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Brian Hodder: Racism rears its ugly head

Racism is not just a problem in big cities in other parts of the country. It is present right here, writes Brian Hodder. —
Racism is not just a problem in big cities in other parts of the country. It is present right here, writes Brian Hodder. — 123RF Stock Photo

When the federal budget came down near the end of February this year, one of the announcements that didn’t receive a great deal of attention was the budget item that allocated $23 million to combat racism across the country.

Brian Hodder
Brian Hodder

In this province, we pride ourselves on being a place that welcomes others with open arms, and many of us think of racism as a problem that can be found mostly on the mainland in large cities. While it is generally true that people in this province are open-minded, there are serious undercurrents of racism that run through our communities that we need to bring out into the open if we want to truly live up to our claim of being Canada’s friendliest province.

I had my own illusions about how non-racist we are shattered by a disturbing conversation I had this week with a woman in St. John’s. She identified herself as a grandmother who was concerned about her grandchildren, whom she cares for, and what they were being exposed to because of where she lived. She lived close to a building that provided low-cost housing for people who live with mental health and addictions.

Her complaint to me was that one of the tenants got intoxicated on a regular basis and would then yell and shout publicly until eventually passing out on the street; she did not want her grandchildren being exposed to this kind of behaviour.

What saddens me the most about this is that her grandchildren are likely being exposed to the same attitudes, and this increases the chances of such feelings being perpetuated.

Sounds pretty reasonable, right? I was inclined to have some sympathy for her situation until she continued with a statement to the effect that she wasn’t prejudiced against Inuit people but this tenant was an Inuit woman and all of them are like that. Her grandchildren should not have to be exposed to those kinds of people. As she got more worked up, she extended her feelings towards all of the tenants in the building because they were all on welfare, getting everything paid for them, and all they did was smoke and party and she was sick and tired of it going on in her neighbourhood.

I was gobsmacked and didn’t feel it would prove helpful to try to respond to her statements due to her heightened emotions and anger at the time. This woman probably doesn’t think she is racist, but her comments, and the anger associated with them, paint a clearer picture. While she did have some valid concerns about some behaviours that were happening around her, her message was lost completely in the racist rant that ensued once she had explained what the problem was.

What saddens me the most about this is that her grandchildren are likely being exposed to the same attitudes, and this increases the chances of such feelings being perpetuated.

Racism is a powerful force and it tends to cloud over some of our better human instincts. I wonder where this woman’s compassion was during these events. Who walks by someone lying passed out on the street without stopping to check and see if the person needs help or requires medical attention? She could have used this incident as a way to teach her grandchildren the value of being compassionate to those who are less fortunate, and maybe help teach them about the dangers of alcohol and addiction.

Sadly, I fear the lesson they were told was that Aboriginal people are drunks and they should stay away from them all. I would like to think that this is a rare feeling but I have heard similar comments about our Aboriginal Peoples in other circumstances.

I have also had to challenge some of my own preconceptions as I have been raised in this culture, as well, and have had to educate myself to challenge my own racist thoughts when they pop into my head. Such racist messages are harmful to all of us, and if they continue to persist unchallenged, I fear it will take more than $23 million to put a dent in the problem.

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Recent columns by this author

Brian Hodder: Working together for a safer community

Brian Hodder: Youth can be great role models in advocating for change

Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at bdhodder@hotmail.com.

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