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Revisiting racism debate

Reader replies to letter regarding the debate of racism and prejudging a person.

Dear Editor,

I appreciate Alastair Colquhoun’s letter in the Dec. 30 edition in response to one I had written a week earlier. In my letter, I noted comments by Commissioner Paulson of the RCMP about racism in the force he leads. Since my letter, other comments made by RCMP personnel suggest that the commissioner’s comments were not helpful and undermine the credibility of the RCMP. These RCMP members also believe that this issue should have been dealt with via a process within the RCMP itself. Comments by some social activists on the other hand thank the commissioner for his comments but suggest that a more open and transparent process independent of the RCMP is more helpful.

Let me be clear about what I am talking about here. I am talking about assumptions made about individuals, purely on the way that person or group looks, even before those individuals have uttered a single word and even before the person, making those assumptions, knows what those individuals are really like. If you don’t know someone, you might likely make some initial assumptions of some kind, until you get to know the person better. But prejudging someone and making that judgement stick without getting to know that person is what racism is based on. Prejudging or prejudice is based on social images and values that circulate in our culture. Those social images or values are judgements about a group without any reflection and with little or no meaningful contact or experience with that group.

Canada’s First Nations, the French and the British have been a big part of a history in Canada to a lesser or greater degree and at different times. When I used Britain as an example in my original letter, it is because I am more familiar with British history in Canada. I could equally have used examples from French, Spanish, Dutch or German history or ever Roman history. Colonization typically meant the suppression of native cultures, in an environment where individual or group rights were rarely considered as significant and where the colonizers’ culture became dominant

Mr. Colquhoun notes that the British were the first to abolish slavery. I do not question that. Legislation though, as we know, does not necessarily change attitudes. The women’s suffrage movement gradually gained the right to vote at the end of the 19th century in parts of Europe. In much of Europe, as in Canada, that right to vote occurred at the beginning of the 20th century. Yet for most of the 20th century, there have been few women political leaders anywhere. Alberta gained the first female premier a century after women had the vote in Canada. Legislation makes things possible but deeply held attitudes and habits sometimes take decades to change. Racism and discrimination after all are often about deeply held attitudes about others who are different in some way to what we are.

I would like to suggest that Mr. Colquhoun and I have a beer and talk about issue further. This issue is important and will become more so. A letter to the editor is merely a prelude to a more meaningful conversation.

George Jason