America Burning…

It’s hard to focus on anything these days except the state of America. Even a global pandemic can’t hold back the centuries of racial injustice perpetrated on African Americans and other minorities. As a Canadian, I look at the nightly news these days with a shake of my head. Disappointed in what was once the great dream of America, being transformed into a nightmare. I am not shocked however.

Any student of American history, can understand the seeds for this discord were sown centuries ago. Actually it was done on July 4, 1776 to be precise. With the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers stated infamously “All men are created equal”, and then purposefully limited who could be defined as a man. Racial inequality has been a part of the American way of life since before it was born. They have never let go of that tradition. Heroes such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and going back as far as Frederick Douglass have fought for every inch of freedom. Their stories running parallel to the American experiment.

Police brutality against African Americans is now as American as apple pie. A pathetic last gasp of white supremacy of a social order more content with oppression than empowerment. Recently a quote from Dr. King keeps appearing in my social media feeds:

The state of America is the result in a catastrophic breakdown in communication. A failure to listen to those suffering from inequality and injustice by those in power. A failure to listen to cries for compassion and empathy, over the comfort of the myth of individual greatness. America suffers through a pandemic due to large swaths of it’s population unwilling to show compassion and care to it’s less fortunate. It is a culture that has forced those who have lived with this injustice for generations to weigh the consequences and come to the conclusion the risk is acceptable. That is a powerful statement unto itself. America may not survive this upheaval.

As a Canadian, all I can do is watch the nightly news and learn. The lesson here for us north of the border is to listen. It is naive and insulting to those of us with intelligence to claim Canada is without the blight of racism. Ours takes on a different form. It is institutionalized and more polite, but it is there. I am white and privileged. I have never experienced that form of discrimination in my life. To be honest I never want to. So it is paramount on me to listen to those who have. Their experiences and stories cannot be marginalized. The consequences of failing to learn from their lessons is too great.

I don’t know what the path forward is in Canada. I do know that the American approach is a failure. Ignoring injustice in favour of a status quo that benefits a privileged few, is a recipe for disaster. I am emboldened that our leadership is acknowledging the racial and social injustices that do indeed exist within our country. Perhaps it is the first step towards creating a sustaining dialogue to overcome this blight.

We in Canada, pride ourselves on our multiculturalism. Our history tells our students of how proud we should be that Canada was the last stop on the Underground Railroad. We look at our diverse cities as modern and progressive institutions, enviable to the world. However, we must not let complacency and willful ignorance make these accomplishments paper thin. There is a dream of Canada, I believe we all want to live in. To get there is hard work, and requiring listening, understanding and compromise so that we may all get to enjoy the benefits of Canada. The consequences of failing to listen to each other can be viewed nightly these days on the news. That is the lesson of America.

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