Posts Tagged ‘Racism’

This week I was faced with a question/dilemma/problem, it was all born out of a harmless comment in someone’s eyes I am sure, but these words maybe me look within and turn to the dharma for guidance. The dharma has never steered me wrong, it has always cleared everything up for me, but this case was not immediately cleared and I am asking all of you. What is right speech? And what does it mean to practice right speech? Let me put everyone to speed, I find that most will see how it is not as easy as one might think.

I was at work, a good day, I was wearing a new Fred Perry polo (I must admit that I am a total fan of this clothing line, bordering on obsession!) and one of my bosses was also wearing a new Fred Perry sweater. I always feel a certain feeling of joy when I wear a new item by this designer and I can see that I am not the only one that feels that way when we find that awesome shirt and get to share it with those around us. My boss was wearing a colour that some might say was more “effeminate” than the green that I was wearing. A colleague of mine asked me if I had seen his new sweater and I said yes in a tone that clearly stated my approval of his new digs, he then proceeded to say “I asked him if he switched teams and this is his way of telling us”, and this is where my debate and reflection starts. Is it right speech for me to call him on his homophobic statement and get to question why he thinks that first of all being gay is derogatory, that the colour that we were explains our sexual orientation, and lastly, seeing as how he is newly a father, what kind of role model is he being for his son and how he will view the world in the future.

Right speech is usually understood as one of the ethical conducts in the eightfold path as:

Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.

As one quickly understands, this is aimed at the individual and the actions that the individual does in the world. I am really questioning, if we are to practice engaged buddhism, if this act of calling people out on their racist or homophobic comments not a part of right speech. It is slanderous speech, the words that are used are malicious and create a world where it is Ok to use homophobia as an insult towards someone. I have always had a hard time when people use terms like faggot to joke around when someone is not being manly enough or good at a certain task, to the point that I am seen as a hyper sensitive person that has no sense of humour because I object to the fact that this term is being used. I should know that it is not what they mean and should not take it so seriously, I find the phenomenon of the normalisation of hate to be a plague in our society and assures that prejudice will continue for many generations to come.

What I wish I said to my co-worker, instead of simply ignoring the homophobic statement and saying that I was glad that at least one person had taste in clothing in the office, I wish I would have asked him first of all why he finds homosexuality to be derogatory, that he should take some time to reflect on what kind of role model is he being for his newborn son, and how would he react if one day he learns that his son was gay (would his vocabulary change)? I find that it is important to study the normalization of hate in our society, language is an extremely subtle tool for hate, the more we hear something the easier it is for us to use it in the same context. I am trying to be as mindful and aware with my dharma practice, so why would I not stand up to hate and respond with love, teaching others how they can be less hateful on a daily basis? I find that it is my duty to stand up and call people out on their ignorant comments, that is what right speech is, speaking out to help others suffer less. I owe it to my colleague to let him know what happened to me when he uttered what he believed to be “harmless” words, I owe it to him, and I especially owe it to his son!

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Today I was sitting in the subway on the way home from work when I heard school children saying very derogatory comments in regards to Indian culture (for example, Namaste is something to laugh at if you ask them). It seems that lately I have been faced with many racist/anti-immigrant comment and also many borderline comments on these issues and have begun to ask myself “Why does it feel like I am the one that always siding with the other side?”, why do I always feel like there is a peaceful solution to the world’s problems? Where does this hope come from? Why do I feel like I don’t necessarily have the moral high ground in all these different situations? Why do I feel that we should always discuss and find a middle ground, that no one should impose values on others?

I feel lately that it seems that the mechanics of racism and intolerance are being acknowledged and simply accepted as matter of fact (We all remember the ESPN fiasco with basketball star Jeremy Lin and how no harm was intended by the blatantly racist comment [could someone please explain to me when the word Chink is ever used in a non-racist way?]). I think of the anti-immigration laws that have been passed in the past couple of years, the war on illegal immigrants has grown to a scale that justifies war like actions. If we look briefly at the US Mexican border we are reminded of the divide between the reality that these two countries live in, and how it is normal that one would seem like a dream no matter what the work may be. I have always gotten a kick out of the term illegal immigrant, migration is a human right and has always been what we do since our early beginnings on this planet. And hey, I wouldn’t be typing this blog post from this seat if my ancestors did not participate in some illegal immigration of their own. Here comes my question about moral high ground, who the fuck are we to say that some people are not allowed to come and impose their traditions and values in our country when that is exactly what we did 400 years ago? I mean seriously, why is our genocide of the Native American Peoples justified and now we freak out that a poor Mexican wants to come to work in horrible work conditions to ensure that I can eat my strawberries when I watch my horrible reality television shows, then what’s the problem? Please don’t talk to me about healthcare as a reason as I watch my fellow citizens eat McDonalds everyday and live mostly sedimentary lives. Seriously!

Mexican – US border

I am also having more and more difficulties with the idea that we accept immigrants to our country, but they better not try to put their beliefs in my face! Again, let’s remember the imposition of Christianity on the Native American Peoples (to save their souls if I remember correctly), by putting them in residential schools and making them live away from the parents and tribes for years only to return to their new homes on newly made “reserves” with Christian names. If this is not imposing values on a population, then I don’t know what isn’t. This is when I ask myself, who am I to judge which cultural values are better? How do I know what is best? I mean, my country doesn’t have that great of a track record either, it’s not like we have a good track record when it comes to how we treat the Native American populations, seniors (ref: The new allegations of abuse in a seniors wing in Edmonton), our veterans once they have stopped being useful to the war machines. the homeless (we all remember the Vancouver Olympics I think), and unfortunately the list could go on.

I have always believed that no one is entirely innocent or guilty, and this is why it should be hard for us to carry such absolute judgements towards others. I have and will always believe that we must take the time to sit down with people and find a middle ground instead of always fighting for the high ground. We say to the world that we are a tolerant people, but I find more and more that this statement is losing its validity. The 20th century was a century of violence (there was not a time when there was no war) and make this century a century of dialogue and tolerance. Before we try to impose our views or judgements on others maybe we could give ourselves a check list of points to examine to ensure that we make this a tolerant and compassionate world.

  • If I were the target of these comments or judgements would I find them fair?
  • Am I trying to impose a moral high ground?
  • Am I feeding into my fears of my ignorance towards a certain subject?
  • Have I looked at both sides with an open heart and mind?
  • Am I looking for a compromise to try to please both sides?
  • Am I approaching this without judgement or prejudice?

I am sorry to have imposed this rant on all of you, but I find that it is important to speak up and show people who there is maybe a better way. I am not trying to impose a moral high ground on others, but to show that we will develop a better relationship with others around us if it is done with respect and compassion. We are all different and let’s take advantage of that fact, there is so much that we can teach each other!  And who knows, we might learn a thing or two about ourselves along the way!

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What is the first images that appear in your mind when you think of racism, most people would probably have images of swastikas, slavery and Ku Klux Klan members, these are the images that have been ingrained in our minds for the subject. They are not false, the Nazis and KKK have become the images of intolerance and rightfully so. Racism, as a term, was coined in the 1930s, primarily as a response to the Nazi project of making Germany judenrein (‘clean of Jews’), the Nazis claimed that the Jewish people were a race. They were a distinct race that posed a threat to the Aryan race, the race that authentic Germans supposedly belonged. This idea that Jewish people were a distinct race gave currency by Nazi racial science. Also, what the Nazis did can now be seen as what we call ethnic cleansing. The idea of anti-Semitism, which is the longest form of racism or the oldest hatred, was coined in the 1870s by German Wilhem Marr to characterize his anti-Jewish movement “the anti-Semitism League”. Anti-Semitism had the advantage of sounding scientific instead of plain old religious bigotry.

We can all agree that it is now accepted and truly believed that it is morally wrong to judge someone by the colour of their skin, or of reliving the Anti-Semite sentiment.  This I think can be agreed upon, with maybe the exception of radical hate groups like Neo-Nazis etc. Racism can not be so clear-cut, it is much more complex and ambiguous. Let me explain, is racist intolerance just based on what we call a “race”? What about homophobia? What about Islamophobia?  It has been commonly believed that Prejudice + Power = Racism, but it is not so simple. There is also the problem of institutionalized racism, there have been many cases in England of prejudice based on class, gender, and race in the past years. This is much more widespread than we might think, I read once that people in the south of the USA after the civil war (the war that was about many issues, but slavery is definitely the one that trumps all issues) that people’s heritage played a part in the land that you were able to buy and have. This became the history of US debates and legislation that revealed the consistent difficulties in defining what the black population was. Here is where the ‘one drop’ rule was born in the Southern states:

which implied that any black ancestry, however far back, consigned an individual to the wrong side of the white/black divide, determining (disadvantaging) where s/he could live, what kind of work was available, and whether marriage or even relationships could take place with a white partner. One drop of ‘white blood’, though, did not carry the same weight in defining racial status.

Like Ali Rattansi states in the quote before, racism was clearly based on race at first, but in our post 9/11 world, it has delved into many more areas of society and daily life. This has become obvious the many protests that have occurred during the construction of Mosques in the US, of profiling in airports and the unfair deportations of American and Canadian citizens to Islamic countries or off-shore penitentiaries. Institutional racism is very much ingrained in our societies.  In the USA black men are 10 times more likely to go to prison than whites, and 1 in 20 over the age of 18 is in jail. Amnesty International reported in 2004, black defendants convicted of killing whites have been sentenced to death 15 times more often than white defendants convicted of killing blacks. I think that we can all agree that there is still a lot of work to do in terms of educating people that these outdated beliefs are wrong and completely not true, that racism is a vehicle of fear and causes only harm and that tolerance and acceptance is the only right answer. I also want to be clear, racism doesn’t only apply to whites (I know that these are the examples that are used here, but there is also prejudice against whites, we have to change our attitudes towards everyone, visible minorities included. There is a lot of healing that must be done so we can be able to live in a society that is kind and caring, no matter what we believe and look like, as long as we are tolerant and open to everyone.), this is a problem that is everywhere and must stop! Education, compassion, understanding, love, and forgiveness are the only answers that I see fit.

I am left with a question, seeing that I am a Buddhist, I ask myself, what can I do with my practice to combat ignorance and hatred like this? What is a Buddhist to do about racism? So I am asking myself WWBD or WWBS (What Would Buddha DO? or What Would Buddha Say?) about all of this. The closest thing to “races” in the Buddha’s time would be the caste system and he spoke out against it, seeing as all being have to ability to be enlightened, no matter what caste, he saw the value in all beings. Buddhism is a philosophy that is born out the idea that there are no differences between men and women in society, I must admit that it would be hard for the Buddha to approve any form of racism with that statement. The Buddha would also tell us that our Body and Mind are borrowed from the earth. We don’t own them. We also suffer from sickness, old age, death, and mental illnesses. These mental illnesses are greed, hatred, and ignorance of the true reality of the world. So-called countries, religion, gender, land, etc. are all man-made. We live temporarily inhabit our bodies, homes, land and eventually give them back to the earth. If we all realize this fact, there should be no racism, fighting or any other unnecessary activities.

In the Samyutta Nikaya the Buddha states:

From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. A being who has not been your mother at one time in the past is not easy to find… A being who has not been your father… your brother… your sister… your son… your daughter at one time in the past is not easy to find.

If one truly understands this, there is no need for racism and no way that one could believe this theory of hate and ignorance to have any ground. I truly believe that this path that stresses loving-kindness, and living a life a wisdom and compassion; there is no place in this world for such hatred and ignorance. I have always felt that people who hold prejudice towards any group of human beings is born out of fear because they do not understand the difference that they have with this group. It is clear that with some openness and education, we can all learn to appreciate the differences that we have with them and learn to love one another. So the next time that you see someone and are struck with prejudice or fear, take a moment to reflect why exactly you are feeling the way that your are and then think how it must feel if the shoe was on the other foot. I am sure that in no time you will see that your fears are unjustified and that you will approach the world with more openness and compassion. Also, do not be afraid to ask others when you hear ignorant comments coming out of their mouths, help them reflect on the ignorance that is in their hearts. Racism is not just based on the colour of your skin, it is from any judgments that you hold against someone without cause. We must learn to be more open to what is different if we want the world to have peace.

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Saturday April 23rd 2011 marked the one year anniversary of the passing of SB1070, the racist anti-immigrant law in Arizona. When this law passed it gained national and even international attention, protests sparked up through the USA, artists boycotted the state (the Sound Strike), and even major American cities decided to boycott Arizona (Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, to name a few). Other states have also followed Arizona’s anti-immigration push; Utah have passed a similar bill; Georgia is awaiting their governor’s signature; Alabama has had the legislature pass in both chambers; South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Indiana have had the legislature pass in one chamber; the legislation has been introduced and passing through committees in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois; Kansas has introduced the legislation but there have been some set-backs in committee; Mississippi, California, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kentucky have introduced legislation but they are not really a threat. This is something that we can not ignore, I remember that a year ago this was all over the news, but as time has gone there have been more “newsworthy” stories that have occurred and SB1070 has lost its importance in the eyes of the media.

In February I read a story about a business group that had started an anti-SB1070 tour, this unfortunately was not based on the basic fact that this is a human rights debate, but the economical backlash that can occur with the passing of such a law. I guess the saying is still true; to hurt them where it hurts the most, and for most people it is their wallets! It is said that in the last year Arizona has lost $410 millions in tourism revenue. They also stated that if 50 000 immigrant families leave the state a billion dollars in revenue goes with them. It is calculated that 100 000 Latinos left Arizona last year, some of them legal and illegal immigrants. In September, Utah’s Lt. Gov. Greg Bell traveled to Arizona on a “fact-finding” trip to gauge the fallout from the state’s illegal immigration crackdown. In Utah, a group of bipartisan lawmakers and business leaders, along with the Mormon church, signed a petition saying they think immigration law should be left to the federal government. The main legislative champion of an Arizona-style crackdown in Utah, GOP state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, has revised his legislation’s original wording after groups estimated it would cost the state more than $5 million to enforce. The new version of his bill, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, will no longer mandate police officers to check the immigration status of suspects; it makes such identification checks optional for Utah cops.

As hundreds of protestors marched in Phoenix on Saturday, some sad and infuriating news came from our friends at the Sound Strike. Los Angeles, one of the cities that have vowed to boycott Arizona based companies (which has cost the state more than $140 million in lost revenue) until this racist law was overturned, has decided to award $106 millions of tax payer money to an Arizona based company, Honeywell International. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Council President Garcetti, and other council members are about to break their promise, and betray their communities in the process. On the website of the Sound Strike you can sign a petition to remind them of a promise they made less than a year ago. This money is for their bid to maintain the LA Waste Water Treatment Plant, the Honeywell division that is bidding for this is based in Arizona, along with its 4 major divisions of this corporation. Honeywell also has a record of broken air-quality and hazardous-waste laws on hundreds of occasions, and has exposed its workers to hazardous waste. With a track record like this, there must be a competent company that is able to do the job which is not based in Arizona.

In the last year, over two dozen immigrant hate bills have passed and unjust deportations are increasing. LA is home to the biggest latino community in the US, it should be a model for the rest of the country on standing up for immigrant rights. When the boycott passed last year, the City councilor was told to draft a ordinance restricting city contracts with Arizona based companies, this was never done. Honeywell is now working this loophole to its advantage, they are hiring lobbyists to help push their agenda on city council members.

What is most dangerous in human right struggles is when people forget, this is what Arizona wants to happen. We must keep speaking up against these hate laws, just because this story is no longer coming into your living room, it is still happening and people are still struggling. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This will not change unless we stay united and make sure that we let Arizona know that we have not forgotten and we will keep fighting until this law is overturned! For all the Canadians out there, we are in the midst of a federal election, look into your candidates campaigns and their stance on immigration. This could very easily happen to us if we are not careful and elect a government that believes that all human beings are to be treated with respect and dignity. On May 2nd when you are voting, remember to think of the struggle of the people of Arizona, vote for a pro-immigration party! We are all immigrants (except for native americans of course) and we should never forget that!

Here is a short film about the Sound Strike and the artists that have decided to boycott Arizona! Please take the time to check it out and make sure that others take a look… We must continue to pressure until this law is overturned!

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Hello Everyone,

Thought that I should share this video with everyone. There is a big lesson in this, we need to hold people accountable for what they do and not what they are… Watch this video and apply it to your everyday life! Let start having these discussions when they occur, it is important to make a stand when we think something is not right!


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If you have been following the news in the last year, I am sure that you have noticed that racial profiling has been the subject of major news stories: Arizona’s new immigration law and the Oscar Grant story. The Oscar Grant story has made people seriously look at race issues and police brutality, an event that took place on New Years day 2009 is still making headlines today, in a community that feels that no justice has been served. What made this story so real and undeniable is that it was captured on many cell phone and digital cameras, it is hard to ignore what happened when it is caught on such a medium. We can hardly believe our eyes. More and more we will be witnesses to police brutality thanks to the use of recording media, a good example of this was shown with the G20 protests in Toronto where people could witness the obvious denial of civil liberties by the police department. The Oscar Grant story has enraged a community that feels that they are victims of racial profiling and police brutality on a daily basis, and the verdict that came out this week is proof that this sentiment is not completely unfounded.It is a fact that minorities are the target of police harassment, searches, and brutality; this is something that must change in our society, people should be allowed to walk freely in the streets without fear of being the target of brutality.

The shooting that occured in the Oakland BART station has been labeled as “involuntary manslaughter” and an “execution”, officer Mehserle resigned his position and plead not guilty to the charge that was brought against him by the Alameda County prosecutors. His defense was that he was reaching for his taser, but instead mistakenly reached for his gun when he thought that Grant was reaching for a pistol. Pretrial filings argue that his client did not commit first-degree murder and asked the Los Angeles judge to instruct the jury to limit its deliberations to second-degree murder or aquittal. On July 8th 2010 the jury returned its verdict: Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and not guilty of second-degree murder. The inital protests after the trial were peaceful, but some looting, arson, destruction of buildings, and small riots happened after dark, a total of 80 people were arrested. The sentencing date is set for August 6th 2010. On July 9th, the US Justice Department opened a civil rights case against Mehserle; the federal government will be able to prosecute him independently for the same act under the seperate sovereigns exception to double jeopardy. The Department of Justice will be working with the US Attorney’s office in San Francisco and the FBI.

Unfortunately this is a scene that we know all too well, we must be vocal about the way that police forces are treating minorites all over the country. Racial profiling is wrong and, as we have seen, has deadly consequences. This could of been avoided, we must change the system that is causing this repression. The police should be there to serve and protect all people no matter what colour their skin might be, they should not instill fear in the hearts of mind of communities. I feel that more and more we are being ripped away our freedom to assemble in the streets to voice our dissent towards the wrongs committed by our governing bodies. Which way is our society heading? We must stand up and keep what liberties we have left! Justice for Oscar Grant and all others that have fallen due to situations like this one! There will be no peace until there is justice! Never forget that the streets belong to us and we must us them when we see fit to voice our opinions and struggles… Here are some videos on the story to help everyone have a more informed opinion and view of what is happening in Oakland right now. Peace and Solidarity to all people that struggle to be viewed as equal!

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Just when I thought that it could not get worse in Arizona I was sad to see in the news that the government will now target the children of migrants, anchor babies as they are so affectionately called. Public opinion has buoyed the Republicans that they are on the right track with immigration, they will pass a law this fall that would deny birth certificates to those born from illegal immigrants. The SB1070 require that of-age migrants have the proper citizenship papers, but this “anchor babies” bill would block the next generation of ever being able to obtain it. The idea is that citizenship would be so difficult that migrants would “pull up the anchor and leave”.

The big question that comes from this new bill is if it would violate the 14th amendment of the American Constitution:

All persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.

This was written in 1868 however, Russell Pearce, says that this amendment has been “hijacked” by illegal immigrants, they use it as a wedge by arriving here having children and then taking advantage of the great welfare state that they have created. Pearce is aware of the constitution and how it could be seen as illegal to introduce such a bill, he reassures his supporters that it will be written well so it does not impeach on the amendment. This bill would then guarantee that any child that is born in the US whose parents are not American citizens would be denied a birth certificate. 58% of Americans polled by Rasmussen think that children born from illegal immigrants should not receive citizenship.
People who oppose the bill say that it will lead to more discrimination and divide the community, Susan Vie ( who moved to the US 30 years ago from Argentina, became a naturalized citizen and now works as a client-relations representative for a vaccine company), says:
I see a lot of hate and racism behind it, consequently, I believe it will create — and it’s creating it now — a separation in our society. When people look at me, they will think, ‘Is she legal or illegal?’ I can already feel it right now.

This is why she is trying to create a citizen group that is behind an opposition ballot initiative. This initiative would prohibit SB1070 from taking effect and place a 3 year moratorium on all related laws, including this anchor baby bill, and then buy more time for federal immigration reform. It is believed, by both sides, that the bill will pass in front of the Supreme Court before it is enacted, it is believed that it would be struck down as unconstitutional. It is had to believe that a federal judge would let this pass. It is also believed that the original anti-immigrant bill, SB1070, will pas in federal court along with this new anchor baby bill. SB 1070 is set to take effect on July 29th, but it is said that there are 5 courtroom challenges that have been filed against it. Pearce guarantees that he will win them all.

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