Friday, April 08, 2016

Racism and walking the tightrope of conflicting interests

While I would be automatically suspicious of any blog entry starting with "I'm not racist but...", I am beginning to wonder whether there isn't some element of sacred-cowism (yes, that's my own word) in discussions of racism in modern, multicultural, progressive Canada. It is some years now since I was involved in the Camden Council Anti-Racism Task Force (is that even what it was called? I can't actually remember exactly) back in England, so my credentials are a bit rusty to say the least. But, the more I read, the more I worry that politicians these days are caught in a political correctness trap of their own devising.
I refer more specifically to the whole Black Lives Matter movement, and even more specifically to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's recent comments about policing in Toronto, which have the police force understandably upset.
Yes, of course black lives matter as much as white ones (and vice versa), and yes, individual police officers have made mistakes under pressure (viz. Sammy Yatim, Andrew Loku, Jermaine Carby). Yes, police officers are probably still under-trained and over-armed, despite decades of attempts to confront and deal with any possible systemic prejudice in the force. Yes, the numbers of black and aboriginal people in prison or subject to police attentions are much higher than their demographic representation might warrant, but there may also be some good reasons for that (relative poverty, different cultural norms, gang culture, drugs culture, etc, etc), and this does not in itself point to police racism. Individuals like Carby, Yatim and Loku may not have deserved to die, but, despite the protestations of their families, they were certainly no angels, nor were they "good boys" unfairly picked on by the police.
But for Ms. Wynne to claim, as she did the other day, that there is "systemic racism" and "anti-black racism" in Ontario society, implying (given that she was specifically discussing policing at the time) racism in the police force, is taking generalization and extrapolation to an unjustifiable, even dangerous, level. To tar a whole society, or even a whole police force for that matter, with such a sweeping brush, smacks to me of political correctness gone crazy.
I actually think that Ontario society is one of the least racist, and most inclusive, I have ever lived in. This is not to say that every single individual (including every single police officer) is colour-blind and infinitely accepting of differences: that's just not how societies work. But to call us - as a society or as a police force - racist belies decades of improvements, and the efforts of millions of people to put such attitudes behind us.
The problem is that politicians such as Ms. Wynne (who, despite our differences, I still believe to be entirely sincere and to have her heart in the right place) are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are under intense political pressure to make the right anti-racist noises, and to show that they are taking organizations like Black Lives Matter (whose heart is also in the right place, despite its own mistakes, viz. distinctly iffy incendiary tweets from co-founders) seriously. To publicly voice any opposition to an anti-racist organization is political suicide for those in power, and even for me to question the orthodoxy in a blog like this is difficult, and kind of feels wrong. In supporting activist groups over-zealously or unthinkingly, though, politicians risk alienating the rest of the population.
Politics these days is, and I suppose always has been to some extent, a balancing act, a tightrope above a quagmire of conflicting causes, lobby groups and special interests. I sometimes wonder why anyone goes in to it in the first place.

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