12 04 2012

Causing or capable of causing fire.

Racism; Homosexuality; Transgender Identity; Religion, Equality.

These are all the most incendiary of topics two people can discuss. And what makes them so? Well, most of us have grown up with some sort of belief system around these issues, influenced by our parents, teachers, relatives, whoever. We have been taught to have strong opinions and beliefs, and that there is a right or wrong way to think about these subjects. It is our core values and beliefs about the world and how we view it that shape us and make us who we are. They guide us in making big decisions about our careers, our life partners, where our children will go to school and who we vote for in the next election. They even impact little decisions like where we shop or the food we eat. I have a friend who refuses to shop at lulu lemon because of her fundamental belief in the equality of men and women regardless of shape or size. Lulu Lemon only goes up to size 12 which therefore automatically caters to a specific size and eliminates more than half of the population.  You may not agree with that which is okay because you are free to have your opinion, and she is free to have hers.  The reality is that where my friend shops has no barring on you whatsoever. You can still shop wherever you want. It’s when opinions start to impact human rights, feelings of safety, equality…  so many of the freedoms that we should actually be able to take for granted (in an ideal world)…this is what I take issue with.

This particular post was inspired by a conversation I had a few months ago with some friends who I love and respect dearly. And while they say ‘birds of a feather flock together’ our opinions couldn’t have been more opposing about this particular subject matter.

So what was our hot topic of conversation?  “Why do people who are of the minority, the same people who are fighting for equality,  always feel the need to be ‘celebrating’ the very part of themselves that sets them apart. ” Whether we’re talking about the NAACP awards for African-Americans or the Gay-Pride parade that’s celebrated around the country, some views within this conversation were ‘Enough is enough. Nobody cares! You say you want equality, yet you feel the need to have an entire street shut down so you can parade around how special and different you are? Okay, You’re gay. Great!  Hope that works out for you. You don’t see me screaming ‘I’m straight,’ from the rooftops.’ 

Another opinion: ‘While it’s true that African-American’s endured slavery for years , the people who are going on about equality now are not the ones who suffered that. They were born into a world where they have just as much opportunity as the next person. They have a black president for pete’s sake. It doesn’t get more equal than that.’ I have to say, I struggled with this conversation quite a bit, even moreso after it was over and I had some more time to reflect on it. My response at the time was ‘So people want to celebrate being gay or being black… who cares! Why can’t they celebrate. Let them.  African-American people have had an extremely trying history. So now they are in a place where they can celebrate and be proud of who they are, what’s the big deal?’

There was an opinion or two I do feel had merit; she said ‘Well we as Ismaili Muslims have had a pretty sad history as well, as many races have I’m sure, but we don’t have awards and big celebrations like that.’ I didn’t disagree. What I do think is that we are still evolving and just because we have reached a place where people may be free to choose their sexual orientation without being globally chastised for it, and white people aren’t the only people on t.v. anymore, that doesn’t mean we still don’t have a long way to go. And to be honest, that’s actually my point. If we stop celebrating our differences, we actually stop celebrating equality, we stop celebrating change, we stop celebrating growth and acceptance and we start being complacent, we start accepting ignorance. Again, this is what I take issue with.  Sure it would be great to have East Indian Awards, and South East Asian Awards… but the answer is not to take away the change and progress we have made. We have to continue to celebrate the change that has happened in hopes that we keep moving in that direction because we have certainly got a long way to go. We can’t stop now.

When I think about the fact that America has a black president, as great as it is, my reaction is more of the tune ‘ 43 white presidents, 1 black president, 0 South East Asian presidents, 0 South Asian presidents….0, 0 , 0…’ – that’s a far cry from equality people. It’s a good start, and it’s a sign that we are getting there… but we’re kidding ourselves if we think that because America has 1 black president under their belt and Canada has had their first Muslim Mayor (yeah Calgary!), and we have a parade to celebrate sexual autonomy, that we have reached a paragon of a completely equal and tolerant society.  Oh and since I am Canadian, I should add that of Canada’s 22 Prime Ministers, all 22 have been White. Of those 22, 1 was actually female, albeit she was designated as opposed to elected, and she was only in office for 4 months and 1 week; but at least Kim Campbell has put women on the map! So Canada has had the 1 female leader and the U.S. has the 1 black leader… yep that screams equality; our work is done (insert eye roll).

I actually began writing this entry a few months ago but with every week that past I would hear or see something that just reaffirmed by beliefs that now more than ever we need to be celebrating our differences.  In early March this year, Farhan and I went to see a play called ‘Race’ by David Mamet. The story took place in a law office where 3 attorneys – 2 black and 1 white contemplate taking a case to represent a wealthy white man who was charged with raping a black housekeeper in a hotel. He swears he didn’t do it but the evidence says otherwise. The premise behind the play is to highlight how human beings view others based on their skin colour as well their own. The issue with the case… if they accept it and try to get the guy off, black people will think they are a racist and unjust firm;  if they don’t take it, white people will think they are being a ‘pro-black’ firm instead of doing what’s right ‘. It’s a lose-lose situation and somewhere in there, the truth about whether a human being actually was raped and/or a potentially innocent man is being accused of something he didn’t do is lost.

What stood out for me about this play was that racism is still very much alive; ignorance is still very much alive. In 2012 these issues are in the media and affecting human beings every single day. Without even realizing it, we will make comments and judgements about people because of their skin colour. If this man had been accused of raping a white girl, it would have been a sexual assault case. But because she was black, it became about racial superiority. The fact that she was still a victim of rape somehow became secondary and almost irrelevant.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the Trayvon Martin case by now (if not, please crawl out from under your rock and turn on the tv or google him). How can we possibly feel that this is a safe world to live in when a volunteer watchman can just shoot another human being because he was wearing a hoodie and the sound of his skittles packet made guy fearful? What does that even mean? Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old black kid, unarmed, wearing a hoodie with a packet of skittles in hand. Geraldo Rivera comments on this case by saying ‘To all of the Latino and black boys out there, stop wearing hoodies. The hoodie is as much to blame as George Zimmerman.’  This is the mentality of so many people in our supposed just world… blame the hoodie! I’m not going to regurgitate all of the outrage that has been plastered all over the internet… it’s clear how people who are for and against Zimmerman being brought to justice feel. The fact remains that issues like this still exist. Racial profiling is very real and when we turn a blind eye to this we are no better than the guy pulling the trigger (okay maybe that last line was a bit dramatic, but you get my drift).

There is so much I could say about this topic and controversial issues in general… im sure you will see more posts on this very topic in the near future.

My final message for now…  Wear hoodies. Cheer on the parade. Promote the awards.  Read more. Accept more. Stop the ignorance. Celebrate the differences… oh and while you’re at it, please try to save the whales ;).