This has been a tough 24 hours in social media. In the same day our province made a commitment to admit and help re-settle 1500 immigrants and refugees, and there was a horrific terror attack in Paris. Many have argued that a humanitarian effort is worthwhile for the refugees who desperately need safe haven. They also find the commitment to be worthwhile as we are a declining, aging, under-educated province desperately in need of an influx of people. Unfortunately many do not agree. The trouble seems to be that this particular group is brown and in many cases they follow the teachings of Islam. To compound the issue, the attack in Paris (and Beirut and Bhagdad this past few days by the way), perpetrated by the very people these refugees are seeking asylum from, has sensitized a certain demographic of people already suspicious of those who look different. The result has been a social media storm that I stupidly got caught up in.
I made the mistake of posting a couple of articles applauding the decision of our province to offer safe haven to 1500 refugees and the comments sections immediately started to fill with a range of negative comments. Some of these were from the obvious anonymous internet trolls who love to stir up trouble online. Those are easy. Obvious anti-social behavior is easy to recognize and file. Unfortunately, many of the comments were from more typically upstanding individuals who were labeling the proposed refugees as either dangerous or as a drain on the systems put in place to help “real Canadians”. Now – I try to have social media manners and would never consider hijacking someone’s post – regardless of how offensive their views may be to me. However, if you are going to reply to my post by venting a narrow xenophobic philosophy, then I will respond quickly and harshly. Bluntly put: I despise xenophobia. Unfortunately New Brunswick – being older, and less literate than our Canadian neighbors, means that the fear of the different and the unknown tends to be a bit more pronounced here. The Globe and Mail recently published an article about how our declining demographics, combined with a lack of education and inclusiveness are holding our province back on many fronts. This would all just appear to be just another symptom of our backward thinking.
Standing up for inclusive thinking made for a rough few hours. I was called a lot of names and attacked on various fronts – publicly and privately. I guess it goes with the territory….but it is no fun and I take no joy in it. the problem is that I take less joy in letting it pass.
It would be so much easier if all racists all looked like gun loving, swastika tattooed members of the Aryan Brotherhood. These are less harmful racists because no sensible person sympathizes with their “save the white race” narrative. They are proud of their hatred and the have fostered a brand that is so toxic that no sane policy maker will ever cater to their prejudices. They may be extremely harmful to individuals and individual communities, but they do less harm to society as a whole because there is general agreement about the lack of decency they represent. Unfortunately, the most dangerous racists often look like our neighbors…they look like the dear little old lady down the street…they look like friends of my parents. They express outrage and confusion at the thought their ideas may be racist and yet…..here they are venting their suspicions about those who look different.
I can’t help but compare today’s online reaction to the reaction to Irish terrorism in recent decades. Let’s remember: Irish terror groups were horrific in their practices. Assassinations, torture, mass bombings, crucifixions, the murder of children, tarring and feathering, knee-capping. Outside of Ireland there were bombings in Hyde Park…bombings of British pubs..assassinations of British royals. Thousands killed. Tens of thousands maimed, tortured and wounded. In spite of this carnage, the response of our community was amazingly compassionate and appropriately welcoming. Exchange programs were developed to get youth away from the ‘troubles’. Money was raised. Resources set aside. No one complained that Irish terrorists might be mixed in with the legitimate refugees who were re-settling here. No one complained the the money raised might better benefit ‘real Canadians’ in need. It was an appropriate and compassionate response. A Canadian response.
Yet, today, the idea that 1500 brown people of a different religion might be coming to New Brunswick is being met by some as a public policy travesty. A waste of resources,they say. An insult to ‘real Canadians’ who are struggling, they complain. A threat to national security. Why Syrian refugees and not Irish Refugees? For just a moment….Imagine how crazy it would sound if one expressed concerns about boatloads of American tourists coming to Saint John every summer and fall. Yet America is the home to many domestic terror groups. Roughly 1000 people each month are murdered with handguns in that country. Mass shootings are becoming shockingly normal. Massive atrocities like the Oklahoma Bombing have been perpetrated by US citizens……and yet….wouldn’t we sound laughably foolish complaining about the Americans who stream across the Canadian border every day. We have no difficulty accepting that there are bad Irish yet we need not fear all of them. We have no difficulty accepting that there are bad Americans but we need not fear all of them. Those who claim to be afraid of the risk associated with Syrian refugees should maybe take a look in the mirror and ask them selves why they feel this is different.
I was criticized for being forceful in dealing with some of these commentators online because they ‘are actually nice people’. I don’t agree. I would argue that these individuals aren’t actually all that nice. The fact that their racism is invisible – even to themselves – makes them even more troubling. They claim to be inclusive…until someone different looking buys the house next door. They express care and concern for our troops…yet feel a bit of discomfort that our Minister of Defense wears a turban. They claim to be Christian…..until someone who looks different needs their Christian charity. They start asking questions about ‘how dangerous those people must be’ Then they start to talk about ‘security’ and ‘real Canadians’. They start to make statements complaining about helping ‘those people’ and how those resources would be better used helping those ‘at home’. Then they use the camouflage of patriotism claiming that they aren’t racist but are merely expressing legitimate public policy concerns. They make these statements with no real concern of care for how absolutely horrific the world has become for so many people and that, compared to them, we have so much. So much space, so much liberty, so much food, so much everything.
I would argue that is it this kind of well-meaning person who made Indian Residential Schools possible. It was this kind of well-meaning person who made Japanese internment possible. It was this kind of well-meaning person who made possible the 1930’s “None is too many” government position on Jewish immigration. Consider the fate of the Jewish refugees passengers on the SS St Louis in 1939 – denied refugee status and forced to return to Europe where many of them died in the ensuing Holocaust. Nice Canadians supported that. Nice Canadians have supported laws that limited the rights of women. Nice Canadians have supported policies that allowed discrimination of members of the LGBT community. For this reason, it’s actually more important to stand up to the self-labeled ‘Nice Canadians’ because their views can be taken more seriously and can ultimately do more harm to more people.
I also was ‘cautioned’ about expressing such strong opinions because I have a public profile and that I should be ‘more careful’. Really? It is precisely because I have a profile that I feel even more responsibility to call out hate and xenophobia. There are a few people (including my children) who look to me to set the tone. They look to me for a clue as to what is appropriate and what is not. If I sit quietly and let people vent their out-dated beliefs, I’d be concerned that it might encourage others to keep quiet when they are made to feel uncomfortable with the fear and xenophobia expressed by others. The fact is: these sentiments are not cool…they are not acceptable. If you post your racist sentiments on my social media pages, I will respond forcefully every time….because it is 2015.