Wednesday, March 30, 2005

this solidarity, comraderie, and partnership building

I spent the last 2 weekends out of province. M and I went to NYC to celebrate JC's ascendency and have GTs.

The weekend before that I was in Calgary. I was short-listed for a prestigious Award of Excellence by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. Yes, an honour being nominated and all that. But it really was. I had to get up on stage with 5 other finalists and talk about my work. I went first (must've been alphabetical). It was humbling being in a row with all these amazing young adults (under 30), committed like myself, tired like myself, but being honoured for our dedication and resilience for a cause, a riteous cause, we presume.

The winner was an amazing Hatian-Canadian woman living in Quebec City who has started a 50-organization strong network, which is countering racist propaganda being spread by an immensely popular radio station there. The station is so popular they have a fanatical club, some members of which have threatened this poor woman and her colleagues. It's a real struggle, old-school. She was inspiring.

I had written an acceptance speech, because the winner had to say a few words. I didn't win, and it was too long anyway, but for S&Gs, here's what I wrote down:

If I had stayed in Halifax, I'd never have been nominated for this award. I'd probably be working for the government, or one of a few ENGOs on some educational or social marketing campaign to get people reducing, reusing, recycling in some way. I'd be another white guy in Halifax, scheming up ways to influence other white people in Halifax. I'd care about issues of race social justice, but they wouldn't be my main focus, and my work probably wouldn't take the needs of non-white people, or white immigrants, into consideration. In fact, my work might not take the needs of people into conseration at all, except in the most abstract manner of thinking and action.

But I chose to study in Toronto, a city that had always made me feel alive, energized, and kind of like a bigshot. A city that known for its multiculturalism, where half of the residents were born outside of Canada, and where visible minorities are more visible than they are minor. And in this social climate, only the fools take race for granted - though there are no shortage of fools anywhere.

It was in this social climate that I experienced and continue to experience a superb education in race and cultural relations, in social justice, and in the powerful nuances of systemic and individual racism, and culturalism. For this I owe Toronto a great debt of gratitude.

But, though Toronto Region welcomes close to 1/2 of newcomers to this country, the welcome comes with clandestine caveats and conditions [who can resist alliterations?], beyond the official hoops through which refugees and immigrants must jump. I'm sure we've all heard comments of this nature: "Why can't THEY just adjust? This isn't like where THEY come from." Or "Even if she could learnd proper English, she just wouldn't fit with US." Or, "What does a Master's degree from China REALLY mean? Ten years of experience sure, but what about here in CANADA?"

To many people these comments are subtly if not completely innocuous, but to me they indicate a deep-rooted problem of attitude, a problem with CANADIAN culture. Though we may TOLERATE diversity, we fail to engage with people who are different from us.

I've been so fortunate to live and work in Toronto on these issues, with an environmental institution, and sustainability is still one of my core values.

What I've learned is this: you can't GET people to change their behaviour without a shift in attitude, and you can't GET someone to change an attitude unless you are willing to take that journery with them. This means open engagement with all kinds of people, and lots of them. I think that wsocial justice, sustainablility, and human health are goals almost all Canadians can agree on. Those of us using a great deal of our time, energy, indeed our lives, working to achieve these goals, need to strive for broad engagement with open, honest dialogue, and thoughtful action, if we are to secceed in creating societies in which we can all thrive.

This conference, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, and the National Youth Anti-racist Network, are all ways to achieve this broad engagement. As we tackle racism and other isms, confront bigots of all kinds, and attempt to dismantle systemic barriers, it is this solidarity, comraderie, and partnership building, that will allow us to shoulder great burdens with the strength that only inclusive community can muster.

For this reason I wish to humbly thank CRRF for this recognition of my network's efforts. And even more importantly for bringing us all together in the spirit of open and honest, yet critical and self-reflexive, exchange.

Thank you.

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