Don’t let others define you

What is the most important aspect of a person’s identity?

Is it their professional standing, their personal values, their politics, their wealth, their social status, their sexual orientation, their race or their gender?

Who determines what aspect of a person’s identity most accurately defines that person?

Yesterday, March 21, was the day set aside by the United Nations to be celebrated annually as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Generally, too many persons pay minimal attention to the issue of racial discrimination.

Why do so many persons consider this issue irrelevant to their lives?

Is it not important that discrimination is one of the main features of human existence?

Is it not important that racial discrimination is the most widely practiced forms of discrimination?

Anti-Black racism has become such a major feature of life in Canada, the USA and most West European societies that it is one of the defining features of these countries’ national identity.

One explanation for this ugly state of race relations is the evolution of a stark and peculiar attitude towards persons of African descent. In addition to their so-called status as “non-White”, people of African descent are also seen as the descendants of slaves. Since White privilege automatically implies an inferior status for those who are not White, then the experience of slavery has added another massive burden on humanity.

That combination has served to permanently entrench racist concepts, racist government policies and racist behavior by individuals.

On the one hand, it is possible to estimate in dollars and cents the cumulated value of centuries of slave labour, as well as the compound interest payable on that estimated value.

On the other hand, punitive damages for the related deprivation of all aspects of the slaves’ human rights  and for the psychological consequences still being experienced by the descendants of slaves today are simply enormous, even if they are a lot more difficult to put into reasonably reliable figures.

Those two irrefutable considerations form the concrete basis for the reparations being demanded by individuals, communities and countries from the individuals, families, companies and countries that benefitted and still benefit financially from the commercial operations of slavery and the slave trade.

Out of those centuries of empire-building on a global scale, the current constitutions, laws and institutions of Canada and the USA are infused with systemic racism.

In recognition of that reality, Canada’s federal government, Ontario’s provincial government and the municipal government of Toronto have been actively putting in place ant-Black racism policies and programs. And for good reason: systemic challenges require systemic remedies and systemic corrective measures.

Those newer remedies and corrective measures are meant to strengthen all the existing policy components (such as the provincial Human Rights Commissions) that serve to address racial discrimination.

It is not by chance that the spirit and letter of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms adequately reflect this year’s theme for the celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The theme is “promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of combating racial discrimination”.

Similarly, it is not by chance that, among the ten rules of success attributed to Nelson Mandela, three of his motivational principles are regularly cited.

Demand respect. Take a stand. Speak with conviction.

But the motivational principle which unfortunately receives less attention is one of the most powerful of them. It calls upon each and every victim of any form of oppression, disrespect and discrimination to “ prove them wrong”.

Prove that the abusers and purveyors of negative and racist stereotypes are wrong, by working hard to achieve success for ourselves, our communities and our countries.

In this year’s provincial and municipal elections, demand of candidates and political parties that they give concrete and public commitments to fight racial discrimination.

Reject the forces that are solely focused on budget cuts and reducing social support programs for marginalized communities.

Make each and every vote count for the policy platform which is increasingly concentrating on financial provisions and practical measures to give respectful and equitable treatment to those who need it the most.