Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The haters among us

It was the 11th grade -- or it may have been the 12th. It's a long time ago now. But it's a memory from high school that is still seared like a branding iron. It's the time I got branded -- in a rather inappropriate way. Let me explain.

Maybe it's the sheltered life I had, but until I was in high school I actually had a hard time acknowledging that racism existed in Canada. I thought it was something that existed in other countries, not here. It took a while to get over that hump, so to speak -- it became obvious though when I started noticing the students of Italian origin hanging out only with each other, then the Polish students, etc. It certainly seemed to go against what I thought about what multiculturalism was supposed to be about.

But it was one day when I was walking in the hallways that one of my friends tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey Robert, you have something stuck on you."

I reached behind the sweater on my school uniform and after a couple of attempts managed to locate it and pull it off. I took a look at the sticker. Kind of like a Post-It. The caption on it said, "Isn't it time there was a pro-white newspaper for a change? Subscribe to the Granville Observer." And at the bottom, a number that was clearly from somewhere in British Columbia.

I had seen a sticker like it before -- someone plastered it on a window on one of the buses here in Hamilton. I just shook my head at the time and chuckled. But this time, it was personal.

Not knowing who'd pull a prank like that on me, I marched down to the vice-Principal's office -- well, there were two of them, I just picked the one that happened to be in his office at the time -- and I showed him the offending object. He said, "Thanks Robert, I'll look into it."

Like hell he did. I never saw or heard anything about it again. Which made me wonder -- was the evidence so flimsy that no one could ever be traced to it? Or was there something deeper going on? Perhaps the head honchos at the school, and the Catholic school board, supported the white identity movement?

The least they could have done is reported it as a hate crime. Bring in some of the usual suspects and ask the tough questions. I would have been happy to file a police report. But I was never asked even for something as simple as that. To this day, I still don't have an answer to why nothing was done.

Fast forward to 2007, and the present travelling royal commission in Québec on the issue of "reasonable accommodations," and the increasingly hostile atmosphere as one after another people in Québec are saying basically, "Why should we accommodate them? They moved here -- they should play by our rules." And ironically for a province that deliberately separated church and state in the 1960s, the debate is around Christianity being threatened by Orthodox Jews, Muslims and the Jehovah's Witnesses among others.

It's alarming ... but in reality it's not surprising at all. Because at the heart of the debate is what multiculturalism is supposed to be. As originally intended, it was meant to be a way to give all Canadians an equal voice regardless of race or religion; as well as to fight racism wherever and whenever it happened. In practice, it has only encouraged more segregation. And federal, provincial and local policies actually encourage the hate to continue.

One only has to take a look at the ongoing battle royale between Canadians of Croatian and Serbian origin as an example. Many Croats blame Serbs for all their problems. In turn, many Serbians claim all Croatians are neo-Nazis. One would hope people would leave their problems in the homeland, but there was at least a couple of instances in the past year where a riot broke out in the stands when the "Hamilton Croatia" and "Hamilton Serbia" soccer teams played in the regional league. And it goes on right into the shop floor and office pools. Us against them, not we're all in this together. It's like the war never ended. Because they don't want it to end.

If the Balkan War taught anything, it's that there was enough blame to go around. Atrocities were committed on all sides -- and no one can truly claim the moral high ground. It just makes me shudder that there was a protest outside the US Consulate not that long ago protesting the extradition of a suspected Croat General to the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. As if all Croatians who fought were totally innocent. Yeah right.

Some of my fellow Croatians consider me a traitor for having friendships with Bosnians and Serbians. I won't name names but you know who you are. And what gives? Really. I'll be friends with whoever I want to be friends with.

Of course, there are some legitimate grievances. The YWCA in Montréal, for instance had no reason to frost their windows so as not to offend Hasidic Jews who might be put off by exercising women. And no one should be afraid to speak out whether in print, on the screen, or in cartoon form such as the exploding Mohammad.

Let's face it, the haters among us are all of us. Every one of us is a little bit racist, sexist, whatever. It's how we deal with that that shapes who we are. And the best place to start would be on multiculturalism. Of course there's strength in diversity -- but we can't emphasize the diversity to the point where we're no longer strong. We need to make our country and our people strong. If that means turning around what we understand the term to be, so be it.

And it goes back, in part, to that sticker. Appealing to the worst sentiments in all of us, rather than to the best. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Because if I don't marry within my "breed," I'll always be a "traitor" and my kids "half-breeds." How about something different for a change: Just calling each others Canadians, period?

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