I want to start by stating that I am not an activist, nor am I pretending to be. What I am is an intellectual trying to communicate, what I can observe and interpret from my own experience, with the rest of the world. From this you can surely come to the conclusion that I do not join walks, protests or anything similar, and you would be totally right. However, this is not because I don’t support the vision of a world based on equality. It’s because I truly believe that real changes come from within us. We may try as hard as we can to convince people to change their mind and habits, but you may never achieve it at the end. However, despite the fact that we’re all flawed human beings, we all have the potential with some deep introspection to find the willpower to improve. In light of the recent events, I want to share with you the thinking process responsible for racism and other discrimination. Although this process starts early on, the only way to fight its perversion is awareness.
There were clearly many events characterized by injustice happening this last year, too many of you want my opinion. Amongst the one that reached the front page of newspapers, we could count the death of George Floyd which led to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and also the indigenous woman Joyce Echaquan that died soon after recording slurs made by hospital staff. These are only two of the many, but it speaks loudly about the possible consequences of racism. It is worth mentioning that racism may affect any visible minority, even though the media tend to focus on only one group at a time.
Last year, Mr. Floyd, an African-American man, was arrested by the police. To apprehend the man, the police officer found it necessary to immobilize the suspect by using excessive forces on his neck resulting in the sudden and untimely death of Mr. Floyd. Before his life was taken so abruptly, he clearly expressed to the police officer that he couldn’t breathe. That the police officer could not adjust the restraint, following the hearing of such concerning complaints, is totally despicable. Although other explanations were suggested, this may still be the result of discrimination against black communities, which has always been completely misplaced. The silver lining of this tragedy is the sudden emotional unrest that has emerged giving enough fuel to start a movement called Black Lives Matter. The movement carried by the unleashing of walks and protests worldwide had the honourable objective to fight police brutality led against black people.
Joyce Echaquan, an indigenous (Atikamekw) woman, first went to a hospital for stomach complaints and subsequently got hospitalized. While she was hospitalized, she was giving morphine, a pain medication, in order to soothe the profound discomfort she was experiencing. The amount of morphine given seemed to alarm her; therefore she proceeded to record a cry for help live on Facebook, stating that she was being overmedicated. Shockingly, by the end of the video we could hear the nurses exchanging racist comments about her. Soon after, she died of what seemed to be an adverse reaction to morphine. We don’t know yet if the death resulted from mistreatment, but it is obvious that the treatment was unprofessional and blatantly inhumane given that it took place in a hospital. The main role of a hospital is to provide care and this is certainly not how you care for patients.
Government officials are also not impervious to racism, we could hear Trump about four years ago making unsubstantiated statements about Mexicans. To support his ideology to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S., he went on to claim that Mexicans are all either stealing American jobs or are criminals such as drug dealers, rapists and thieves. To reduce a complete nation to such a negative view is not only completely irrational, it’s also utterly unfair. Mexicans may have different opportunities than Americans, but that doesn’t make them lesser in any possible ways.
Racism is a form of discrimination that reduces individuals to their skin colour. To associate any specific attribute based on physical characteristics is wrong and science has invalidated many times already. There are absolutely no scientific grounds that support a link between what you look like and what you can or cannot do. That isn’t how each of us is programmed. We are all individuals with differences, and we all must have a chance to make our proofs. Everyone must stop judging the book by its cover.
To do that we must understand where it all comes from. Let’s start by acknowledging that, like most words in our dictionary, race is a man construct. It’s a noun used to indicate the morphological and cultural differences between men. As I said this has no scientific basis whatsoever and multiple DNA studies have repeatedly been unable to observe any significant differences between the so-called races. Race is a human construction that is a total myth. That is why we shouldn’t refer to races any more than we should call all eccentric women, witches.
We have to understand that people, including you and I, have an innate ability to discriminate at a very young age between situations and objects to better establish the safety of our surrounding environment. However, when we come into adulthood, discrimination may be influenced by outsiders and come to reinforce some of our already formed biases. What I’m trying to convey here is that discrimination isn’t what’s wrong but what we’re all doing with it that is. Discrimination can’t be stopped. Still, what we can control is how we come to understand it. It’s easy to use our discrimination as an overgeneralization and use it to justify our behaviour, but this isn’t OK. Also, I can’t believe I have to say this but committing a hate crime to justify another hate crime is petty and awful. As the saying goes: “An eye for an eye and everyone ends up blind.”
We have to remember that crimes can be committed by anyone and that everyone is responsible for their own behaviour. And thus I would like to extend awareness to all discrimination forms be it from a different skin colour, a different job, a different health status, a different economic status, a different sexual orientation or identification, a different ideology, a different culture or other. The way you talk, you think, you move, you care and more shouldn’t make you inherently more or less prone to mistreatment. You all ought to be judged entirely on your actions and not on your looks.
To achieve this we have to question our biases and dig deep. Some biases are so ingrained that we don’t even realize their nature. As an exercise to help you distinguish biases, brainstorm about subjects currently inducing polemics, which could stem from any of the aforementioned subjects. For example, let’s take sexual orientation as a category and let’s pick women as the subject. During the brainstorming process, you might come up with words like weak, fragile, crazy, emotional, natural parents, etc. These are all common descriptive features, but at this point you must ask yourselves how applicable are these ideas to the women around you. You will surely find out that not all women actually fulfill these characteristics. You may also try to relate all these ideas to men, this time. You will probably easily find that many men do possess those characteristics. My expectation is for you to discover, at the end, that no specific characteristic is able to properly describe a group of people. By coming to this conclusion, you will come to see these as what they really are, biases. Eventually, if you keep repeating activities like this, you may succeed undoing some of those negative biases, or at least stopping them from committing injustice to the people around you.
We, including me, can all benefit from this exercise. One of my most recent experiences involves a person that was a true look-alike of someone who, in the past, has hurt me. That person was a perfect stranger, but somehow, I felt a compulsion to distrust the person right away. After analysis, I realized that I was actually mistakenly expecting that stranger to behave exactly as that lousy person did. With that awareness, I decided to fight the compulsion to naturally distrust that person who was yet completely blameless. This experience may seem mundane, although it’s a clear example that everyone, including me, can be guilty of acting based on biases. So let’s all pledge this year to be a better judge of character and try as hard and as compassionately as we can to improve the way we treat and think about people.
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