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There is outrage – as surely there should be – when a young black woman is roughed up by police at a Halifax Walmart store in an incident that bears all the markings of racially motivated injustice.
The Halifax Regional Police and Walmart will get their chance to challenge that allegation when Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) investigates. The police and Walmart are assured of just treatment, consideration that seems to have been denied 23-year-old Santina Rao, who, with her two small children, was shopping in the store when she was assailed by the cops with – apparently unfounded – accusations of shoplifting.
That’s how it works folks. Discrimination, racism and injustice rain down on people from racially visible groups hundreds of times every single day, and now and again someone or some outfit gets caught in a particularly egregious act that smacks of racism, and other instruments of the state are called in to clean it up.
Ostensibly, SIRT will investigate an isolated incident of institutional racism. In fact, they are the plodding mechanism that protects white men in power from ever having to display a measure of moral courage because, for the most part, they have none to display.
If they did, we’d have heard from them by now. If they did, and they were honest, they would admit that acts of discrimination, racism and racially motivated injustice are not in the least isolated, and having recognized the fact they, and we, would do something – strike that – would do everything, to eliminate racism from our midst, root and branch.
But we don’t.
Instead, we perpetuate a system of white privilege that discriminates against and disadvantages black, brown and Indigenous people because from our positions of white privilege we can’t, or we won’t, see that discrimination and racism permeate our society.
We point to the programs and “protections” that we have put in place as proof that we are addressing racism in all its ugly forms, when in fact we are in denial, willfully blind or quite happy to keep things as they are.
Lynn Jones is an African-Nova Scotian woman who I know, mostly because we come from the same hometown. She’s fought racial injustice her whole life, and she shows me more patience than I’ve earned, as her words penetrate the layers of unconsciousness I’ve acquired because I don’t endure daily reminders that I’m not of that privileged majority. Excuse the double negative, but I think you get the drift.
I am of the privileged majority. I just don’t think there ought to be such a thing. And, as an aside, white Nova Scotians who don’t recognize that they are part of the privileged majority are the subject of much mirth in minority communities, who are not immune to making sport of fools.
A wise man once told me that all fools are not racists, but all racists are fools.
Nova Scotians of good conscience are justifiably incensed that Santina Rao and her two little kids were racially profiled and then she was tossed around by the cops who descended in force at the behest of – who? – a Walmart manager? She knew exactly why she was attracting so much attention, she was offended by it and she reacted accordingly.
The white men – mostly men – in positions of power will say they haven’t got all the evidence. They have to wait to see what the SIRT discovers. “There will be no rush to judgment here.” That’s mighty white of them.
But African-Nova Scotians, Mi’kmaw, and other racially visible people have all the evidence anyone should ever need. They experience it daily, in the emergency rooms, the courtrooms, on the streets, in the stores, in the human resources departments, in coffee shops and restaurants and classrooms.
And what is our – the white, privileged majority – response? Well, it generally goes kind of like this: If they have a problem they should take it to the Human Rights Commission. Or, if you experience culturally insensitive treatment, our patient relations team is here for you.
Always the onus is on the target of racism to identify its source, bring it to someone’s attention, and maybe it will be dealt with as the isolated incident we’re sure it was.
We are a province awash in “isolated incidents.”
I’ve endured just about enough self-inflicted damage over the years to know that the first step on the road to recovery is admitting the problem.
Nova Scotia, we have a racism problem and its innocent victims aren’t the ones who can fix it. God knows they’ve been trying, mostly on their own, for far too long already.