New Canadian Media
Thursday, 23 February 2017 17:09

America at a Crossroads: Land of Hope or Fear?

Commentary by Andrew Lam in San Francisco

Recently all 10 of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) submitted their resignations to President Trump. The main reason: Trump’s policies have adversely affected Asian Americans in particular and minorities in general.

“We cannot serve under an administration that seeks to exclude members of our society or take away their rights, especially the Muslim community, which is very much part of our AAPI community,” stated former Commissioner Maulik Pancholy.

The Trump regime has gone against the basic principles in which the advisory committee was set up to perform: protecting the civil rights of all those living in the US, including the most vulnerable, and respecting the unique attributes of all individuals and communities, and ensuring linguistic, cultural, and financial access to health care as well as economic and educational opportunities for all.

In an open letter the Advisory Commissioners wrote to Trump, they noted that they “firmly believe these principles are fundamental to our nation and need to be implemented and enforced at all times.”

Bans on refugees and those coming from the seven predominantly Muslim countries have torn families apart, creating confusion about America’s immigration and visa policies and created tension with countries that it needs to understand better. And by singling out individuals, families and communities for their religious beliefs, the president’s advisory committee concluded, Trump’s actions “create a religion-based test for entry into our country and threaten freedom of religion, a fundamental constitutional right.”

Indeed, America is now at a crossroad. In one direction is a pluralistic society defined by openness and porous borders and the profound understanding that it has always depended and thrived on the energy, ideas and contributions of newcomers, reborn through their hope and optimism.

It is one where there is an explicit understanding that immigrants have always transformed the world they enter, and in time they also influence the world they left behind as well. They are arguably the most crucial part of globalization that integrated the modern world. After all, who were the pilgrims but not the original boat people?

Many refugees along with immigrants resettled in America. And they are far from being helpless. Take the Vietnamese community, for instance. Now, 1.5 million strong, it’s a global tribe and quite an influential one since the Vietnam War ended 42 years ago when the first wave of refugees stepped onto the American shore. They helped build Silicon Valley here in California and from the very start, stood in assembly lines when the first Apple computer was being built. Their children grew up and worked in high-tech companies as engineers and designers, and now many are owners of new start-ups and some are running for local political offices.

Immigrants and refugees come to America to remake themselves and America in turn is renewed by their energy and vision.

Alas, the United States is currently being ruled by a xenophobic White House as it seeks to strengthen law enforcement and going after its most vulnerable population. It is pushing the country down a dangerous path in which the American society becomes dangerously divided, with growing anger and rising racism, and a population that lives in constant fear of arrest and assault.

If America was once a country that opened its doors to immigrants and refugees, today its policies stand in stark contrast to its this tradition and its premise of open societies and sustainable, equitable growth undermined by ineptitude and barely veiled racist intentions. It’s a country in which the immigrant becomes the enemy. And those from the Middle East are automatic suspects, potential subjects for registration and targets for attention and abuse.

To be sure the voice of opposition to the Trump White House and its assaults on civil liberties are reassuring as are the numerous protests and the fights being waged demanding for balance in governance, and to protect the poor and the vulnerable. Town halls are full of angry, unsettled citizens demanding transparency and accountability.

“The question that confronts all Americans now as we put up barriers at the airports and build the wall is whether we are creating a prison for the rest of the world, or for us,” asked Doctor Tung Nguyen, one of the president’s committee member who recently resigned, and a former refugee from Vietnam.

For if the West extinguished itself as a beacon of hope, it will become its own misfortune as well. An America that practices intolerance is an America dangerous to its own citizenry, and to the world.


Andrew Lam is an editor at New America Media in San Francisco and the author of “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a collection of stories about Vietnamese refugees in San Francisco, “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres,” a book of essays on East-West relations, and a memoir, “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.”
 
Republished with permission
Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 14:11

Trump and the Rise of Islamophobia

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

I believe it is fair to say that since 9-11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America.  With the rise of ISIL and attacks in this country and other nations, terrorist movements have given rise to a greater distrust of all refugees and immigrants, most of whom are Muslims fleeing the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.  

As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country may have been many generations in the past.  As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and, to a degree, struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump I am growing even more troubled.

Trump’s recent Executive Order banning Muslim refugees or travel to the U.S. from a select list of seven countries has run afoul of the nation’s constitution and its courts.  But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump’s actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have two recent, troubling incidents that illustrate a very different response from our government.  First of all, this past weekend in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building in Toronto.  In addition, notes with the statement “No Jews” were found on the front doors of several Jewish residences in a building on Beecroft Road, close to the Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue area.

Some of the notes contained anti-Semitic slurs and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs – blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes – had been vandalized.  Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city's spirit. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto."

Anti-Islamophobia motion

This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City Mosque. Our government’s response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament.  Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MPs to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” 

Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is strongly supporting Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said “Eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home.”

Substance, not symbolism

While I feel this a well-meant act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence and the murder in that Quebec City Mosque is that racist violence made manifest.  It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God.

Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.

I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect, and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behavior, our own actions.  

President Trump’s anti Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact that a sitting President has stoked such sentiments should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbol. 


Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
Published in Commentary

by Jooneed Jeeroburkhan in Montreal

The cold-blooded shooting of six Muslims following evening prayers on Jan 29 at a Québec City mosque has, predictably, amplified the acrimonious debate over racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Quebec – as the suspect, who also injured a dozen others, is a 27-year-old white Québécois university student.

Calls for an Inquiry Commission on “Systemic Racism in Québec” quickly redoubled and political leaders, responding only piecemeal, did not hesitate to label the mass killing an “act of terrorism” – although “terrorism” is not among the six counts of murder the Québec City police have charged Alexandre Bissonnette with.

Never to miss an opportunity, militant secularists, including Muslim ones, chimed in, accusing political leaders, from Quebec’s Philippe Couillard to Canada’s Justin Trudeau, of “Islamizing Canadian Democracy” – while progressive secularists, Québécois mainly, complained some people were heaping collective guilt on all Québécois for the crime of one individual – a role reversal since all Muslims are usually held responsible for each and every terrorist act committed by Takfiris/Salafis, ISIL/Daesh, Al Qaeda…

Skewed against immigrants

And, as usual, familiar noises came from the English North American media about Quebec being “more racist” than the rest of Canada – and the Quebec National Assembly unanimously condemned a Washington Post article, penned by Vancouver-based J.J. McCullough, saying exactly that, adding Quebec’s “history of anti-Semitism” and “religious bigotry” leads to “more massacres” like this one.

The motion was moved by the opposition Parti Québécois, the party whose ethno-centrist “Charter of Values” bill died on the order paper as the PQ was resoundingly defeated by the Liberals (41% to 25%) in the 2014 elections. The Bloc Québécois proposed a similar motion in Ottawa denouncing the newspaper article as “hateful”, but the House of Commons refused to debate it. 

As everywhere else throughout the hegemonic, and increasingly isolationist, West, the playing field, and the rules, remain heavily skewed against immigrants, refugees and all minority communities, yet the ruling communities paint themselves more and more as victims. And this trend has become noticeable in Quebec too in the wake of the Jan 29 shooting.

Re-igniting "reasonable accommodation"

To be fair, a huge mass of Québécois remain committed to an open and plural society, welcoming of diversity and militant in solidarity, as tens of thousands made it clear by attending a public meeting next to a mosque, and in snow and deep sub-zero temperature on Jan 31, in the heavily immigrant neighbourhood of Park Extension in Montreal, home of our very own Little South Asia.

Heart-warming as this demonstration was, it is highly unlikely that the discourse resulting from the Québec City shooting will help in putting to rest the old debate over “reasonable accommodation” in Quebec. If anything, it has re-ignited it. And police and media secrecy and selective leaks have only fed suspicion and distrust.

In the early hours following the massacre, media reports quoting informed sources, even witnesses, suggested there were two masked gunmen, and they shouted the Muslim cry of “Allah o Akbar”. The first-named suspect was a Muslim from Morocco, and stories suggested it may have been a settling of accounts between two neighbouring mosques of rival denominations.

The police then announced the Muslim man was “only a witness” and that the prime suspect was Alexandre Bissonnette – who apparently called police himself and gave himself up on the bridge linking Québec City to Orléans Island. The media then posted the photo of a suited and clean-cut boyish looking Bissonnette – who we were told was known in local social media circles as a pro-Fascist, anti-Feminist, anti-Immigrant, Islamophobic admirer of US President Donald Trump. But the police remains silent – and the media has stopped digging.

Appearing Feb 6 before the Senate committee on national security, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson refused to give details of the inquiry into the Québec City shooting. He instead voiced concern that the “caustic tone” of “political discourse” in Canada may contribute to “radicalize criminal extremists”. For its part, CSIS has warned of the recent development “of a Canadian online anti-Islam movement, similar to ones in Europe.”

As in the US and Europe, Quebec and Canada are in the throes of a major global re-balancing of power, marked by a decline of century-old global Western hegemony. The rise of xenophobia, particularly Islamophobia, and of right-wing populism and fascism, is a by-product of this momentous crisis – and the Québec City shooting, like the election of Donald Trump to the White House and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, are its symptoms.

The trials and traumas are bound to get worse before they get better.


Jooneed Jeeroburkhan, 70, is a journalist, writer, human rights activist, feminist and grandfather living in Montreal. He came to study in Canada, on a Commonwealth scholarship, 50 years ago from Mauritius. He retired from the Montreal daily La Presse in 2009 after 35 years as a reporter and analyst on international affairs, visiting some 60 countries in the process. He published a book of essays, in French, on his native country, in 2010, titled Un autre Maurice est possible (Another Mauritius is Possible). 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 10 November 2016 16:05

Canada not Immune to Trumpism

Commentary by Alma Sandoval Betancourth in Pickering, Ontario

What can I say: I called it.

It may have been my lifetime exposure to dictatorships. It may be my gradual and irreversible loss of faith in humanity that has made me become so jaded.

It may be that I have paid too much attention to the lessons history has thrown at us. And even though I did predict it, it still hit like a bucket of very Canadian ice wintry cold water. Let that one sink in, Canada (and the rest of the world): Donald Trump is the newly elected President of the United States.  The head of state of the most powerful nation in the world. And our neighbour to the south. Our closest ally. Canada’s Big Brother. Just because the people were given the option to choose, it doesn’t mean they chose right. In Canada, the great majority of us mourn that choice.

And so, whatever happens to our southerly neighbours, will have a strong effect on how we live, think and act over here. Not only does it affect us, it sends shock waves through our core. You can see it so palpably in the strong reactions of all Canadians (be it happiness or distress) upon hearing the news.

Math at work

Trump’s win (and Clinton’s loss) is not only a loss on sanity, logic and sound decision-making. This is a loss on progress and an attack on the liberties and gains that have taken so long and so much effort and struggle to achieve.

At the core of this loss is the notion — a certainty, really — that humanity is flawed. Human beings, we’re all flawed. And with Donald Trump being a businessman, math comes into play in the form of a twisted version of Victor Hugo’s “The liberty of one citizen ends where the liberty of another citizen begins” that reads more like “one person’s gain is another person’s loss.”

If a woman is on her way of earning the same wages as a man, she is perceived (and this is key, because it’s not necessarily truth, but perception that’s so dangerous) to be taking that away from a man. If a visible minority is making progress in carving a better place for him or herself in society (be it through work, to access to health and education, to being granted access to opportunity and power) that means that someone (more likely a straight white male) is losing that very thing.

If a poor person (whether a visible minority or a white person) is improving the quality of their life, that means (again, perceived) that someone at the top is losing a small percentage of their wealth. And that cannot happen.

On guard, Canada

We as a society must watch very carefully what’s unfolding right before our very eyes. We can see it so much clearer because it’s in high definition: on a computer, on iPads and on our very own smartphones — because everything that has taken place and will be taking place in the future will unfold on social media for the world to see.

Mark my words: this outcome next door will be affecting Canada directly. This could (and most likely will) be Canada in four years.

Mark my words: this outcome next door will be affecting Canada directly. This could (and most likely will) be Canada in four years.

We may boast how multicultural, egalitarian and progressive we are.

Better listeners

But, we need to start listening, really listening to what’s building up at the core of our society: the unhappiness, unrest and fear (terror, honestly) that those who have been at the top and are gradually experiencing a perceived loss of power are feeling.

We must start listening, really listening because as women, visible minorities, the LGBTQ community, the poor and all those disadvantaged sectors of the population are given more opportunities to play on a level field within Canadian society, there is someone on the other side resenting (sometimes silently) these changes and hoping Canada “becomes great again”.

We must, as a society (our leadership, our politicians, our institutions, our community organizations) really listen to those voices, give them an opportunity to express their concerns and unhappiness, because if we don’t, the disconnect (that very same disconnect that created the marked divisiveness that gave Trump that shocking victory) will only widen, and four or eight years from now we will be stunned to learn that a fascist, racist, bigot regime is threatening the very fabric of what makes Canada such a progressive, forward-thinking and humanitarian nation.

In the meantime, God Help our brothers and sisters to the south.

Republished with permission from Alma Latina. Alma Sandoval Betancourth is editor/publisher of Alma Latina, an English/Spanish publication featuring articles about events/arts & music/community/people in Durham Region and the Greater Toronto Area.

Published in Commentary
Monday, 07 November 2016 11:47

In Praise of Donald Trump

Commentary by Darren Thorne in Toronto

On the eve of the U.S. Presidential election, and with apologies to the Bard for the inversion, I come not to bury Donald Trump, but rather to praise him.

Of course, at this point, those appalled by the unremitting ugliness of his rise in American politics can afford to be magnanimous, as Trump himself has buried his campaign more effectively than anyone else could have dreamed of. 

While he will never lose the backing of his most diehard supporters, it has become clear that his latest scandals – the devastating combination of videotaped assertions of sexual braggadocio which appear to betray a predilection for, well, sexual assault, and then a deluge of women coming forward shortly thereafter to accuse him of exactly that crime – ended any hope of Trump drawing enough additional support to make him truly competitive in the election. 

The truth is, despite the last minute recurrence of the Clinton email issue, the 2016 presidential race has effectively been over for weeks. Judging by the extended temper tantrum Trump has been throwing with his deranged, whining claim that the election is somehow “rigged”, on some level he already knows it.

So what words of praise could one possibly have in relation to Donald Trump’s foray into U.S. politics?

Rejection of facts

He is, after all, responsible for coarsening the political, and likely societal, culture of America in unprecedented ways.  His campaign seemingly thrived off of normalizing almost any type of bigotry one could name, be it overt racism against Hispanics or blacks, Islamophobia, xenophobia or just good old-fashioned misogyny.

It took the rejection of facts and the shameless telling of untruths, if not bold-faced lies, to entirely new levels – which is saying something, given that we are talking about the realm of politics.  In debates and in the media, Trump insulted and denigrated his rivals so viciously that one almost had to admire his talent for doing so.

Most damagingly for the American body politic, at every step of the way Trump encouraged his supporters to de-legitimize and turn on anyone who thought differently than they did. And finally now, thanks to his preposterous claims that the election is “rigged”, his rhetoric threatens to undermine public faith in the political system itself and may be sowing the seeds for post-election violence. 

As an aside, I’ll note that, generally, when the person on the train next to you starts ranting about how a shadowy cabal of bankers, media, politicians and their inner city minions are secretly conspiring to ruin society, that tends to be the point at which most of us stop making eye contact.

Racism and sexism still alive

But, despite all of this, Trump has unwittingly done America a service, in two ways.  First, he has revealed the true depth of division and intolerance which apparently simmers just below the surface of American society. The success of his campaign has put the lie to the claim that racism and sexism are spent forces in North America, as at this point it seems clear that his campaign has not thrived in spite of his bigotry, but rather because of it.

Second, though Trump’s campaign exposed these societal fault lines, America should be grateful that the candidate’s personal flaws ultimately prevented him from exploiting these skillfully enough to succeed at the ballot box.  

Trump is certain to lose this election, but only because his pettiness, inability to control himself and loathsome, narcissistic boorishness has meant that he has been unable to fully harness the societal divisions he has stoked and thus ride them to electoral success. 

Still, if nothing else, Trump’s success should serve as a wake-up call. The danger is that this is something a more disciplined, genial candidate with the same sensibilities might well have been able to do. Trump has manifestly exposed this danger, and made clear the racial and economic fault lines that America’s leaders, of both parties, must address, if they do not want to eventually see an even more dangerous sequel to this fiasco.

This is for the good, but it is less clear where America goes from here. The sad truth is that the country is likely to exit from this election even more divided than before. Trump’s rise has also made it abundantly clear how helpless even well-meaning and principled Republicans are in preventing their party from succumbing to its basest instincts. 

So it will be a hard road forward, healing these rifts. But thanks to Donald Trump, no one can now underestimate how vital the need is to do so.

For that, ironically, America owes him a debt of gratitude.  Now let’s hope that after November 8th, none of us have to see or hear from him ever again.

Darren Thorne (B.A., LL.B, LL.M) is an international lawyer and adjunct law professor, specialized in international affairs, development and constitutional and international human rights law. He was previously counsel to Ontario's Deputy Attorney General and has an extensive history of international legal and project work throughout Africa, Asia and Europe.

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 22 September 2016 15:01

Ending Systemic Racism in Legal Profession

 TORONTO: The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group on Thursday released a report proposing 13 recommendations to address issues of systemic racism in the legal professions.

The report is the culmination of thorough study and province-wide consultations, showing that racialized lawyers and paralegals face longstanding and significant challenges at all stages […]

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in National

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Sports has the ability to unite Canada, show the recently released findings of an Association for Canadian Studies survey.

“A majority of Canadians agree that sports break down linguistic and cultural barriers to unite people,” the report states.

In Canada, immigrants from different countries and origins also bring with them some of their own favourite sports.

Dr. John Shields, interim academic director at Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement (RCIS), highlights the growing popularity of cricket in Canada as an example.

“[There are a] lot of people coming from South Africa, Pakistan and India who are avid fans of cricket,” says Shields.

Immigrants from different countries and origins also bring with them some of their own favourite sports.

Sports history important to know

University of Toronto vice-president Bruce Kidd says including sports history in the country’s narrative is an important step in telling a complete story.

“If you don’t understand the role of sports in Canadian history, you missed an important part and your sense of Canadian history will be incomplete.”

For instance, Canadian national sports like lacrosse and hockey were part of the nation’s culture even before confederation. They were the outdoor games played by First Nations. Curling and golf arrived with Scottish immigrants in the 1600s.

Canadians also played important roles in the early beginnings of popular sports like football and basketball.

Kidd explains that when sports are adopted in Canada they are infused with Canadian values, skills and narratives.

“I would say that Canadians have put their own stamp on the games that we play.”

“I would say that Canadians have put their own stamp on the games that we play.”

Sports as a unifying force

Today, hockey alone can ignite patriotism throughout the country.

Jennifer Anderson, historian at the Canadian Museum of History, says hockey is often reflected in Canadian popular culture. Even those who are not enormous hockey fans come across cultural references to the game in everyday life through TV shows, books and children stories.

“Somewhere there is a link between the game and our culture, and I think it demonstrates the relationship that Canadians have to the game,” she explains.

While sports can be a unifying force, like other aspects of Canadian culture, it can also be divisive, says Kidd.

“During those times when Canadian teams made up of Anglophone and Francophone athletes lead internationally, it forges bilingualism and commonality,” he says.

However, he adds, “When you have the Canada games, which put efforts from each of the different provinces against each other, it may create rivalries on linguistic ground.”

Exclusion also part of sports history

While Shields says that sport “tends to bring people together in terms of common cause,” he points out there certainly has been a history of exclusion and racism in Canadian sports, too.

“Historically it was very hard for Aboriginal people to get into the professional hockey leagues, as was for Black people,” Shields says.

“Historically it was very hard for Aboriginal people to get into the professional hockey leagues, as was for Black people.”

Anderson explains that it’s not that First Nations people are dissatisfied with the way games like hockey and lacrosse have evolved; it’s more about the acknowledgement of their participation.

“They would like to be acknowledged as having participated in the game over an extended period of time,” she states. “Not just the beginning perhaps, not just the origin, but they continued to participate in the sport.”

Similarly, women have always been engaged in Canadian sports, but pre-Confederation, they were often barred from sports and had to participate informally.

Kidd says that women have gradually succeeded in winning opportunities for themselves in this area.

“I would say since the First World War, they played every sport that men played and today are an important, proud part of Canadian sports,” he adds.     

Anderson emphasizes that “this hasn’t always been acknowledged in the same way as men sports has.”

Increasing the media’s coverage of women’s sports has been a long-fought battle, and there have been movements and conversations about ensuring equality.

“Currently [women’s sport is] still underperforming in the kind of media coverage it gets,” Anderson says. “But I think social media has changed this to some degree and to some extent has shifted the way women sports is being covered.”

Sports have long been an important part of the Canadian economy, culture and education system, but experts like Anderson suggest that more efforts are required to promote equality in Canadian sports.

Specifically, they suggest we need to counter the growing cost of playing sports, ensure greater exposure of women’s sports and include more First Nations people in the national sports arena.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in History
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 23:05

Why does Racism Persist? (Part III)

By Charles Quist-Adade, PhD.
Introduction The recent “revenge” shooting deaths of largely white police officers by Black gunmen in response to the spate of White police officers killings of Black men over the past few years have open wide America's festering racial wound. While there have been even more horrid “racial murders” in the past, the recent tit-for-tat slayings put American in a very precarious situation. If this is not a timely clarion call for a (...)

- From the Editor's Keyboard

The Patriotic Vangaurd

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Published in Commentary

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

Racial profiling by police is not a new phenomenon. The ability to now document aggression by law enforcement against African Americans and other racialized people and broadcast the footage around the world makes this long-standing injustice hard to ignore.

Along with meaningful discussions though, these images are also sparking retaliation by some members of the targeted communities.

These acts of aggression, the feelings they create, and the history they are grounded in, are hard for adults to understand, let alone explain to a young person.

Thanks to the Internet and technology, children and youth today have the world at their fingertips. Yet defining how prejudice and racism continue to have implications in different realms of society are ongoing topics of research, policy discussions and public debate.

Chuck and other people who have black skin must live, learn, and play separately from those with white skin.

Making children aware

Books like The Stone Thrower by Canadian author Jael Richardson are one way to start a conversation with children about the historical roots of some of the prejudice we continue to see today against African Americans.

The illustrated book tells the real-life story of Chuck Ealey, starting from when he was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1950. He grows up in the city’s North End neighbourhood without most of the opportunities that many other children in America enjoy.

Because of racism against Black people in America — which often revolves around the idea that all Black people have characteristics that make them inferior to Caucasian Americans — Chuck and other people who have black skin must live, learn and play separately from those with white skin.

“It’s an unbeatable story that amazes me, even though I’ve heard it all before, because Chuck Ealey happens to be my father.”

Chuck’s mother works long hours for little money, yet still has time and energy to instill in her son the drive to get educated and follow the train tracks that go beyond the North End.

“How could he get out of the North End if they didn’t even have enough money for food?” Chuck wonders.

He begins visiting the train tracks regularly to practise throwing stones at the passing freight cars. It helps him on the football field, and eventually his high school coach asks him to play quarterback during a game.

On the field, he is taunted by the rival team, but maintains his focus and determination to win.

The team’s victory is the start of Chuck Ealey’s long and successful career in high school and college football. After that, though, his time as a football player in the United States is over.

“The National Football League didn’t believe that he could be a great quarterback because of the color of his skin,” writes Richardson.

So instead, Ealey moved to Canada to play in the Canadian Football League (CFL). In his first year as a quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, he led the team to the Grey Cup championship and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and the CFL’s Rookie of the Year.

Colourful pages tell ugly history 

“It’s an unbeatable story that amazes me, even though I’ve heard it all before, because Chuck Ealey happens to be my father,” Richardson explains at the end of the book. She has also written about her father’s story in a 2012 memoir called The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, which was the subject of a TSN (The Sports Network) documentary.

The Stone Thrower’s colourful and animated pages tell of a history that was much uglier, hateful and violent.

Chuck’s story is remarkable, yet his experience with racism is not unique. Racial segregation was a reality for a huge segment of the population only about 50 years ago — in both the United States and Canada.

Children can relate to parts of the book about playing outdoors, practising sports and being part of a team. What might come as a surprise is that there was once a time when not all children could enjoy these things equally.

The Stone Thrower’s colourful and animated pages tell of a history that was much uglier, hateful and violent.

The difficult legacy of race

While segregation was not enshrined in Canadian law, it still existed in all facets of social life. The story of Viola Desmond being arrested for sitting in the whites-only section of a New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, movie theatre is just one example.

These injustices continue to have repercussions that are felt today. While the days of slavery are over, poverty in Black communities and videos of police brutality against Black people are remnants of what U.S. President Barack Obama termed “the difficult legacy of race.”

The NFL can no longer bar Black athletes from playing football, but law enforcement, employers and the justice system are still realms in which race matters. The Stone Thrower is a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.

However, Ealey’s story is also a much-needed reminder for children and adults alike of what is possible when we work against division and towards inclusion. Through a basic retelling of how one man overcame injustice to be treated fairly, we see how difficult it is to explain and justify segregation and inequality.

On the other hand, we see how easy it is to defend everyone’s basic right to work, play and live without discrimination.

Rosanna Haroutounian is a freelance writer and the assignment editor at New Canadian Media. She studied journalism and political science at Carleton University and now splits her time between Quebec City and Peterborough, Ont.  


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Books

by George Abraham in Ottawa

I must confess that I came to Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (To Everyone) and Kamal Al-Solaylee’s thesis as a skeptic. Growing up in India, everybody around me was brown – some lighter-skinned than others – but brown-ness has been a lifelong given.

Moving to Canada, I developed an appreciation for the tension between “white” and “black,” and then a little later, consciousness about indigenous people. Recently, #Blacklivesmatter and #Nativelivesmatter became popular Twitter hashtags, emblematic of a struggle for equality and justice.

The author of this book adds another group to the list of the aggrieved, perhaps calling for a #Brownlivesmatter movement.

Picking up Brown I asked myself, why does Al-Solaylee have to harp on yet another colour distinction?

He seemed to be calling for a new consciousness, “a challenge to white and black hegemony.” What baloney, I told myself. I sensed yet another author adept at milking victimhood for all it’s worth.

I sensed yet another author adept at milking victimhood for all it’s worth.

That would have been the essence of my take but for happenstance.

I read the main sections of Brown during a visit to India, which at the time was roiled by a rather bizarre series of attacks on African nationals staying there for university studies or business. While the political class appeared to be in denial, the national media were unsparing, labelling the attacks “pigment-based discrimination” and brazen racism.

I was shocked to read an African diplomat in New Delhi quoted as saying, “I realized after a while that the taunts of ‘monkey, monkey’ were aimed at me . . .” He was recounting how a group of youth would make primate-like sounds while he was jogging at a public park.

Not just black and white

The exhaustive reporting and commentary in India around these widespread attacks told me that we “brownies” were also capable of racism.

Secondly, it opened my eyes to the possibility suggested by Al-Solaylee: “[W]e are not as privileged as whites but not as criminalized as blacks.” There might be an in-between.

There is no denying that if whites form the top-tier of the world economy, browns and blacks occupy the bottom rungs. However, there is not enough in this book by the widely-published Ryerson University journalism professor to clearly distinguish between the fates of those born brown or black, although he goes to extraordinary lengths to support his basic point that skin colour is destiny.

“[W]e are not as privileged as whites but not as criminalized as blacks.”

Brown, he says, serves as a metaphor for a distinct political experience that might include the following: a hyphenated immigrant identity (unlike the Irish and Italian, for example); suspicion at border crossings (perceived as “shifty”); a feeling of disenfranchisement and belonging to a new “global servant” class.

As an immigrant himself, Al-Solaylee pays particular attention to the internationally mobile brown folks who wish to leave the developing world, thereby “browning” the population of countries such as the U.S. and Canada.

Shades matter

The Yemen-born author is at his best when he hews close to the journalism for which he is most known. He cites data to show income disparities based on skin colour in societies such as Brazil (where browns or blacks earn 42.2 per cent less than whites), Sri Lanka and Trinidad.

This book also took him to the Philippines, Hong Kong, Qatar, the U.K. and the U.S. – all in an effort to demonstrate how being born brown inevitably means a life of modern slavery, dim economic prospects, and an endless effort to appear fairer through whitening creams and lotions.

There is, though, no effort to explain brown-on-brown discrimination in countries such as Qatar, where the Asian labour class and local Qataris share a common skin tone. Similarly, the notes from Britain most certainly discount the possibility of a Muslim brownie of Pakistani heritage being elected mayor of London.

Al-Solaylee’s observations and conclusions throughout his travels can be rather facile and foregone, and lack the rigour one expects from a stellar journalist.

The author applies the same woe-is-me-because-I’m-brown outlook to Canada. Jumping off some of the overheated rhetoric from the Conservative campaign during the October 2015 federal election, the author infers that “an anti-brown feeling has been gaining momentum, even in liberal Canada.” This, when he himself concedes that immigration to both Canada and the U.S. is predominantly brown.

Al-Solaylee’s observations and conclusions throughout his travels can be rather facile and foregone, and lack the rigour one expects from a stellar journalist. This one stuck out in particular: “Two black friends have suggested to me that the relatively light skin tones of Syrian refugees explain why Canadians have opened their wallets and homes so generously.”

I’m not sure if the author proves what he set out to demonstrate – that being brown predicts your life trajectory more than any other circumstance.

My own career has taken me to some of the very same countries that Al-Solaylee visited. I know first-hand that skin colour can be defining and shorthand for a “pigmentocracy,” in which white and fair is viewed as competent, while everybody else falls short.

I’d say Brown is a good read for those who are convinced they will never catch a break because the deck is forever stacked against them.

For everybody else, it is yet another thesis in search of a convincing argument.

George Abraham is the founder and publisher of New Canadian Media.

 


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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