I sent the following letter to my Member of Parliament. I hope you will consider writing your own letter to your Member of Parliament as well:
I don’t do this often. I’m sure many letters that you receive start out this way. In the hopes of you taking this letter seriously, I think it important that you know that I don’t make a career out of complaining to politicians. I’ve become so disenchanted and jaded with the whole political process that the extent of my engagement is voting — nothing else and nothing more. But I find the treatment of Jagmeet Singh in the House of Commons last week deeply troubling. Even if you don’t read to the end of this letter, at least I would have registered my displeasure, disappointment and latent discontent.
We are on the cusp of a racial revolution and reckoning the likes of which I have never heard of or have yet to see in my entire lifetime. The death of George Floyd has galvanized people of all ages and from all walks of life. Protests are happening around the world. The clarion call for justice has been sounded.
Black people worldwide are facing two public health crises — that of COVID-19 and racism. For many of us, we wonder which one will kill us first.
This historic moment has also been an opportunity for us, as Canadians, to take a hard look at what is happening at home. Just in the past few weeks, we witnessed very troubling images of how the RCMP has handled people and taken Indigenous people into custody. The RCMP Commissioner herself quickly recanted after she stated that there is no systemic discrimination in the RCMP.
And in the midst of all of this revolution and awakening, after presenting a motion for the House to acknowledge and do something about the racism that exists in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the first person of colour to lead a federal political party, and one of the few racialized Members of Parliament is 1) not only asked to leave the House for calling another Member a racist but 2) asked to apologize by the White Speaker, by said White Member of Parliament (I could hardly call him a fellow colleague) and by the White leader of his respective federal political party. (And to my detractors, yes, race matters here. It’s ironic.)
It would seem to me that there have been far more egregious things said in the House of Commons for which members have not been asked to remove themselves or even apologize.
Racism is not a partisan issue, and I hope I preach to the converted when I paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr, Maya Angelou and Emma Lazarus in saying that none of us are free until all of us are free.
In the interest of fairness, I searched but could not find Therrien’s reasoning for disagreeing with the motion. Everyone has a right to their opinion and dissension, and I wanted to discover his. I may disagree with his disagreement, but we can both agree to disagree agreeably — especially if I know the reasons for his disagreement. But nothing. It’s almost as if he dismissed the motion on some vague matter of principle. Or privilege.
So all I have to depend on is Singh’s account of the situation, which happens to be backed up by Hansard (Hansard 40 – June 17, 2020).
What happened in the House last week is exactly what racialized Canadians, myself included, are trying to combat — the privilege of being able to so easily dismiss a motion that is unlikely to ever affect you (White privilege) and the demand for an apology because the truth-telling hurt your sensibilities (White fragility), as well as the acknowledgement that, even absent actual racist people, much of our law enforcement and legal systems in Canada treat and affect racialized and Indigenous Canadians differently (systemic racism).
I am a Black Canadian, so I have not had the displeasure of being called a racist. But I relate by thinking of the analogy of being called homophobic. If someone called me homophobic, I may be angry. I would probably be defensive. It would bruise my ego. I may feel embarrassed or humiliated, and fear for my reputation. But demand an apology? Me, a heterosexual cisgender person demand an apology? That’s privilege if I ever did see it.
Anytime someone does something to frustrate the enactment of policies and procedures, laws and motions to address racism, that person further perpetuates racism. If you perpetuate racism we, as a society, have contorted ourselves into pretzels to conjure nice, coddling euphemisms to describe and comfort such people — an “apologist”, a “white nativist”, a “white nationalist”, or a person who said something “racially charged.” But the time for mincing words has passed. The truth hurts. The person in question is in fact a racist.
To Therrien, who allegedly nonchalantly waved away the motion, to Bellefeuille, who supported him, and to Blanchet, who doubled-down on an apology: must be nice to wave away things that don’t affect you personally. Blanchet has been quoted as saying that if someone “fully, deeply believes that systemic racism does not exist within our institutions, it does not mean that that person is a racist.” Fine. Let’s go with that. It does, however, make you willfully blind and wholly ignorant to the point where I question whether you should even be an elected Member of Parliament in a racially diverse nation like Canada. Unfortunately, I don’t think White people get to determine whether an institution or process is actually laden with systemic racism. My wish for the Bloc Quebecois is for them to actually be relevant and do better. It sounds like they need their own racial awakening.
I write this so you know how I and legions of Canadians — not just racialized ones — feel. Further support of any political party, and especially yours and you as my Member of Parliament, is wholly contingent on your ability and willingness to address anti-racism and anti-Black racism head-on. Today. Now. Your inaction or ineffectiveness will not only concretize my pre-existing disenfranchisement and alienation from political systems, but it may in all actuality result in my death and the death of others. Racism kills.
You and most other Members of Parliament get to debate and pontificate such things in the House of Commons and go home and rest in security and equanimity. I do not get to rest. This is not a mere debate or theory for me. This is my nightmare. This is my life.
I don’t care about free ice cream with my Member of Parliament as much as I care about the work of anti-racism. We can do both, but we must do better.
Yours very truly and very tired,
Simone Samuels, B.A. (Hons.), LL.B., B.C.L.