November has been filled with surprises so far. Here it is mid-month and at the time of this writing we are enjoying weather that reminds us of early Fall. The leaves are mostly gone but the memory of the glorious reds, yellows, oranges and browns are fresh in our minds and remind us of why we treasure our country and its changing seasons.
We have just completed a very successful gathering of two hundred of the Sector’s leaders at the OCASI Executive Directors’ Forum and the inspiration from the various panels and workshops will hold us in good stead throughout the winter and into the new fiscal year as we program plan and identify priorities for policy advocacy.
Then there was the outcome of the American election. The vote took place on the eve of our Forum, and it is an understatement to say that many of us were stunned by the results. While some like yours truly had an inkling that the results would favour the president-elect given the vitriolic responses he was receiving from primarily white audiences – but audiences that in appearance crossed gender, economic class and even ethnic lines. There are many lessons here to be unpacked but I’ll leave that to the Americans.
Closer to home, many of us were bemused by the early morning message from Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch celebrating the Trump win and claiming an affinity to his messages. It was only a week or two before that the leadership candidate was claiming on our national public broadcaster that it was unfair to compare her campaign message of vetting immigrants for their ‘Canadian values’ with Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric. How quickly things change. How worrisome that the othering of immigrants and refugees is being mainstreamed. Even more concerning, are the polls that show two thirds of Canadians surveyed support the idea of vetting of immigrants.
To combat these growing expressions of xenophobia, OCASI teamed up with the City of Toronto to create a public education campaign that speaks to issues of Islamophobia (with the arrival of Syrian refugees we saw an increase and escalation of acts against Muslims and those assumed to be Muslim) and issues of anti-Black racism. The website torontoforall.ca has resources and information to inform the public conversations that the campaigns are generating.
Those of us who come from an activist community but are located in formal organizations where the conversations about the issues are taking place within very defined, often friendly and polite spaces, sometimes forget how prevalent these beliefs are and how resentful and resistant some people are to the idea of equity. One troll in his many postings on the campaign (all negative) said “equity (for those who are marginalized because of race, gender, disability, etc. means the disadvantaging others (those with privilege). I responded “that for those with privilege, equity looks like oppression”, and that is deeply unfortunate.
However, privilege is another concept that the campaigns’ most vitriolic opposition denies even exist. One tweet suggested that the concept of privilege due to skin colour is the “new communist rhetoric”. Others have created the hashtag “#anti-white racism”, accused the campaign of race baiting, questioned ‘the government” (I assume they mean city of Toronto) role in supporting and funding the campaign and have at times flooded the campaigns’ social media spaces with stereotypical, racist, Islamophobic discussion points. The most jarring for me was the personal attack that was grounded in what African -descended communities have named misogynoir- sexism experienced specifically by Black women. It is the first time I have been called the ‘c word’ in a public (virtual) space.
This persistent opposition to issues of equity and even the discussion of these issues in the public sphere, supported by public dollars with an expectation of change in people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviour as well as systemic change makes the point for why campaigns like these are necessary and urgent. As those who oppose the agenda of equity, pluralism and liberation gain ground and become increasingly vocal in selling their message of the need to maintain the status quo –structures and systems that marginalize and oppress, a culture that privileges whiteness and maleness and money, we must craft a response and put forward the vision of a Toronto, Ontario and Canada that provide equitable opportunities that result in equitable outcomes for all.
Visit our site torontoforall.ca and join the conversation.