Life, Politics

COMMENTARY: Racism And Difficulty In Civil Discourse

Liberal MP Celina Ceasar-Chavannes
Celina Caesar-Chavannes, the Liberal MP for Whitby is photographed at the University of Toronto’s Hart House on March 16 2016. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

This week on Hashtag on Vibe 105.5FM, we’ll be discussing the twitter dust up between Parliament MP’s Celina Caesar-Chavannes and Maxime Bernier.  The twittter spat led to the hashtag #HereForCelina to trend on Twitter.

Ms. Caesar-Chavannes has never been one to shy away from calling out racism when she sees it. But as with anyone who “sticks their head out” to speak up for those with no voice, she was maliciously attacked online. Cowards that hide behind their computers and simply prove her point that we’re living in a racially divided society and constant vigilance is required to set wrongs right. Whether those “wrongs” are borne out of the system or an MP tweeting off at the mouth about issues he doesn’t have to deal with. This is when having a civil discourse where race is concerned gets tricky.

This is the statement Mr. Bernier put forward criticisizing Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen for applauding budgetary monies directed toward helping Black youth and racialized newcomer women…

“I thought the ultimate goal of fighting discrimination was to create a colour-blind society where everyone is treated the same; … Not to set some Canadians as being ‘racialized.’ What’s the purpose of this awful jargon? To create more division for the Liberals to exploit?” – Maxime Bernier

When I first read this statement, my immediate visceral reaction was he needs to shut the fuck up. Luckily, I’m not an elected official, unfortunately, Ms. Caesar-Chavannes had a similar reaction.

She later apologized for the “check your privilege and be quiet” bit, which she was half wrong for admittedly.  She was definitely right to advise Mr. Bernier to check his privilege, and dead wrong in telling him to be quiet.  She offered to meet with Mr. Bernier to further discuss the issue. He refused to accept her apology and declined to meet with her. That’s fairly cowardly on his part.

“I believe that it is important for Canadians to debate and express their views … Encouraging a fellow parliamentarian to keep silent is not consistent with this principle. I have acknowledged this, and my offer to meet with Mr. Bernier once we’re both back in Ottawa still stands. I would welcome the opportunity to continue this important discussion with him in person.”  – Celina Caesar-Chavannes

Mr. Bernier was absolutely showing his privilege with his statement. There’s so much wrong in such a short statement, it took awhile digest it, and emotionally separate myself.  First of all, it’s naive to think we can live in a “colour-blind” society.  The only people who claim they don’t see colour are people that are not adversely affected by the colour of their skin. There’s no nobility in claiming you don’t see colour. What you are claiming is that you can dip in and out of racial issues when you please. That’s a privilege. That’s not an option for people of colour. He has an issue with the use of the word “racialized”. Well sorry to break it you you but people of colour don’t get get to discard their ethnicity when it suits them. The part that really pissed me off was the “To create more division for the Liberals to exploit.” What the fuck kind of sense does this make? Race is not a Liberal or Conservative issue. It’s a life issue.  I’d suspect that Mr. Bernier probably believes there is no such thing as systemic racism. When police pull Black people over in their cars, although they’ve committed no crimes; or stops and cards a Black person on the street, they don’t ask us if we’re Liberal or Conservative. It’s tone deaf statements like this make it difficult to talk about racial issues with white people.

But the answer is never to “be quiet”. No progress will ever get made if that’s our response. We need an open dialogue. There has to be room for mistakes. Mistakes will be made on both sides.  Mr. Bernier was wrong with his tone deaf response to Minister Hussen’s appreciation for the budget funds to help people of colour. Ms. Caesar-Chavannes was wrong to tell him to be quiet. Mr. Bernier is wrong, again, to decline her invitation to discuss the issue in person.

A civil discourse is needed; uncomfortable conversations are needed; progress is needed; none of which can be or should attempted via twitter. I hope Mr. Bernier reconsiders and sits with Ms. Caesar-Chavannes; only then will civil discourse be possible and progress can be made.



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