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LETTERS: Addressing racist responses to student's petition

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This letter was written in response to social media comments made on a December 2019 story "Secwepemc students shouldn't have to pay for parking at TRU: petition." The post has since been removed from KamloopsMatters Facebook page.  

Dear Editor:

One class assignment, two students who chose a social action route involving a petition, and two very different reactions from the public in Kamloops.

Canadians have a reputation for being kind and generous, we boast about our multi-cultural mosaic of a country and have a good reputation abroad. Hell, Americans even pretend to be us to get better treatment in other countries! Unfortunately, we do not live up to our reputation here at home and if the world knew what we are too ignorant to admit to ourselves, we would go down a couple of pegs on the world stage, and frankly, we deserve to finally admit the truth.

Racism is alive and well in Canada; furthermore, we hide it or outright deny it is racism. I simply cannot stay quiet any longer, especially after what I witnessed happen to my classmate and fellow future social worker. Get ready, because itʼs time to do some critical thinking.

We are future social workers, so we sign on for social justice, it's part of the package. However, one policy class we had to take gave us an option for our final project worth 50% of our grade: research paper, asset map, etc. Now, Iʼm not going to lie, policy is super dry and hard to get into, but we will be using it all the time, so you have to accept policy as a part of your life. I happen to have had this professor before and to say he is enthusiastic is an understatement, and I knew if I took the social action route he would enjoy it, plus it sounded fun.

The social action route started the same as all the other projects, find a policy concern and address it or find something that doesnʼt have a policy at all. The social action route had three parts: Letter to the Editor, Op-Ed, and a petition. I share these boring facts with you to show you how these petitions started, both students used something they were passionate about to drive an entire project, not just a petition. The petition started on our personal Facebook accounts and was shared among students and staff. I read the other studentʼs petition and I thought it sounded like a great idea, signed, shared, weʼre done. Merry Christmas.

I follow Kamloops Matters on Facebook and saw there was a story on my classmateʼs petition. Now, I have never met this person, but I was so happy another person took the social action route as well.

Then I read the comments. I didnʼt read all of them, but I read enough to be disgusted. I am ashamed to admit I was too nervous to chime in and call people out for what was said. That stops today.

I should have stuck up for my classmate then and I didnʼt, thatʼs on me. I didnʼt want to argue with people online who clearly were either misinformed or just ignorant; however, I cannot witness racism any longer. I have always called people out in my personal life, and now itʼs time for me to voice something that is deeply ingrained in my core value system, racism disgusts me and I will not allow fellow human beings to be treated this way.

Social work teaches us to take a “critical lens” to our systems, past and present. Through this lens, you see a history of colonization that carries on today. I urge you to take this critical lens and turn it on yourself if you utter or repeat intolerant comments. Are you repeating something your family taught you, or can you think for yourself? Have you ever shared a meal with the groups you blame for societyʼs problems or are you letting our capitalist structures create multiple enemies so you donʼt question why a tiny elite group control the world? Have you experienced an Indigenous ceremony at one of the many events you are invited to, by the very people that invited Europeans onto their land only to be murdered and exploited? Now you want to carry that on by calling an entire rich culture deplorable stereotypical names?

Take this lens and turn it on yourself if you ever get the urge to tear down another human being for something you either made up or were told. Take your hateful, angry energy and put it into something useful. If you can out yourself as a racist through your “passion” you can surely go educate yourself. Ask yourself, why does it make you feel better to know you hurt someone? What is so ugly inside you that you need to spit racist venom at strangers? Why do you have the confidence to say something behind a keyboard but are afraid to show your true colours in public? Because the truth is, when you live a life of bigotry and hate, you have ceased to evolve as a human being. And thatʼs all you are, a human being, like every other human being, youʼre not special, youʼre just a body on the inside, like everyone else.

I can't speak for the Indigenous experience or how my fellow classmate felt when she read those putrid comments. I can't understand what itʼs like to be treated in such a vile manner, and I donʼt have to, because Iʼm white. Part of my social work journey is understanding privilege. Part of dismantling privilege is exposing oppression when I witness it, and thatʼs all I am attempting to do. What I can speak to is my experience, and how I hold the Indigenous culture close to my heart. Not only did I grow up experiencing and celebrating it, I find many of my values align with what has been shared with me. I can also state that when my husband died, all of my Indigenous friends were mourning with me at my home, while many were blaming me. This is my experience with the Indigenous culture, because I took the invitations that have been offered to me my whole life.

Itʼs time for Canadians to admit we have a problem with racism and start calling each other out. Excuses such as age or growing up rural just won't cut it anymore, we are better than this. We can live up to our reputation and be as a whole what many kindhearted Canadians are, it will just take some critical thinking.

Elisha Hamilton, Kamloops