Shut up and stand up, white folks

When I need to hear the words of black Americans talking race and politics, I go straight to Public Enemy. 

Their 1980s raps about racism, oppression and black pride are loud, angry and uncompromising. Along with Spike Lee’s breakthrough film Do The Right Thing, they were the entry point for this privileged white teenager from Western Canada into the black experience.

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So much has changed since Chuck D and Flavor Flav implored all their listeners to Don’t Believe The Hype and Fight The Power but, tragically, not much has changed at all.

Black men are still being killed by cops for the crime of being black men.

This is not just an American problem. This continues to happen in Canada’s largest cities, too.

This is not just a big city problem. 

Young men of colour have died at the hands of cops in Prince George. 

Just last Friday, the Independent Investigations Office of B.C., the public watchdog that looks at incidents where individuals are hurt or die during interactions with police officers, recommended charges against five Prince George RCMP officers.

On the night of July 18, 2017, Dale Culver was pepper sprayed by officers and thrown into the back of a cruiser. When it looked like he was having trouble breathing, paramedics were called.

“Officers reported that the male was removed from the police vehicle when Emergency Health Services (EHS) arrived, and collapsed,” the IIO stated in a release. “The male was pronounced deceased shortly thereafter."

The agency sent its report to the B.C. Prosecution Service because “reasonable grounds exist to believe that two officers may have committed offences in relation to use of force, and three others may have committed offences regarding obstruction of justice."

The officers can’t be named until formal charges are laid against them in court. That’s what should happen because, innocent or guilty, it’s not enough for justice to be done, it must be seen to be done for the public to retain confidence in both the courts and law enforcement.

There have been rallies held in Canadian cities and one is scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. in front of Prince George city hall. While this flies in the face of B.C. public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s recommendation against public gatherings of more than 50 people, there are plenty of ways to safely attend and show support, including wearing a face mask and social distancing.

This rally will not have thousands of people crammed into close quarters as seen in larger cities. Furthermore, the last person in hospital in Northern Health from COVID-19 has been discharged from hospital. While this is not a time to drop our guard, there is a big difference between more than 50 people gathering for an outdoor movie or rock concert and concerned citizens coming together for social justice.

For white folks, it’s important to step up in both word and presence. We certainly can’t speak to experience and shouldn’t even try like Stockwell Day did on the CBC Tuesday, making the idiotic comparison between bullying and racism. Yet it was still valuable to hear his comments because it showed how little he and all white Canadians understand about racism and how much more we all need to learn.

In response, Emilie Nicolas, a columnist for Le Devoir, the French-language Montreal newspaper, posted this on Twitter:

“Dear Stockwell Day, I was sorry to learn during (CBC Power and Politics) we just did that you were teased in school for your glasses. In my own elementary school, some children were too busy calling me a nigger to bother me about my eyewear. I guess I got lucky. But I still feel your pain.”

Certainly harsh but these are the voices and experiences we need to hear. Adding her words to my column made me deeply uncomfortable and terribly sad but neither my feelings nor Day’s are relevant here. What all white folks need to do is listen more and commit themselves to be better, encourage others to be better and stand in solidarity with all Canadians of colour against racism.

If you’re looking for something more palatable than rap music or tweets, take the time to watch an excellent panel discussion held in Ottawa last year about race and politics, hosted by former Citizen reporter and current Hill Times managing editor Charelle Evelyn with Independent MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Indigenous Reconciliation Group CEO Rose LeMay and former Stephen Harper government senior adviser Alykhan Velshi.

It’s long past time all white Canadians shut up and stood up for their fellow Canadians of colour. There is work to be done and either we are part of the solution or part of the problem.

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