Apparently some of the soldiers stationed CFB, experiencing boredom, decided to make themselves a little video to make each other laugh. Donning ‘brown face’, and a fake turban, a soldier impersonated Osama Bin Laden’s older brother. Relying on ethnic stereotypes that I am not going to repeat here, the impersonator carried out a skit in the video.
According to Peter Mackay, Canada’s Minister of Defence, states the video “is in poor taste but does not reflect the wider military community.” I don’t know about you but his assurances do nothing for me.
Videos and comedy are a byproduct of society at large. People only engage in this type of behavior if they think it will be well accepted by their peers. We have spent a long time in Afghanistan and clearly our soldiers view the population there with suspicion and derision. Factor in popular media, inaccurate portrayals in TV and movies and a serious problem emerges.
Racism is different than discrimination yet the two are often seen as the same thing. Power is a central tenet of racism. This is why there is no such thing as ‘reverse racism.’ Minority groups cannot be racist as they do not have systemic power in our society. Our culture, rooted in Protestant Christianity, permeates every aspect of our culture. We have been conditioned to believe that anyone or anything that is not white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant is less than. We are suspicious and judgmental of anyone who is different.
When you consider our response to what is different, imagine how this plays out in government offices across the country. How many staff in those offices actively discriminates against people of colour or people from a different religion? How is the system itself racist?
As a former civil servant, I can tell you that I worked with some very racist people. When I challenged some people on their behavior, I was ostracized and criticized. I did a presentation yesterday for a class of nurses. The instructor repeated a story she heard from an NGO worker about a Muslim woman who said she kept having babies so she could the child tax benefit every month. She really, truly believed it. I decided it was important to deconstruct what she was saying. There could be many reasons why the woman had multiple children and I dare say that none of them had anything to do with the paltry amount of money she would receive from the Government of Canada.
We discussed several scenarios as to the reasons for her prolific reproduction:
- Birth control – she may trouble accessing it
- Religion – she may be extremely religious and against birth control
- She may just want a large family
- She may have a husband who forced her to continue having babies
- She may come from a culture that values large families
- She may be from a culture where you have lots of children to ensure that someone would look after you in your old age.
One of the students suggested that the woman may have told the NGO worker she had lots of babies for the money instead of the real reason.
I have gone into detail about this to illustrate a point. Often times we blindly accept information we are given when it seems to come from an authority. We take it in; we believe it and; we repeat it. Effectively, it then becomes a truth, which then informs how we look at others. Challenging the instructor was not an easy place for me to be in yesterday but I could not let that stand without examining it critically.
Let’s return to the Canadian Forces video. The skits performed relied on conclusions and stereotypes widely accepted. The stereotypes become a form of shorthand that doesn’t require explanation. In this case, popular media promulgates the misinformation. Like many other institutions, the Canadian Forces are racist; for Peter Mackay to state otherwise is ignorant and disingenuous.
What can we all do to make a difference? The most important thing we can do is to examine our own racist thoughts and actions. Examining our own privilege and identifying the sources of these ideas helps us to take them apart and see from where they come. Most people believe they are not racist when challenged on their ideas. It is uncomfortable for us to admit to our racism. I admit, almost every single day, that I am a racist. I work very hard to deconstruct my own ideas and to replace them with fact where I can. I also challenge others to do the same, all the while admitting my own privilege and racism. I believe that this is what is required if we are to create more harmony and welcoming communities for other people.
Do you have an example of a racist story that is shared as fact? What do you do when you’re faced with racism in yourself or others? This is a very worthy conversation in which to engage.