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Saturday, June 06, 2020

Systemic Racism In Canada?

An open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau:

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

I hope you receive my following plea in the spirit with which it's intended...to inform you, respectfully, of how I feel about a certain subject.

It seems that you've adopted the phrase "systemic racism in Canada" recently and have used it liberally in your daily press conferences. The context in which you've used it implies that all Canadians are racist, and, therefore, you've taken it upon yourself to lecture us every day that this is wrong.

As a Canadian, I find this kind of generalized rhetoric from anyone to be inflammatory, divisive, and offensive.

I don't know what kind of an upbringing you had or what values were instilled in you as you were growing up, but I can assure you that, as a child of a loving Mother who was widowed when I was very young, I was taught to be kind to others and to treat them as I wished to be treated. She brought me to Church every Sunday to ensure that I had a rounded and complete exposure to life's many offerings. I will only kneel before God and to no other...to do so would be blasphemous for me.

We did not live a life of monetary privilege (nor do I now). On the contrary, my Mom worked hard to put herself through school, raise a family, and to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. Her work ethic was second to none. She taught me to be proud of my accomplishments. She was a great lady and role model, and was the best Mom anyone could have ever had. She passed away just over three decades ago, but she left a wonderful legacy behind, of which I'm extremely proud.

My Mom could have remained bitter because of experiences she'd had as a first-generation child of immigrants from several different countries in the United Kingdom. Her tiny community contained a diverse ethnic population of German, Polish, Ukrainian, Norwegian, Swedish, Scottish and English people. She said that pride in racial origin was likely instilled at home and racial tolerance was unheard of at that time. She recalled being involved in fights with some of the school children on the way home over which race was superior. On one occasion, she was taunted and called a "dirty Englishman" by one boy. She retaliated by calling him a "dirty Norwegian." To emphasize her anger, she threw her lunch pail at him. The pail missed her target and, instead, hit her own sister in the face, which remained cut and bruised for some time. No doubt, she was disciplined at home, because she recalls that ended the name calling.

She went on to become a teacher and worked for decades with underprivileged teenage girls and taught them a variety of occupational skills to enable themselves to work and earn a decent living. She was instrumental in expanding a two-year high school curriculum to a comprehensive four-year program, complete with diploma. Most of her students were from our neighbouring indigenous community and were abused and/or raped and impregnated by their own fathers. She helped give them a badly-needed fresh start in life, as well as emotional and mental support, and, in some instances, sanctuary for a while in our home. Mom was not actively participating in or promoting racism...instead, she was active in stemming the fallout of unjust treatment of her students from within their own culture.

Perhaps because of her own experiences, not once did my Mom mention that I should treat people of one ethnic background any differently, or better or worse, than any other...she made no such distinction. In fact, in the larger community where I grew up, most Canadians were second or third generation, some were first-generation immigrants from other countries, and some were multi-generational indigenous people, who all got along and wanted to create a better life for themselves and their families. We were interested in learning about their countries, cultures, and their experiences...and their food. One year, my teacher in grade school arranged for her students to correspond with pen pals of similar age from Kenya (that was many decades ago, long before social media was even a spark in someone's imagination...we wrote by pen on flimsy blue airmail stationery). I learned a great deal from my pen pal (who was an indigenous African boy) and it was one of the most interesting years of my life. I still remember his name...he had an amazing sense of humour and I always looked forward to his letters.

Living peacefully with our multi-cultural neighbours (near or far) was completely normal for us.

During my adult working life (in a cosmopolitan international city), my workplace enjoyed a thriving and harmonious multi-cultural environment. We worked cohesively to ensure that the fruits of our labour were productive and successful in accordance with our employers' expectations. It would have been totally unnatural and antithetical for any of us to discriminate against our fellow employees on the basis of their culture, ethnicity, or even class. It never crossed our minds to think or act in that way.

I do not hate anyone because of their race...as I wouldn't want to be hated because of my inherited (white) skin colour. It does not give me 'privilege' as some would naively and incorrectly presume and have proclaimed, especially recently. Such a decree automatically debases or subjugates people of a different skin colour to mine...so why would anyone do that and what gives them the right to think that they can? My skin colour has no merit in, either elevating me above or debasing me below, anyone else of a different skin colour. I can't do anything about it and I certainly would never apologize for being the product of my parents' mixed ethnicity. I do not feel guilty for my skin colour. On the contrary, I'm proud of my heritage and ancestors, and I should not, and will not, be disparaged for honouring that part of my background...neither will I allow my ancestors, especially my Mom, to be dishonoured. Nor would I do that to anyone else. And, I, especially, would not enable people to behave that way towards others...no one should be made to feel bad because of their skin colour and heritage. I think it's dangerous to adopt that kind of herd or cult mentality, as it may lead to extremist and hurtful actions.

Mr. Prime Minister, I disagree with your assessment that Canadians are systemically racist...and, you do not speak on my behalf when you say we are. Furthermore, that is my right, as is anyone's (including any leaders of Provinces or municipalities), in a democratic society under which Canada is bound. I have nothing to atone for (I've never worn blackface, nor have I mocked another for his/her race/ethnicity/skin colour) and do not feel it's my duty to atone for anyone else's past behaviours. We all know that each person is responsible for his/her own actions...and that it's up to them to decide what to do about it, if anything.

We all have different life experiences and stories to tell...perhaps we can create a calm and peaceful environment in which to share them some day.

Until then, Mr. Trudeau, please stop calling all of us systemically racist. If there are problems, take the appropriate action and work calmly with people to address those specific concerns. For example, perhaps work with single-parent families and arrange for their kids to be paired with a Big Brother or a Big Sister, if those organizations still exist and are safe.

There must be many solutions that can be discovered if people are instilled with the confidence and are inspired to do so. Perhaps they can overcome their feelings of being marginalized if they are partnered with others (or mentors) who will help them in their journey to a better and more peaceful life.

Conversely, wrongly generalizing and labelling everyone (albeit, perhaps, inadvertently) day after day will not do the trick. It will only inflame that situation, create unnecessary tensions for all people, and will please or satisfy no one. All groups of differing ethnicities will be left feeling marginalized and placed in a lose-lose situation that's guaranteed to fail.

Should we not try and find common ground with others to celebrate, instead of highlighting and demonizing our differences? I think that most people are inherently good and want the best for themselves and others.

We know that there is some discrimination in all areas and aspects of society, not just based on race, that people have been grappling with for decades, e.g.,
  • physical violence and sexual abuse against, and the exploitation and human trafficking of, women and children (of all colours). I doubt whether they've felt very 'privileged' during those attacks or unlawful confinements. By the way, when women and children call 911 for help against their attackers, they want police to rescue them and arrest their assailants, not be met by a social worker who is untrained and unskilled in such events! To prevent police from helping women and girls in such situations is misogynistic, sexist and cruel...after all, women are taxpayers who pay for police protection, so do not deny them that right!
  • lesser-publicized ageism against seniors (of all colours), particularly low-income seniors. No one is marching in the streets on our behalf to advocate for the provision of adequate government pensions to cover the rising costs of housing (rent), medical services (optometry visits and eye care, dental visits and procedures, chiropractor and physio treatments) and prescriptions, as well as other goods and services, or is shouting through bullhorns to insist that proper protection and care be provided for those seniors who have been abused and maltreated in long-term care homes for decades. That situation was exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis shutdown, when family members were banned from visiting and providing their usual additional assistance and care for their loved ones. Some of these seniors may be war or peace-keeping veterans who've fought against tyranny and racism in other countries on our behalf. I doubt whether those seniors have felt very 'privileged' in these homes...and I doubt whether others, who are grappling with deciding whether to allocate more funds from their pensions towards food and housing or towards prescriptions and other medical needs, feel very 'privileged.'
  • the stigma of addiction -- whether it be to drugs (street or prescription), alcohol, food, etc. -- and the crippling feelings of isolation and despair that it brings to those afflicted, as well as the physical toll that these wreak on their bodies...e.g., the debilitating after-effects of near-death experiences, as well as death, itself. Once that stigma is applied to any one person (regardless of their colour, age, gender, and socioeconomic status), it never leaves and they are left to the judgements and whims of those with whom they come into contact...not all of those judgements and whims are pleasant. I doubt whether those desperate and in need of understanding and help in recovering feel very 'privileged.'
  • the stigma of physical and mental disabilities (afflicting people of all colours, ages, socioeconomic status, and gender). They are not only dealing with the limitations, themselves, but also the the frustrations caused by them. As with those suffering from addiction, not all of their interactions with others are pleasant. I doubt whether they feel very 'privileged.'

These are but a few examples of many sectors of society that bear some type of discrimination, or another.

Resolution of issues involving all types of discrimination comes from calm and respectful discussions, while maintaining open, attentive minds and ears and a closed mouth, in order to fully hear and understand each person/group's viewpoint. It won't happen if it's approached with a biased, accusatory attitude.

The key to success is having the desire to actively resolve, not tear apart or dismantle, conflict. Otherwise, the many bits that make up the whole of an issue get lost in the process and the situation remains unresolved. One method of conflict resolution that can be tried is described below.

But first, the actual issue that needs to be resolved must be correctly identified before it can be tackled. For example, perhaps the main issue of the excessive use of police force is not based, solely, on race, but encompasses a range of factors. (Presumably, any unwarranted or unlawful excessive use of force against any racial group is never acceptable...PERIOD). All of those potential factors would need to be uncovered by not limiting them to only one possibility at the outset...that of racial bias or discrimination. Otherwise, any hope for a successful reconciliation of the problem, in its entirety, is doomed for failure if it's hamstrung by such a narrow scope.

Equally, applying a 'knee-jerk-quick-fix' remedy such as "defunding the police" is no remedy at all...it does not fully address the problem...it would only exacerbate it and allow for more violence against the innocent and the nation, as a whole. Don't forget, all elected officials work FOR Canadians and have a duty to provide adequate security FOR their citizens, as does the Prime Minister who has a fiduciary responsibility for national security FOR the entire country. Currently, every Canadian citizen pays for police protection through their taxes, so they have the constitutional right to that protection...you may not, all of a sudden, relinquish your duty and deny Canadians that right!

In other words, be clear about what it is that you're trying to resolve and improve...and you're more likely to be successful. You may be surprised that the results were not quite what you expected. In fact, it's better to be devoid of any expectations on the outcome in order to avoid tainting the process.

Thanks for listening and for having the interest of all Canadians in mind as you tackle a whole multitude of issues on our behalf. It must be exhausting and, hopefully, rewarding, as well. Please know that I appreciate your commitment and dedication to all of us in this regard.

I think that most of us like to feel appreciated, rather than be shamed for something that all of us are not...especially my late Mom. 

Please do not vilify all Canadians because of a few bad apples...doing so will destroy the morale of the nation in a heartbeat. 

In closing, there are many good people in our country...and in the various police forces across Canada. It's my sincere hope that we hear more of that, along with their stories, for balance, for inspiration and for aspiration.

Have a great weekend and stay safe and healthy.

Best regards,
Candy Matheson


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The Art of Conflict Resolution


Just as there is a process into which an artist immerses himself/herself before creating a masterpiece, there is also a process that can be followed for people to resolve conflicts.

The next time you're about to have a "discussion" with someone who may have a differing opinion than you about an issue, you may want to ask him/her if they would like to:
  • be clear about the issue,
  • accurately identify and agree upon what you're both trying to achieve, and
  • effectively resolve an issue to your mutual satisfaction.

If he/she is willing, then it may be helpful if you both take a few moments to use the flow chart below to map out exactly what each of you desires...write out your answers separately, then compare notes. You're both more likely to resolve your situation or issue on a "win-win" basis if you both completely understand each other's points of view and desires. 

Resolving your issue may end up with you both simply "agreeing to disagree," respectfully, then moving on, with no hard feelings toward each other...you will likely develop a deeper relationship, as a result...a better place to be, rather than further apart, wouldn't you agree? And, you would both end up creating your own "masterpiece."

N.B. While you're discussing the issue, you may find that other issues surface...set those aside to deal with another time, using this method...stick to one issue at a time for best results.


P.S. If you're wrestling with several options or paths to follow on a single issue that involves only yourself, you can also use the above approach and play "devil's advocate" (take both sides) in order to decide which option/path would be best for you to implement.

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