By Nasreen Pejvack
I am fairly sure none of us believe Trump was a singular source of intolerance or that he created extreme racist behaviour in America. Many Americans were discriminatory long before he showed up; indeed right from the time Europeans conquered the lands of North America. All Trump did as a racist and a pure malignant narcissist was to open up the floodgates at this point in time to securely allow bigots to do as they please.
The foundations of this behaviour can be found throughout colonial history. How many of us have heard/read about the slave Breeding Farms in America? It was absolutely new to me when I heard about it from a young scholar just recently. Well, don’t take my word for it – research yourself and you will learn more about North America.
At some point in the early 1800s, the trans-Atlantic slave trade from Africa was banned, yet this did nothing to increase compassion for black people or change minds about the immorality of slavery. Indeed slavery and the number of slaves only increased dramatically, as the Southern states simply turned to breeding as their source for new human chattel.
That’s right; institutionalized breeding of humans became a cultural norm. And even when the practice stopped, in the many generations since, this and other similar facts of history were not taught in schools. A large part of black history in America has been marginalized. This only contributed to generations of Euro-Americans passively believing that no systematic racism existed in their society and that nothing more needed to be done. This also meant that there was no re-orientation of conscious or sub-conscious assumptions of superiority to other ethnicities on this planet.
Canada perhaps never had quite that level of brutality, and in fact Canada was one of the destinations of the Underground Railway that facilitated the freeing of some slaves in America. However, we should never lose sight of bad behaviour that is happening today here in our Canada.
I left my birthplace 36 years ago, and for more than half of my life I have been living in Canada. I have witnessed racism, and felt it broadly when witnessing deeply contradictory behaviour in Canada.
Yes in Canada – the heaven I chose to live in after leaving Iran. How could I think that even here racism fundamentally exists in many communities, workplaces, schools, and even with close dear friends, bosom buddies, and family that I shared a life with? For too many Canadians it is as if they see themselves better
than other ethnicities, or it is a part of their national identity to see themselves as superior. I myself have good enough painful experiences to write a book about them.
In order for us to think and believe we are a multicultural country, or to be able to entirely eradicate racism, we must educate our people, especially the children, before they develop into adulthood and act just like their parents. Lack of education and awareness is the problem of many Americans, and many Canadians too. We may be happy that Joe Biden won the latest presidential election, but don’t forget that over seventy million people voted for Trump, which means that many people are still ready to hate others. Too many people think those of European descent are of a superior race, even though in reality there is only one human race on this little planet. But they learned from their parents and their community that they are better, and that other ethnicities living here
either do not belong or must forget who they are and adapt to the majority way of life. Reading North America history, we will learn that when Europeans took over, they instituted policies that forced all the First Nations of this vast land to reject their own heritages and learn the new “mainstream” way of life. That habit of
bullying the peoples within the country was also reflected in attitudes to peoples all over the world, resulting in wars, sanctions, regime changes, and other behaviours that showed only a disrespectful desire to force economic and political conformity on other nations.
We look about us and see so many wrong things happening in the world. We hate that they are happening and feel that we have no control over them. In a way that is true, yet at the same time there is a lot that we can do that should have effects down the road. We can start by educating ourselves and others about the world we live in. Remember, the powerful are still not able to control what people think, and are limited for now on restricting what we can say and do. We have room to expand the proportion of people that contribute positively to the world.
It is unfortunate though, that some platforms of information can carry a disproportionate weight of falsehood, and spending too much time on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can warp people’s perceptions and thoughts – but that’s just one more point of awareness to be educated about. Modern tech in the hands of demagogues (think Trump and Twitter) can send large sectors of the poorly educated population down rabbit holes of fiction. Yes, the new tools of global inter-connectedness definitely have productive and positive features to them, but they can easily be employed as tools of mass control.
Trump never cared for people, but only used them in endeavoring to maintain his status as president. He may have failed, but those people can easily to be used just the same way by the next firebrand down the road.
In short, we cannot use available tools to challenge wrongdoing or fight against racism until we have prepared people with proper upbringing and well-informed mindsets. There are many well-educated scholars in America who are trying hard to change the education systems, but have been frustrated by people like Trump and those appointed by him. For instance, Howard Zinn’s education project proposed to teach students the actual history of their country, arguing that the American revolution resulted not in freedom, but merely in an exchange of elites
from England with ones from America, thus still ending up with the same old patriarchal system of national control, social order, and exploitation of non-white-male peoples.
With my own experience upon my arrival to Canada, I had to put in some effort to find out where First Nations of these vast lands were living. There was no proper education to make sure ignorance of the country’s racist legacy was demonstrated and acknowledged, and thus cut from the root.
That is why when a deadly virus tears through the world, or a bomb blows somewhere, so many bigots come out from under their rocks and attack othered neighbours down the street that they erroneously think may have anything to do with the event, or any other world problems. They surely do not see that they are
The world we are living in has become an extremely dangerous and unsafe place for all of us, and that is because too few of us understand the forces that create the world we live in, such as our superfluous voting systems and rapacious capitalism. So, the vicious cycles of violence only make a minor deflection as one
president leaves office and the next one comes in. Nothing changes but the faces.
People like Howard Zinn, Norman Finkelstein, Julian Assange, and Noam Chomsky, who has been speaking his entire life about these wrongdoing of elites, have been challenging us continuously about the underlying structures of power and racism in our societies. But why does nothing seem to change much?
Simple – the number of people who read them, learn about the world through them, and potentially take meaningful action, are far too few.
Nasreen Pejvack was born in Tehran, Iran, and came to Canada in the 1980s, where she earned a computer programming diploma and began working in the IT field. Soon she moved to San Francisco and, while working there, obtained a certificate in software engineering. After 12 years in IT, she left the field to study psychology, and then worked as counselor and educator until 2013. Since then she has been writing novels, articles, short stories, and poems. Her debut novel, AMITY (Inanna Publications 2015), was a finalist for British Columbia’s 2016 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Nasreen has also published PARADISE OF THE DOWNCASTS, a collection of short stories and essays inspired by her experiences in Canada, and WAITING, a collection of poems, both with McNally Robinson in 2018. LUYTEN’S STAR is her latest publication.
To learn more, visit Nasreen’s website at: https://www.examine-consider-act.ca/
Featured image by Ivan Bertolazzi
Well said, Nasreen. Thank you for this thoughtful discussion. Racial discrimination, like all other forms of discrimination (e.g., learning challenges, physical differences, etc.) is learned. It is based in fear and insecurity and thrives on misinformation. More attention and resources must be allocated to teaching children from a young age that “different is only different”. Their parents and other adults may resist, but perhaps as enlightened children grow they will set a good example for their elders.
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Thank you so much Jim for your ongoing support.