When will the foolishness that is racism and profiling be neither legal nor illegal, but simply impossible? When will we live in a society where these ideas, finally dead, will only be known, along with other ancient beliefs, to be studied in university departments?
The world could find nothing better to make of this militant for black rights, who was in fact a white woman, than a big deal. What a joke — Rachel Dolezal is white, and thought she was a black militant! Of course, this singular case was classified as a societal phenomenon. Seen in this light, this incredible story would be a perfect illustration of a leftist ideology that leads to identifying, to the point of such mimicry, with the plight of the most unfortunate. Altogether it is a bit like “The Human Stain,” the novel by Philip Roth, but with the plot turned inside out.
Do you know of other similar cases? Perhaps that of Louis Wolfson, an American who once lived in Quebec, who tried furiously to forget his language, English, by converting the words that floated up in his consciousness into syllables from foreign languages. But that was quite unique. Cases of racist killers, like that of Charleston or the island of Utoya, are more common.
In Montreal, the Tribunal of Human Rights just fined “a black woman” for having “publicly humiliated a woman of Egyptian origin.” And of course, some blowhards disguised as public thinkers immediately took the opportunity to argue that racism is therefore not only a problem amongst white people. But what does this story really tell us about the social reality of entire communities? To everyone’s confusion, in the end we understand nothing.
Does it suffice to say that we are all German Jews, as the old slogans suggests? I doubt it. We can support, care, and show empathy. We can put ourselves in another’s place and some even take themselves for others, but we can never be the Other.
Have you ever tried being black to see? Native American? French Canadian in a country with black sand? Muslim in this time of paranoia? We do not slide into the Other’s skin the way we want to. But understanding the social injuries caused by racism and profiling should make us get past the stage of our voluntary blindness.
We continue today in countless news bulletins to feel obliged to state the skin color or religion of certain individuals, as if that must be one of the elements useful in comprehending events. If you say for example that a man from Laval stole a car, it is not the same thing as saying that a black person stole this car. The statement that the thief is black resounds as to suggest worry, even though no matter what, the insurance claim for the stolen car will be the same.
Take the case of the First Nations. The ethnologist Isabelle Picard, member of the Huron-Wendat Nation, was thirteen years old at the time of the Oka crisis. She told me that she began to feel expressions of racism immediately after this crisis to which she had no connection. “Since then I’ve been constantly hearing curious comments on my origins.”
The day she bought a house in Montreal, the proprietor thought she was Italian. “When I explained to her that I was a native, she responded, “It would be better not to tell the neighbors that.” Someone has seriously asked me if I had the same menstrual cycle as humans or animals. And several times, I have been asked at what age feathers grow out of our heads.”
In a detailed analysis that they just released, The League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples shows that the Montreal police have broken up nearly all student and anti-capitalist protests. The police force does this by using methods that are practically never used for other types of protests that, for example, don’t provide any more of an itinerary. Since 2011, there have been 7,000 arrests.
“We aren’t profiling, but we make selections based on the type of people who are going to do this sort of protesting,” explains Anie Samson, vice-president of the Executive Council in charge of public security, at a meeting of the municipal council on June 15. You read right: the Montreal police, according to the person in charge, wouldn’t carry out any profiling, but rather a “selection” in “the name of common sense.” What a pretty synonym.
“There is a certain ordinary racism that is defended by common sense,” replied council member François Limoges. “In certain cities in the southern United States, a white policeman will tell you, “everyone knows: it is such and such ethnic group that commits misdemeanors; it’s common sense.” And Mayor Coderre stood to say that it was inappropriate — in the name of the precision of the French language, no less — to mix apples and oranges. Yet it would be so much better to taste a world in which several fruits were no longer seen as stones.