Canadians have long looked down on our American cousins as being in the dark over the question of racism and racial equality. "That would never happen in Canada!" we like to proclaim as we self-righteously look back on our history and don't see the obvious signs of racism that we see in the United States. Slavery, violence, and separate lunch counters for "whites" and "coloureds" were not nearly as common in Canada as they were in the U.S. so we tend to think that racism has never really existed in Canada.
We like to further comfort ourselves with the fact that multiculturalism has been an officially legislated policy of the Canadian government since 1971 and the legal response to overt racism has been swift and harsh in our country. With that sort of history, we must be a very egalitarian society right? I mean, everyone is equal in our eyes and deserving of equal rights and respect, right? Before we get too excited about our interracial utopia, I would suggest that a deep and abiding racism exists in Canada that, while not as obvious as in America, exists nonetheless in the daily conversations and attitudes of many Canadians.
Last week, on the Upside Down Kingdom tour, Shane Claiborne and Jason Gray had an opportunity to visit the Africville Museum in Halifax (photo posted by Jason here.) Quoted from the Africville website:
"Africville was your typical seaside village. Populated by one of Nova Scotia’s founding peoples. First came the Aboriginal settlements, later the French and British. Less widely highlighted in our history is a population that was integral to the creation of what Nova Scotia is today. The people of African descent — former slaves, escaped slaves and free people who came to Canada for promise of a better life. Eventually some of these former slaves of American and British owners settled on the northern tip of the Halifax peninsula. There, they created a vibrant community by the shores of the Bedford Basin."
Sounds like the welcoming racial experience we love to brag about doesn't it?
Unfortunately, I was unable to join Shane and Jason on the tour, but I did have a conversation with Jason the next day who lamented how the story turned out. It seems that the city of Halifax decided that they knew what was best for the black community living in Africville (oh, and did I mention that they also wanted to build an expressway right through where these folks lived?), so they bulldozed their homes and relocated them against their will to public housing where many families ended up in debt and lost their homes.
That's just one incident we can consider. There is of course the tragic internment of Ukrainian Canadians during WWI and the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII. And let’s not forget our long history of abuse directed at our First Nations People which has been going on for centuries.
But that's all in our past, right?
Well, last night we were out for dinner to celebrate my dad's 91st birthday with a few friends of my parents who shall remain nameless (although I really, really want to 'out' them.) In the course of our conversation, there was the typical talk by older folks about the weather, their aches and pains, and then this little gem: "It's like the United Nations at the health clinic. We were the only Caucasians in there." The conversation descended from there into talk of foreigners, being outnumbered, etc. It's not the first time I've heard comments like this and I know it won't be the last. And I can't just point the finger at senior citizens who grew up in a different era. I've heard similar comments from those who are my age and younger. (By the way, the reason so many people who come from other countries use the walk-in clinic system is because they generally aren't provided with the opportunity of seeing an actual family doctor due to our immigration restrictions. In many cases these are families who have fled from a horrible situation be it war or famine or oppression, and have come here seeking a better life for their children. It's a sad reality that they've often been sold a lie.)
You see, while the history of racial inequality in the U.S. is continually before us, the racism of Canadians is far more subtle and in many ways, more insidious. We don't have anyone running around in white bed sheets burning crosses to which we can point a finger and say: "that's unacceptable." Instead, our racism lies under the surface and is perpetuated by far more 'respectable' folks who drop it into their everyday conversation. Sadly, most of my experience is with church folks - those who would call themselves Christians - who not only see people of other cultures as a threat to their comfortable existence, but also to their faith.
The subtle racism of these church-goers and Canadians at large says: "You are not equal to me. You are not entitled to be treated as well as I am. Your children do not deserve the same level of care as my children." Does that sound like a Canadian trait to be proud of? Is that the kind of Christianity Jesus had in mind when he said "love your neighbour"? I think not.
Have I totally overcome racism in my own life? Of course not. I believe it is an ingrained part of the fallen human condition that we all have to struggle with from time to time just as we have to struggle with other areas of sin. But let's make no mistake about it: racism is sin. A sin that denies people of their rights, their humanity, and their dignity as men and women created in the image of God. Frankly, I'm fed up with people making snide little comments as if it is perfectly acceptable to denigrade someone simply because they are different in some way. Skin colour, native language, or country of origin is no excuse whatsoever to treat someone as less than equal.
How much moreso does this apply to those who would consider themselves Christians. There should be no greater example of racial equality than the church. No greater example of harmony between the nations than the body of Christ. No greater example of what it means to live in unity and love than followers of Jesus. And if you don't like the idea of all people and all races being equal, then perhaps you'd better rethink your plans for heaven. You may not like it there anyway; I hear the guy sitting at the right hand of God is Jewish.