Ever since the election of Donald Trump last November and the Brexit vote last June we have seen a rise in intolerant rhetoric, language and behaviour that wants to see the world divided between the good and the bad. This simplistic view which divides us into us and them, invokes a nostalgic view of a past that never actually existed. Those on the right who celebrate the triumph of Brexit, Trump, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe and people like Kelly Leitch in Canada simply want to turn back the clock.
It is almost as if the rise of these groups and their ideologies across the Western world has given them licence to vent their hatred in public. South of the border, groups like the Ku Klux Klan feel emboldened to come out of the woodwork to spread their messages of intolerance and hatred.LGBTQ intolerance
At the same time we have seen a rise in xenophobic incidents in the United States and here in Canada. As a culture we need to ask ourselves is this world we want for our children? Do we want to give them a world where it is acceptable to spew the language of hatred and intolerance instead of world filled with hope, diversity and possibility?LGBTQ intolerance
Over the past few months there have been numerous incidents including the shooting of men at prayer at the Grand Mosque of Québec in January by Alexandre Bissonnette. The shooting shows what can happen when a culture of intolerance fans the flames of hatred. We need to challenge the language of hatred, intolerance and xenophobia whenever it used by anyone in our society.
While minor in comparison to the shooting in Québec, the furor last month over Nancy Elgie’s use of a racial slur needs to be acknowledged and addressed. While Elgie apologized for the use of the slur, explaining it was the result of an unfortunate accident, such language by a public official serving on a school board can never be condoned. No matter the reason, use of such language is unacceptable. Thankfully, on Feb. 17 Elgie stepped down, but the incident reminds us that we need to be vigilant. During difficult times we need to be on guard against all forms of racism and intolerance holding public officials accountable not only for their language but also their actions.
At the same time tensions about the inclusion of the Toronto police in Pride celebrations have divided the LGBTQ community along racial and political lines. The issues behind these debates arise from how different groups experience inequality in our society. Middle-class, white gay men do not experience racism in the same way as young, gay, black men or women. In order to understand how inequality operates and how racism propagates we need to listen to those who feel disenfranchised and give them a place at the table in order create a society that creates opportunity for all and not for a select few.
We know that hatred and intolerance creates pain and anguish. It is borne of ignorance and thrives on fear. In order to fight the plague of racism and xenophobia that is being fostered we need to listen and learn. It is too easy to focus on ourselves and our own experiences, to ignore the experience of others. There is enough pain in this world without creating more. Instead of retreating into a cocoon of wounded narcissism that believes in protectionist policies and jingoistic nationalist ideas, we need to embrace empathy and foster diversity. We need to welcome strangers and not fear them. The old adage, when you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence, is what we need to embrace.
What we are witnessing are attempts by those who fear the future to incite hatred and intolerance. They are digging in their heels embracing fear over hope, ignorance instead of knowledge. They are akin to the king who sought to stop the waves of the ocean, only to be washed away themselves by the tide of history. We know that in the end love will win, but for now, the only antidote is to listen to those in need, to continue to build bridges and to spread a message of hope that fosters diversity. For the past 50 years as a culture we have witnessed change as we moved from homogeneity to diversity, inclusion rather exclusion fostered by federal policies of multiculturalism that showed us we are stronger together than apart. At times like this we need to come together to fight the many headed hydra of hatred, intolerance and racism everywhere it rears its ugly head.