But less than conga line
Does our world need the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDERD)? Short answer: Yes. We by no means live in a post-racism society. This year, for example, in a New Jersey Walmart, a voice came over the public-address system asking all black people to leave. Closer to home, a neo-Nazi rally was scheduled to be held in Vancouver on March 21st. These are big, and blatant acts of racism. IDERD commemorates a group of peaceful demonstrators, many of whom on March 21st, 1960 were killed in South Africa while protesting apartheid.

Not to devalue the lives of those protestors, or the effects of these acts, but that was 50 years ago, and the world is a different place now. There is no more apartheid, nor are there segregated schools. You may be thinking, ‘Yeah but this is Canada; Canada is nice to people.’ Well, during World War II, which happened 70 years ago, hundreds of thousands of Japanese people, even Canadian-born Japanese people, were interned in camps across Canada – it was policy. So even Canada has come a long way in the past century.

Today, Canada celebrates its diversity. The majority of Canadians are proud to welcome peoples of all different races, from all different backgrounds, into the cultural crossroads we call a country. I haIDERDd a chat with Gurpreet Kambo, CSU Students of Colour Liason. Gurpreet was quick to clarify that multiculturalism does not equal anti-racism. His reasoning being this: “The reason I’m saying they’re not the same thing is that when people say diversity or multiculturalism... how people recognize that is by doing a conga line, or eating food from China or India or whatever, but that is not addressing the real issues. Sure I can go and eat Chinese food on multicultural day, but that doesn't do anything to address the fact that, for example, people of colour, you know, non-white people, get statistically paid less on average, and are under-represented in upper management, or media, or television, or film, or government.” So instead of organizing a conga line to mark IDERD, Gurpreet organized an open mic event. Sadly, people of colour were also under-represented there.

At the open mic songs were sung and poems read, although none of them had much to do with issues surrounding race. Gurpreet himself read a poem entitled “Mixed Race”. The title made me think that someone was finally going to touch on a real race issue. It didn’t. It was about a half-French, half-British girl who only shaved one armpit. With an open mic you can’t stifle what participants have to say, but if you are going to mark IDERD, you should actually take it seriously. In my opinion, a conga line type activity would have better represented the values IDERD stands for.

I totally understand that racist acts still happen today, and that minority groups are under-represented, but an open mic with (campus celebrity) Flyry rapping about 2012 and alien existence doesn’t do anything to stop that. What does help us eliminate racism is understanding our differences, and treating all people as equals regardless of real or perceived differences. If we were to celebrate International Multiculturalism day on March 21, rather than IDERD, we would be further along in the process of eliminating racism, because we would be understanding and celebrating our cultural differences collectively. Kambo does not agree with this. “Multiculturalism does not equal anti-racism. By labeling it International Day To Eliminate Racism, I think you’re starting off with the premise that racism exists.” Sure it does, but as a society, we have come a log way from head-taxes, internment camps, and residential schools. The real issue is how we, as a society, are going to take the next step to eliminate racism altogether. I suggest we simply treat folks as folks, regardless of skin colour, socio-economic strata, gender, or sexual orientation. Racism, or any other ism, will only be gone once we say it is gone. If society continues to harp on the isms, people are just going to get more tense, and paranoid, and continue to perpetuate stereotypes.

So, a longer answer to my opening question might be: Maybe we do not need an international day to eliminate racism – we just need to treat people equally. To be collectively post-racism, we all just have to move on.

//Colin May

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