will forever go unheard. Process by its very nature is conservative. To insist that the aggrieved must “follow the rules” or lose our support is to ignore the lessons of history. Many of the rights we now take for granted were won by people who knew when the time had come to give up on the establishment. Civil disobedience, strikes, riots and boycotts are not the hijacking of process: they are its continuation by other means.”

That is not an entirely unreasonable view.

I am opposed to violence and therefor  I insist that the powerful demonstrate they are willing to share power. Otherwise the violence will be on them.

 

Making Change Impossible

 

Conservatives and liberals must remember that, as John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” This is vitally important. In the United States for decades the America right wing has  worked with tireless diligence to suppress the vote of the disadvantaged. And they have been remarkably successful. They persuaded the American Supreme Court that voter suppression was no longer a serious issue despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Both Democrats and Republicans have worked tirelessly to gerrymander voting districts so the votes of those opposed to their interests were given less effective weight than those who supported them. Both parties have demonstrated a strong distaste for real democracy. Both want obedient voters. They want to choose their voters, rather than have the voters choose them.

As a result when liberals or conservative urge protesters to rely on the ballot box for change their arguments are understandably often met with disdain by the rebels. Republicans in particular have worked hard to make sure that the rebel  votes will be ineffective, leaving the rebels with no reasonable alternative other than rebellion that might turn unruly or worse.

That is why Martin Luther King reminded American whites that because they went too far they had created the situation were violent protest was almost inevitable. Although King was a remarkable advocate for peaceful protest he realized that white American had given the impression that power would never be shared and this impression was dangerous because it undercut those who urged peaceful protest. For years he had warned that the whites were making peaceful change impossible and that they would pay a huge price for that intransigence.

In 1966 King told Mike Wallace, “And I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro…I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

In the following years King expanded on this important idea when he made a speech at Stanford University:

“…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

We have to remember that these sentiments apply not just to African-Americans but all people of colour in all countries. They apply as well African-Canadians and Indigenous Canadians. We heard the same arguments from Canadian conservatives who were opposed to indigenous blockades. In fact, these sentiments apply to all victims of injustice everywhere.

 

Who is really responsible for the violent protests?

Where the majority has made peaceful change impossible they become the parents of the violent change they claim not to want.

Don’t Boo. Vote

 

In 2016 Barack Obama during the 2016 American presidential election urged people “Don’t boo. Vote.” That’s often good advice.

Yet, as The Guardian journalist Nesrine Malik suggested, this is a familiar approach that the established interests will not lose sleep over. They know they can handle that approach. It won’t often bring about big changes, because as Trump truthfully said, but not in the sense he was suggesting, “the game is rigged.” The entrenched interests, particularly in the United States have for decades made sure that the votes of resisters are not fairly counted. As Malik in a subsequent Guardian article said,

‘It is a familiar reproach. If you’re angry, don’t boo, don’t protest, don’t take matters into your own hands. Vote, lobby, report to the authorities, trust the process. It’s the appeal of reasonable liberals and the rebuke of rightwingers. It is the refrain that rings out when demands for justice “go too far.”

After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this year, entrenched interests quickly turned the attention of the public from the issues being protested to the manner of the protests. The public was widely persuaded that the issues were vandalism, destruction of property, and anarchy, not racial injustice. That was precisely the agenda of law and order of the president Donald Trump. As Malik said about the United Kingdom, but as could just as easily be said of the US,

“it’s easier to talk about the lawless mobs tearing down statues than the crimes these monuments commemorate… But this is nothing new. What we rarely hear about all the great revolutions of the past is that they too looked at first like spontaneous uprisings against the existing order – and they too were subject to charges of anarchy, reckless violence, puritanical revenge. So much so that the economist Albert Hirschman described the demand to “follow the process” as “the first reaction” whenever the threat of real change is on the horizon.”

 

Many people fear revolutions, not entirely without justification of course. As Marx reminded, revolutions are not conducted like Sunday schools . They are scary and the American president is an expert at magnifying the fears of the American electorate. As a result many felt he over-reacted to what were largely peaceful protests. As the mayor of Portland said, “he poured fuel on the flames.”

Ever since the French Revolution it has become easy to trigger fears at the mere suggestion of revolution. Yet, it must never be forgotten that revolutions have also brought about radical change for the good. We must remember the good and the bad. Few Americans would want to reverse anything about the American Revolution. The French celebrate the French Revolution. And both of those revolutions were unruly and even violent. As Malik said,

“The first accounts of the French revolution made no distinction between its positive and negative aspects – collapsing its moral position and its violent manifestations into one. The result was that, for a long time, it was defined and smeared by its excesses. It was only the passage of time that transformed it into “a riot blessed by history”, as Gary Younge puts it.”

Sometime you gotta boo.

Be a real Neighbour

 

Let me be clear: in this post, first and foremost I criticize myself.

I have noticed, probably just like you, that for the last few weeks there has been a lot of noise about changing racial attitudes. That is all fine and good. But I have not seen as much change in things people do.

As one of my favourite political commentators, Nesrine Malik of The Guardian Weekly said,

“Much of the change accelerated by the past few weeks has been centred on optics—corporations making statements about changes to their boards, brands, posting squares on Instagram. We may discover the only thing more detrimental to a cause than doing nothing is dong a tiny bit and thinking that’s enough.”

Summer Lee State Democratic Representative for the 34th District in the US said,

“We have to talk about what is a community partner. Community partners contribute, they participate, they are active in your community, basically they’re a neighbour. If they’re not doing all that they’re your colonizer.”

I have some friends who are different. They are community partners. And they do it quietly without a lot of fanfare.  They are, as the Good Book says, “neighbours.” One of them quietly participates in an organization that helps—actually helps—homeless people, most of whom are Indigenous people in Winnipeg. Another friend works helping immigrant people from Central and South America, who come legally across the southern US  border, claiming asylum, by providing them with assistance with things like food and clothing when their detention centres are deliberately kept near freezing by the authorities. These people do real things. They are both entitled to the honorary designation of mensch.

I wish I could be more like them.

Health of Children in Indian Residential Schools of Canada

Two faithful readers have asked me to comment on issues relating to the health of indigenous children in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools (as they were called). (See my post “Manitoba makes New York City  look good” The issues are incredibly important and reflect very poorly on Canada so I have chosen to respond in a separate post.

According to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC Report ), “The Death rates for Aboriginal children in residential schools were far higher than those experienced by members of the general Canadian population.” It must be remembered and emphasized that indigenous children were taken out of their homes and communities against their will presumably to be educated for their benefit. To then learn that while under the custody and control of the national government and its agencies, such as various churches, children were dying at staggering rates is incredibly disturbing. I will be blogging about this again in the future.

Tuberculosis was a particular problem for indigenous children. According to that TRC Report,

 

“The tuberculosis health crisis in the schools was part of a broader Aboriginal health crisis that was set in motion by colonial policies that separated Aboriginal people from their land, thereby disrupting their economies and their food supplies. This crisis was particularly intense on the Canadian Prairies. Numerous government policies contributed to the undermining of Aboriginal health. During a period of starvation, rations were withheld from bands in an effort to force them to abandon the lands that they had initially selected for their reserves. In making the Treaties, the government had promised to provide assistance to First Nations to allow them to make a transition from hunting to farming. This aid was slow in coming and inadequate on arrival. Restrictions in the Indian Act made it difficult for First Nations farmers to sell their produce or borrow money to invest in technology. Reserve land was often agriculturally unproductive. Reserve housing was poor and crowded, sanitation was inadequate, and access to clean water was limited. Under those conditions tuberculosis flourished. Those people it did not kill were often severely weakened and likely to succumb to measles, smallpox, and other infectious diseases.

For aboriginal children, the relocation to residential schools was generally no healthier than their homes had been on the reserves…”

 

In April 2007, Bill Curry and Karen Howlett reported in the Globe and Mail as follows:

“As many as half of the aboriginal children who attended the early years of residential schools died of tuberculosis, despite repeated warnings to the federal government that overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of o medical care created a toxic breeding ground for the rapid spread of disease.”

Think about that. Half the children died from TB!

Anthony Hall in his book Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism referred to the schools as “death traps.”

Dr. P.H. Bryce prepared astonishing reports to the federal government about the schools in 1907 and 1909 in which he drew to the government’s attention the shocking death rates of children and that these death rates could be drastically reduced by the implementation of simple and inexpensive changes such as improved ventilation and sanitation, filtering entering students for contagious illness, and isolating sick individuals away from crowded dormitories. He called Canada’s administration of the Indian residential schools  a “national crime.” That is precisely what it was.

The government responded that it was “too expensive”. After all why spend so much money to save the lives of Indian children?

 

Is Racism in our DNA?

 

President Obama in 2015, the last full year of his presidency, finally started to buck up the courage to speak about racism. He pointed out how the United States had ““the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination” was “still part of our DNA” as Americans.” Remember I am not pointing my finger at Americans from the perspective of us here in Canada being clean. We have the same problem here. Both countries have the same original sin namely racism and male supremacy. This is what Condoleezza  Rice called a birth defect.

 

Martin Luther King and W.E.B. Dubois both understood this as well. As Todd May and George Yancy explained in their New York Times article,

“Both men emphasized how the word is part of the institutional fabric of black oppression, that individual racist acts are not aberrations but the products of a larger systemic set of practices that, as the feminist scholar Barbara Applebaum argues, “hold structural injustice in place.” Central to those practices is policing, and the “bad apple” framing fails to confront its role in structural injustice.

 

If you just look at bad apples you fail to see or do anything about the tree, the structure, that holds them in place. People who are part of an unjust system may be good people, they may not appear to be exploiters or bad, but if they are part of a system that oppresses they are part of the problem. The philosopher Iris Marion Young wrote this:

Structural injustice occurs as a consequence of many individual and institutions acting in pursuit of their particular goals and interests, within given institutional rules and accepted norms. All the persons who participated by their actions in the ongoing schemes of cooperation that constitute these structures are responsible for them, in the sense that they are part of the process that causes them. They are not responsible, however, in the sense of having directed the process or intended its outcomes.”

That does not mean that everyone who participates in the system is a racist. But, everyone who is part of an unjust system—including me and you—have an obligation to dissent. We must voice our objections to that system or we are part of the oppression. If we acquiesce in the injustice we are racists. There is no way around this uncomfortable fact. The least we can do—we should do more—is to voice our objections. If we don’t do at least that we are complicit—we are aiding and abetting—and in law that makes us just as guilty as the perpetrator.

In 1987 in the Stanford Law Review, Charles Lawrence wrote this way about the bad-apple metaphor: “the bad-apple metaphor suggests a “perpetrator” model that fails to give an account of just how systemic racism is “transmitted by tacit understandings” and “collective unconscious.

The philosopher Charles Mills argued, “the perpetrator [of racist actions or beliefs] perspective presupposes a world composed of atomic individuals whose actions are outside of and apart from the social fabric and without historical continuity.”

The police—just like all of us—are part of a system for which we are partly responsible. We know that system harms a lot of people. Let’s face it for once. We all know that system harms a lot of people. It is time for all of us who benefit from that system to object to that system or we are culpable too.

Michael Eric Dyson, in his influential book, The Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America,” explained it well:

“That metaphor of a few bad apples doesn’t begin to get at the root of the problem. Police violence may be more like a poisoned water stream that pollutes the entire system. To argue that only a few bad cops cause police terror is like relegating racism to a few bigots. Bigots are surely a problem, but they are sustained by systems of belief and perception, by widely held stereotypes and social practice.”

So what do we do about it? It is important for all of us to understand this. As Todd and Yancy said,

“To truly confront problems of racist violence in our society, let’s not once again begin with the question of how to reform the police. Let’s instead start with the question of how to build healthy and safe communities of mutual respect and see which institutions we need to reach that goal. If anything that is to be called policing emerges from that inquiry, it should be at its end rather than assumed at the outset.’

Only such an approach can possibly lead to deep reform. That is the reform we need.