Protests in Ferguson, Missouri, November 25, 2014

Racism is everywhere and everyday. It has a 500 year history. People who experience racism get angry. And understandably. The Centre for Race and Culture has a vision of a society free of racism. We have direct communication with many people who experience this form of discrimination and most often we are incredibly frustrated that there is no recourse for their pain. A contractor is sidelined by an unscrupulous white businessman and has evidence to indicate it is due to racism. What is to be done? Police can’t deal with it. The association of professionals is controlled by the discriminator and there is no hope of recourse with a complaint to them. There is not an opportunity to make a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission because it does not involve employment, goods and services, tenancy, publications and notices, or membership in trade unions. http://www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca/HR_in_AB_view-only.pdf. The contractors, originally from outside Canada, are kind and giving people. They want to do good business. They want to act fairly. But they are being sabotaged by one racist human.

A moving company arrives to move furniture for an organization. The white man doing the moving has “choice” words for the people he encounters. Words which are blatantly racist toward the people who have hired him. What do they do? Police can’t help because nobody was assaulted. Lawyer has nothing clear to act on.

Gary Moostoos is evicted from City Centre Mall in Edmonton and has the presence of mind to RECORD his interaction with security personnel. Finally, an incident hits the headlines due to his courage. http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/sunnews/canada/archives/2014/10/20141029-090619.html.

The current mass protests in Ferguson, Missouri, USA need to be noted. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/25/us-usa-missouri-shooting-idUSKCN0J80PR20141125. Throughout the past 500 years, since colonization, key incidents like this have been a spark to ignite a huge flame. The kindling for the fire is the accumulated anger of all people who experience racism. It is not necessarily a reaction to the specifics of this incident. The anger of being treated unjustly and without humanity for centuries is the cause. We need to stand up and pay attention to these protests because all must understand what is being protested. 500 years of racism.

Charlene Hay
Executive Director
Centre for Race and Culture

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Tata Madiba, with love and remembrance

By guest blogger Kamshi Kanavathy

It must have been around 1995.  I was doing my teaching practicum at Girls High School, formally for Whites only.  I was the only non-White member of staff and there must have been about five non-white students.  There was much skepticism about Mandela and the new changes in the country at the time so it was with much surprise that I was given the new South African flag and told to prepare my students for Nelson Mandela’s visit to our capital city, Pietermaritzburg. 

We walked with our tiny flags to the main road where Mandela and his entourage were expected to pass and waited with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.  I can’t remember much of that experience, except straining my eyes into the vehicles that seemed to whizz by me a bit too quickly for my poor sighted eyes.  I do remember catching a glimpse of Mandela in the back seat of one of the vehicles.  I also remember turning around and seeing absolute joy and exhilaration in the faces of the other teachers who always seemed to know I was there but never quite acknowledged my presence.  I was young, naïve, and confused.

Fast forward eighteen years:  I am in my kitchen in Edmonton, Canada.  I usually log onto news channels during the course of the day such as Al Jazeera English, CTV, Channel 4 News from the UK or checking messages on Facebook while listening to South African radio stations online. Today however, I was busy preparing a hearty meal of roast chicken, mash and vegetables.  My husband had been bugging one of his farm friends for a home-grown chicken.  He finally got it so I didn’t want to mess up this meal, in spite of a strange throbbing sensation in my head, like a beating blood vessel about to burst.  Like on the day I saw Madiba, I was excited about the meal, but afraid of what this beating in my head could be.

Finally, the meal was done and just in time.  My husband walked in just as I was washing up.  I went to the door to greet him.  He kissed me, hugged me and said, “so sorry about Mandela, you alright”.  I looked at him curiously and replied, “what, why, what happened?”.  He said, “didn’t you hear, were you not on the internet?”  “no”, I replied, “I was busy preparing your dinner, almost burnt your chicken”, I joked.   As if he didn’t hear me he said, “Nelson Mandela died today, Love”.

For what seemed like an eternity I just stood there, staring at him but not seeing him.  Instead, I saw that image of Mandela in the backseat of a vehicle, this time going by in slow motion.  I felt tears welling up in my eyes.   I knew Mandela was ill, I knew he was 95 years old, I knew this day was coming, but still.  Before the tears could overwhelm me, I ran to the laptop, located Channel 4 news, and watched as the screen filled with a picture of Madiba.  I blinked at the date, 1918-2013.

I opened another tab and logged on to ecr.co.za, East Coast Radio, my favourite South African radio station.  The sound of Madiba’s voice filled the room, a recording of one of his speeches.  Then the announcement, a news clip of people gathering outside his house in Houghton, some still in their pajamas, then a song, Come with me Down Paradise Road by Joy.  I always loved singing along to this song.  Still, this can’t be.  I opened yet another tab and located Radio Jacaranda, broadcasting in English and Afrikaans out of Gauteng Province. The homepage was filled with blogs and pictures of a smiling Tata, the same announcements, another song, Circle of Life by Elton John. Finally, I logged onto Facebook.  A message from my brother popped up, a quote from some one about Mandela, and the undeniable words, “Rest in peace, Madiba”.

I had to reply, I had to write something.  By now, tears were rolling down my face. Wiping them away after every letter, I typed, “Humba Kahle, Tata” and clicked enter.  I looked at the message on the screen and thought, shoot, I think I spelled “hamba” wrong.

By this time my poor, tired, and very hungry husband was picking at the chicken.  I dried my face, took a deep breath, logged onto Netflix, watched a sitcom to get my mind on something else, and enjoyed our meal, the throbbing in my head strangely gone.

Later, at around 9pm, I logged back on to East Coast Radio, and couldn’t get off again.  It was 6am in South Africa. Usually, the morning show involves a team of presenters of different races, news readers, traffic reporters and sports reporters, all joking around, making prank calls, laughing, playing music to get listeners up and to work through traffic jams and delays, as happily and stress free as possible. But not today. There was one lone voice, greeting listeners, telling them the sad news as tactfully as possible, (after all, people were just waking up), encouraging them to call in to the station if they were alone with no one to reach out to, urging drivers to put their headlights on today to show respect for Madiba. 

Except for the time my grandmother died, there was never another time that I really wanted to be back home, mourning with everyone, standing outside Madiba’s house in my pajamas, just being there.  I opened another tab to Radio Jacaranda and the mood was the same.  There were tributes from local people, children, celebrities and world leaders.  All songs played on both stations were in memory of Mandela, songs that celebrated his life, his legacy, songs that illustrated what he meant to us, to South Africa, to Africa and to the world.  Dance with my Father by Luther Vandross brought another flood of tears.  All the radio and television stations in South Africa had cancelled their usual programming to pay tribute.

Radio Jacaranda also has a team of fun-loving, jokey presenters, all White, but like on East Coast, one lone voice spoke.  Later, he got the others to share their thoughts.  One of the presenters told the story of how she was brought up to believe that Mandela was a bad man.  She never knew what he looked like because they were not allowed to see pictures of him.  Later, when she was studying journalism, her class had to attend a press conference.  Mandela was there.  She couldn’t help it.  She just stared at him.  Here was this apparently bad person IN THE FLESH!  Mandela must have sensed her eyes on him because he looked up, straight at her.  His hands were on his knees.  With the slightest movement, he lifted his palm and gave her a small wave with the slightest smile on his face.  That was it, she was hooked on him ever since.

Another presenter talked about a concert he attended where Mandela danced on stage, doing his usual Mandela Shuffle in his well-recognized Mandela Shirt, and urging the audience to get up and dance with him.  I knew instantly what concert that was and before he could start the song I started singing, “Assimbonanga” by Johnny Clegg.  I quickly located the video on Youtube.  I muted the sound on the video so we could listen to the presenter instead.  My husband and I watched the video as the song played over the radio station.  After a while, the presenter’s voice came on over the music, full of emotion, “can you just see it, can you see that big smile on his face, that shuffle?”  Yes, we could see it, the image of Mandela that people will remember forever!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGS7SpI7obY

Tata, you smiled, and the world smiled with you,

You laughed, and the world laughed with you,

You danced, and the world danced with you

You Raise Me Up by Westlife illustrates our relationship with Mandela like no other;

You raised us up so we could stand on mountains,

you raised us up to walk on stormy seas,

we were strong when we were on your shoulders,

you raised us up to more than we could be.

Hamba Kahle, Tata,

Ngiyabonga

Lala Kakuhle

Explanation of Terms:       Pronunciation:                    Meaning                   

Assimbonanga           –           (are-seem-bow-nunga)        We have not seen him

Hamba Kahle, Tata    –           (hum-ha gush-lair)                Go well, Father (Zulu)

Ngiyabonga                –           (gee-ya-bonga)                      Thank you (Zulu)

Lala Kakuhle              –           (la-la ga-goosh-lair)              Sleep well (Xhosa)

There is no literal translation for the word goodbye in Zulu.  In a home scene for example, the person living in the house would say “go well” to the person leaving, while the person leaving would say, “stay well” to the person of the house.


“Captin Phillips” strays into Troubled Waters with Simplistic and Racist Portrayal of Somalis

by Arsheen Devjee

Captain Phillips, the newly released Hollywood thriller starring Tom Hanks and directed by Paul Greengrass (the director of Bourne Identity) hit the box office with roaring reviews. A suspense filled thriller, it definitely captivated me; but there was something more to the suspense that made my eyebrows raise.

The movie was based off of the 2009 incident where the American cargo ship, AV Maersk Alabama, was hijacked while sailing around the horn of Africa. Hanks acted as the calm, rational, and clever captain of the AV Maersk Alabama, Captain Richard Phillips, who was able to reason through difficult situations. Captain Phillips was given plenty of screen time before he boarded ship to establish the context he was coming from. Meanwhile, Captain Phillips’ counterpart, Muse, played by Barkhad Abdi from Minnesota, is portrayed as an erratic, villager that won a draw of hands to be, what seemed like, randomly picked from a mob of young Somali men vying for a position on the pirate vessel. Very little background on who Muse was or what kind of life he came from was provided, as he was quite literally woken up and tossed in the mob of men vying for employment as a pirate. It is at this point where the movie fails to bring justice to piracy off the Somali coast, as no context for it is given. The movie fails to mention the civil war in Somalia, the consequent illegal fishing of the once protected Somali territorial waters by international fisheries and the humble beginnings of the piracy movement as a tool of self-defense for Somali fishing waters.

Muse is juxtaposed with Captain Phillips who is portrayed as a tough captain, tough on his own fleet as well as himself.  Although Greengrass did paint Muse with shades of empathy here and there, Muse was largely a scary pirate with an AK, no real context or life story.

From here on, the movie basically follows the regular Hollywood story of race: the responsible white man being attacked by crazy weapon bearing black men. The white man through his good nature and wits, comes out on top. Without an established context to what Muse was doing and where he came from, it was disappointing to see one of Hollywood’s best films of the year follow the old story of depicting the “African” as violent, erratic and crazy.

Greengrass’s defense, when asked about this depiction was that other Somalis (mainly the actors) did not find it racist or inaccurate, and therefore it was not. Interestingly, the real Captain Phillips is currently being sued by many of his crew for irresponsibly putting their lives in danger during the hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama. Captain Phillips was allegedly repeatedly warned ahead of time of the pirates present near the Somali shore, and ignored the warnings. He chose to sail 300 miles from the shore as opposed to the advised “at least 600 miles” away. This mismatched depiction of the “real” MV Maersk Alabama  hijacking adds some food for thought, as to whose character depictions can be stretched, and in which direction and why.


Who do we Think we Are? Examining the Quebec Values Charter as a Human Rights Issue

Time and time again, Canada has been defined as a nation whose core and foundational values allow Canadians to position ourselves as human rights advocates. What it means to ‘be Canadian’ has been defined through national narratives reproduced in our text books and our mainstream media that construct Canada as an inclusive ‘cultural mosaic’, a peacekeeper, a country devoid of a colonial history….and the list goes on.  Fortunately, many Canadians have fought against these narratives, naming them for what they are – myths that deliberately ignore the violations of human rights in the past and present.

While I have read articles and listened to interviews that report on both sides of the debate, I cannot help but notice what people are not talking about.

It seems that what is missing from this debate is the recognition that a kipa, a hijab, a turban, and all of the other so called ‘religious symbols’ that are at the centre of both the ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments are, in fact, not religious symbols. Unlike a chain with a crucifix, a kipa (for example) is not a religious symbol, but rather a practice of the Jewish faith. If we begin from this point, then we can argue that under international standards this proposed Charter is a violation of human rights for it denies people their inherent rights to practice their religion.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” As a signatory of the Declaration, Canada has committed to promoting human rights within civil society both nationally and internationally and to secure their universal observance. Thus, though reframing the Quebec Values Charter as a violation of human rights has important legal implications, I am currently more concerned with what it might mean for Canadians to redefine our sense of collective identity through this reframing.

I am hopeful that conversations about what the Quebec Values Charter means for ‘us’ holds open many opportunities to engage in difficult conversations about how to be advocates and promoters of human rights without denying the past and present violations committed in ‘our’ name.

Ana Laura Pauchulo


How Canadian Schools Fail Aboriginal Youth. A personal reflection by guest blogger Kamshi Kanavathy.

Before I decided to move to Canada, I had done what I believed to be extensive qualitative and quantitative research on Canadian cultures, religions, peoples, foods, climates, etc. I recall the smiling faces on the “Welcome to Canada” pages and the extensive talk on multiculturalism, friendliness, social cohesion, inclusiveness and so on.  My research however, was not as extensive as I believed.  I was not prepared for the many negatives I have encountered, including the shockingly uncensored hatred and ill-treatment of Aboriginal people in this country.

 

When I did a tour of what is referred to as “Indian Country” in America, I was told about how aboriginals get blamed and arrested as the perpetrators of fights in night-clubs.  I never expected to witness that scenario in Canada, in an educational institution of all places.

 

A fight broke out one day, like they so often do I was told, but this time was a bit different.  It involved a White boy (let’s call him Chad) and an Aboriginal boy (we’ll call him Danny).  Apparently, Danny kicked Chad so badly that an ambulance had to be summoned.  Chad spent the next few days recovering in hospital whilst Danny was arrested, taken to the police station, charged, had to appear in court and was suspended from school.  

 

I did not witness the actual fight, but according to the other kids Chad was “asking for it”, he was always “saying things to Danny”, “bating him”, “gunning for a reaction”.   At first I didn’t know what to make of it.  To me at the time, it was just another fight in that school.

 

I soon realized who Chad actually was!  He was that skinny foul-mouthed kid, slumped down on his chair, sitting at the back of one of my classes, shouting profanities, never doing any work, disturbing other kids from working.  I was an Educational Assistant busy helping an assigned special needs student at the time. I barely paid much attention to Chad.

 

However, some time later, I was working with an Aboriginal kid, I’ll call him Winston. Winston loved having friends and entertaining them – even to the expense of the teachers’ wrath.  Unfortunately, Winston and I ended up in the same class as Chad.  And they became friends, sitting next to each other.  Once I got Winston to settle down to work, Chad would interfere and together, very little got done.  If I told Chad off, Winston would get mad at me for being rude to his friend.  The other Educational Assistant in class worked with a few students in that class, including Chad.  Whenever Chad would swear or be rude to someone, the EA would just laugh and tell him in a jokey way to stop.  She’d look at me and shake her head and laugh.  However, if Winston did something wrong, then she would get angry and flustered and scold him.  She’d look at me sternly and in frustration.  Aside, she would say to me, “these f… Indians” or “these people”.  The teacher would also respond to both boys’ disruptive behavior differently.  She would tell Chad sternly or matter-of-factly to “be quiet”, or “do your work” or “stop it”, while she would always shout angrily at Winston and often tell him to “get out”. 

 

One day, Chad and Winston were fooling around as usual.  Winston had his textbook open to the correct page and was trying to follow along as well.  When Chad realized that Winston was actually paying attention, he pulled the textbook away from Winston and Winston said out loud, “heeey!” and they both started laughing.  The teacher looked up and hollered at Winston, asking him where his book was.  He replied, (pointing to the book in front of Chad) “that’s my book”.  Chad insisted with a big smile on his face, “no, that’s my book”.  I chimed in and told the teacher that that was indeed Winston’s book and that Chad pulled it away from him.  The other EA put in her two cents and said that she saw Chad with that book all lesson.  The teacher told Winston to leave the classroom and not return until he found his textbook.

 

On another occasion, Chad and Winston were jokingly passing insults between each other. Then they started comparing strength and Chad said to Winston, “I bet you can’t pick me up and throw me there” (pointing to front of the classroom).  They were sitting at the back of the classroom.  Winston said that he could and so it went on for a few minutes more.  Suddenly Chad got up and said, “ok, let’s see you try now”.  And of course, Winston got up and said, “alright!”, both of them giggling.  This is when I stood up and tried to stop them.  I tried to explain to Winston that Chad was thin and weak and would get seriously hurt and that he (Winston) would get punished even arrested or suspended for what is clearly both their fault.  Again Winston got mad at me for “insulting his friend”.  Winston, by the way, was tall and big. I asked Chad if he wanted to end up in the hospital again.  He ignored me as usual.  Chad had never once acknowledged my existence!  I managed to hold them off long enough until the end of the lesson. 

 

It was then that I started thinking about the fight between Chad and Danny and began to wonder what exactly transpired and whether Danny was totally at fault and what role Chad played in provoking the situation?  And if both boys were at fault, why was only Danny seriously punished, and now has a Police Record and Chad treated as a poor victim?


2013 Mosquers Awards

On Aug 24th 2013, CRC sponsored the best Mosquers Film Award Show yet! The Mosquers film competition has grown from humble beginnings in 2006 with an audience of a couple hundred, to now hosting at the Jubilee Auditorium with an audience of over 1000. Aug 24th saw a packed Jubilee with ten wonderful films screened, and head-over-heels laughter with Maz Jobrani! 
 
Of the ten films screened, awards were given for the top film in Drama, Social Conscience and Comedy. Another award, the People’s Choice Award (Larry Shaben Award), was chosen by the audience. This year, films went above and beyond previous years, touching on sensitive topics such as homosexuality, rape and breaking very stereotypical depiction of Muslims. For those that missed it, and even those who came, follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mosquers or on our website www.mosquers.com to see the winning films once more!

Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada — Functions and Characteristics

CRC welcomes Rida Abboud, our guest blogger this month.

________________________________________________________________________

Recently, I completed my PhD thesis with a research study that looked at the quality of life of people in Alberta who are here on “semi-skilled” temporary work visas (think Tim Horton’s counter attendants, hotel room cleaners, airport bathroom cleaners, Wendy’s food preps, factory workers, Lilydale chicken plant workers, etc.). I wanted to know how their everyday life was impacted by this precarious immigration status in Canada. If you don’t know, there are over 300,000 TFWs in Canada today. This number is practically double than people who come to Canada as landed immigrants.

Here are some functions and characteristics of the TFW in Canada today:

1. TFWs are guest workers. This means that they have come to Canada solely on the intent of filling a job vacancy. About 15 years ago, this translated to a majority of “high-skilled” workers – in the tech industry, engineers, etc. Today, the majority of TFWs are deemed “low or semi-skilled” and fulfill the jobs that “Canadians don’t want”. This does not mean that they are in fact low-skilled workers. Just like many immigrants before them, these people are educated, skilled and often worked in management level jobs in their home countries. Their desires for ‘better opportunities’ usually push them into the de-skilling TFW program.

2. Those deemed “low or semi-skilled” because of the job they take to come to Canada are kept temporary in Canada for the long-term. This skill designation means that they have very very (I can’t stress that enough) little chances of applying to become landed immigrants. In this province, we have the Alberta Provincial Nominee Program which allows employers the opportunity to sponsor one (1) TFW in one (1) location per year. Many employers (think Tim Horton’s, Wendy’s etc.) hire dozens of TFW per location. What ends up happening is that TFW work long hours, too many days, through sickness and questionable workplace conditions in order to come out as “employee of the year” in hopes for that golden ticket. Imagine what that does for a workplace atmosphere.

3. Life in Canada? Away from children and spouses, living two, sometimes 4 to a bedroom (In Ontario, a local union found 30 workers from Thailand and Mexico in two three-bedroom houses), no access to language training, lack of job mobility, depression, anxiety, exposure to exploitative work situations, etc. (These are the things I heard directly in my interviews).

A discussion about the TFW program in Canada – heck, our immigration programs in general – are obviously complex, messy, political and for many, emotional. I haven’t even cracked open the door in this little blog posting. What I hope, though, is that you understand that there are 2 sides of the story, instead of hearing and believing only one. And you know point #3 above? I am not talking about one of those “other” places across the ocean. I am talking about the people in our backyard. As a matter of fact, I am talking about the person who will serve you your morning coffee and bagel tomorrow.

What I do know is this, that human perseverance is awe-inspiring. That people will put up with almost anything in order to attain what most of us take for granted. The stories I’ve heard not only provide me with the stuff I need to tell the story of the Canadian immigration system, it has provided me with my own perspective.

The following quote comes from my interview with Malcolm (pseudonym), after he told me his story of isolation, separation from his family, a racist employer, crooked immigration recruiter, and being middle-aged, once a manager at a hotel in his home country, now flipping burgers and mopping up vomit on the bathroom floor.

“I’m tired of thinking of all those concerns, you know. Maybe I’ll just continue to prove my worth, you know. Nobody can bring a good man down. Just work. Try to deliver what they pay you, try to be as worthy as you can. I’m just trying to be, I’m just going with the flow.”

As if what he is doing isn’t enough. Apparently to be Canadian, it isn’t.

-Rida Abboud, PhD