Think Canada is better than the U.S. when it comes to racism? Not so fast, says author of Brown
‘We should talk more openly about race and stop pretending it’s an issue that we have dealt with’
Following a historic election that stoked and continues to stoke racial division in the U.S., a Canadian journalist and author says we have our own challenges to work through.
"I think we have a healthier conversation around race and definitely a less violent one. We don't have the history of the civil war that ripped America apart but we have our own issues with the Indigenous population. We have our own inadequacies when it comes to that population," Kamal Al-Solaylee told CBC News on Sunday.
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Al-Solaylee addressed a small group at a Calgary bookstore as part of the Spur Festival.
"As the last federal election in Canada proved, I don't think we are above some politicians using race to bait their constituency or using race to stand out from a whole pool of candidates for a leadership convention or something."
The publisher at the Literary Review of Canada and festival director says the conversation becomes all the more important with the recent U.S. election.
"It's been an explosive and emotional week. You see the political reactions right across social media," Helen Walsh said.
"The alt-right, the reaction against the alt-right. People are upset, Canadians are upset."
She says now is no time to pretend there aren't serious challenges ahead.
"I think you have to talk about issues that matter. You have to talk about divisions," she said.
"You don't want to fan the flames of racism, you don't want to normalize racist talk, but I think within that, you need to get at what is going on. I don't think you can hide your head in the sand."
Student Alexandra Daignault says she's still in shock from the Tuesday election.
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"I am still processing and dealing with the election," Daignault explained.
"I feel books like this are really important because they inherently make us interrogate our own bias and how we interact with terms like diversity and whether that is a fallacy or whether that is actually something we are working towards."
Daignault's approach to racial division and ignorance is education and conversation.
"Conversation I think is the best way to transform the way people think. As young people we have a lot of opportunities, especially here in Calgary, to go to lectures, go to events, educate yourself, read, all those sorts of things, and then it is through conversation that we can work through some of this stuff that comes out, that is difficult perhaps."
Al-Solaylee says a Donald Trump presidency could have an upside.
"If there is one silver lining, it's maybe that we should talk more openly about race and stop pretending it's an issue that we have dealt with. I am talking about Canada," he said.
"In the U.S. it actually brings a very toxic and nasty but necessary conversation about who gets to be called an American and who has the right to be called an American. Is it defined along colour lines as Trump supporters think it must be or will it remain the kind of place where everyone can come and make something of themselves, the old way we used to think about the U.S."
Walsh says now is not the time to stop talking.
"If we want to have the kind of society we talk about, we talk about pluralistic, we talk about strong, we talk about prosperous, if that is what we want then we have to work for it because I don't think that happens accidentally," she said.
"In an immigrant nation like Canada, we need all people to feel welcome, we need all hands on deck, that is the only way we all prosper. But if that is what you want then you have to learn about people's experiences, you have to give them the right and the opportunity to talk about what is happening in our country."
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With files from Mario De Ciccio