Casual, unthinking racism is not forgivable

“I have an $8,000 oak living room set none of my kids want so I’m selling it. A Paki came by and offered me ninety bucks.”

This was said to me this morning by an old guy in the neighbourhood who sold his house and is moving out of the area. He’s been having garage sales to unload a lot of the stuff he’s accumulated over the years. I pass his house every day while walking Charlie and I often stop and shoot the breeze with him. Usually casual banter, nothing terribly important.

I was taken aback. “Who came by?” I asked. “An East Indian guy,” he said. “Oh,” I said, “I thought you called him a racist name.” “I’m a Canadian,” he said, “and people call me a Canuck. Isn’t it the same thing?” The conversation went downhill from there.

I suppose I could name him and shame him, but he could be any of thousands of people in any one of thousands of Canadian communities. Casual racism slides off their tongues as smoothly as shit slides through a goose. They don’t even think about it until someone points it out. Then they apologize and promise not to do it again. Sort of like Justin Trudeau.

We all know by now that he had a way of slathering on the brown shoe polish, wearing a caricature of a turban, and doing a passable imitation of Al Jolson. It was all in fun, he said. It was a long time ago, in 2001. It was a mistake, he’s sorry. Please forgive him. He won’t do it again. Oh. Now that he thinks about it, there was that one other time. He was in high school and put on some shoe polish and pretended to be Harry Belafonte singing Day-Oh.

This morning, when daylight came, I’m sure he wanted to go home. A third incident was revealed.

If Trudeau was a Conservative candidate in an obscure, unwinnable backwater riding, all would be forgiven the minute he owned up to it and said sorry. Andrew Scheer said as much when talking about the standards applied when selecting candidates. He doesn’t set a very high bar when judging ethical behaviour. If he did, he wouldn’t have many candidates.

Trudeau is not a Conservative candidate. He’s the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and the Prime Minister of our country. When he was in high school, and when he was a drama teacher in a private school in Vancouver, he was a son of the one-per-cent. Now he’s a leader of the one-per-cent. As such, he thinks he has a bottomless bucket full of get out of jail free cards.

He spent one after accepting an expenses paid Christmas vacation on the Agha Khan’s private island. The ethics commissioner said he shouldn’t have done it. I don’t have as much money as Trudeau but I still pay for my own vacations.

He spent another one when he made a complete arse of himself during a state visit to India. He and his family inappropriately dressed up in traditional Indian costumes. Fortunately, they forgot to pack their brown shoe polish.

He spent another three or four last year when he was caught pressuring the Attorney General to resolve criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin. The Attorney-General at the time was the first Indigenous woman to ever hold the position.

Now he’s at it again. But it gets worse. At his Winnipeg press conference today he admitted that there could be more than three instances of racist behaviour in his background. He couldn’t remember all three of the incidents he’s apologizing for and acknowledges there may be more that he doesn’t remember.

Think about that for a moment. It’s like my neighbour who talked about an East Indian man low-balling an offer to buy his furniture. Racist language like calling a man a Paki, or racist actions like putting on blackface, should not be everyday things that happen without a second thought.

Casual, absent-minded, unthinking racism is the bedrock of the systemic discrimination suffered by people of colour, Indigenous people, LGBTQ people, women, and people with disabilities. It is not acceptable, and it is not forgivable.

1 Comment

  1. Spot on Alan. Inexcusable behaviour from anyone, much less a Prime Minister and leader of a major political party.

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