“There’s lots of problems around the world…We’ve got to take care of home base and make sure we’re the beacon of that positive love and respect.”
- Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson
Charlottesville, Virginia. A picturesque city of less than 50,000. Home of the University of Virginia. Former home of two United States Presidents. Unfortunately, the events of a fateful August day put the American city on the map for much more as a result of the hate, horror, racism and radicalism that took centre stage and sparked an outcry all around the world.
A white nationalist ‘Unite the Right’ rally turned ugly after a car plowed into a group of counter protesters, leaving one dead and over 30 injured. Anger over the removal of Confederate monuments has caused outrage in many U.S. cities with reports of race-fueled violence and white supremacy on the rise even before the unfortunate events in Charlottesville.
From Boston to Vancouver and Barcelona to Quebec City, attacks, rallies, and counter protests have been popping up across the globe with racism seemingly at the center of it all.
Days after the incident in Virginia, Vancouverites took to the streets to have their voices heard. A march organized by Worldwide Coalition Against Islam and the Cultural Action Party at City Hall was met with strong opposition as part of a counter rally organized by Stand Up to Racism Metro Vancouver.
With over 4,000 protestors in attendance in support of tolerance and against xenophobia, the far-right and anti-Islamic protestors were more than outnumbered and overpowered, prompting support from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tweeted his praise for the city, and Mayor Gregor Robertson, who had encouraging words for the large crowd. “There’s lots of problems around the world…,” Robertson said at the event. “We’ve got to take care of home base and make sure we’re the beacon of that positive love and respect.”
Large groups touting love and the support of Canadian political figures are encouraging for a city that welcomes citizens of all racial and ethnic backgrounds but shouldn’t overshadow the fact that a racist event was even planned for the city; one among many across the world. Why, in the most ethnically diverse province in the country, did it happen? Why are these events happening now?
“Unfortunately, the question is not why now but why did people not care until now,” says Annie Ohana, a member of Stand Up To Racism Metro Vancouver. “Speaking to those who belong to the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of colour] community and any other marginalized group, it is very clear that racism, rallies and attacks are nothing new.” Ohana believes the recent uptick in violent events stemming from racial bigotry is a result of outspoken politicians who equate minorities with derogatory terms, making the discriminatory behaviour acceptable.
“It seems as the pressure builds due to refugee realities the world over, and globalization brings more and more people to work from around the world, we still have yet to deal with Eurocentric ideologies that result in us thinking that anyone not white is “less than”/problematic.”
If certain world leaders and high-powered politicians are demonstrating this attitude as acceptable, it is up to anyone in opposition to speak up and show them otherwise. While a counter protest isn’t necessarily going to stop racist behaviour, showing solidarity with those marginalized is certainly part of the solution. “We cannot let the hateful vitriol of white supremacy gain any traction in our city,” Isabelle Rowe Codner, one of several organizers of Vancouver’s counter rally, told the Daily Hive. “If they go unopposed, what message would that be sending to our Muslim, immigrant, and otherwise affected neighbours?”
Ohana had a similar sentiment when asked why it is so important for anti-racism groups to be heard. “Speaking up about human and civil rights should never be considered special. We are all deserving of those rights, and when they are attacked, [we] must stand in a loud and clear way. It is also clear that whether you are “white”, Sikh, Muslim, BIPOC – that we all are connected to the systemic discrimination in our world, and that we standing together have the solution.”
And that solution is both easy and complicated. “We cannot let a single resident of Canada feel that they don’t receive the full complement of human and civil rights.” A message from Ohana that seems simple enough and overtly obvious and yet necessary in light of recent rallies.
“We need to show that extremism does not pay off, that any truly successful country, where every person is safe, free, and successful, only happens when we come together,” says Ohana. “Specifically, we need to identify common roots in all religions, we need to abide by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and realize that those laws stand above all, and that any power dynamics that marginalize, are quite simply wrong. We must teach that refugees are not a scourge, that Islam is not a violent religion, that concepts such as race and “white” are in fact man made constructs made to put others down.”
Standing up to hate may be the only way to shut it down.
Photos: COUTESY OF Stand up to racism metro vancouver/ facebook,Jag nagra, ISTOCK