Is There a Cure for Racism? You Bet There is.

A commentary on racism

Obviously, I must be naiver than I thought because I truly thought that my generation was less racist than my parents and grandparent’s generations. I believed that racism was disappearing more and more with each generation. It seems I was wrong. The racism, at least in Canada, was hidden; below the surface so to speak.  Racism in Canada was intangible until all the rhetoric from south of the border starting filtering into Canada’s news media.

From cbc.ca

CBC recently published a news article called, Ottawa church fi
ghts racism. A Baptist church in Westboro, an area in the west end of Ottawa, Canada, is trying to use lawn signs to build community, and combat the negativity and racism being directed towards refugees in both Canada and the United States.  The First United Church printed 200 signs that read “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbour,” in the languages of English, French and Arabic. The idea for the signs was inspired from similar campaigns in the United States and southern Ontario.

It was felt that the signs were a way to make a public statement without being political. One church volunteer said, “Make it clear that we’re happy, that diversity is a positive thing, that having neighbours from all over the world and from diverse places is great and that we’re happy to get to know our neighbours and welcome everyone to the community.”

There seems to be a perception in Canada, and seemingly more so in the United States, that diversity is a bad thing; that immigration needs to be slowed or even stopped. Well the truth is, diversity makes for a better society and scientific studies prove that.

In the Scientific American article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, studies show that being around people who are different from us makes us humans more creative, more diligent and harder-working. One study involving “more than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us”.

This is just one of the numerous studies stated in the article. The fact of the matter is, the article clearly shows how diversity improves creativity, increases innovation, and increases open-mindedness. In other words, society is healthier with diverse environments.

A debate has gone on for some time over whether people are inherently racist; whether infants are born racist. Personally, I think it is a ridiculous argument. If you’ve ever held a child under six months old, you would clearly see that babies love everyone. They just want to be loved by everyone.

A US News’ article, Babies Not Racist, reports on a University of Massachusetts—Amherst study. The study found white 9-month-old babies were worse than white 5-month-old babies at telling apart African-American adults. The news media had a “field day” suggesting that the study is evidence for inherited racism. Time reported the study with the headline, Your Baby Is a Racist, and the Telegraph with the headline, Babies show racial bias. As the US News article points out, all the babies in the study had “little to no previous experience with African-American or other black individuals.” In fact, at that age, babies can’t tell apart something they’re not used to seeing. At least four previous studies suggested that infants who aren’t familiar with other races have difficulty identifying differences in facial structures.

There is convincing proof that racism is learned. In Jane Elliot’s infamous “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise, she clearly demonstrates how racism is learned. Ms. Elliot was a third-grade schoolteacher in the 1960s and 1970s. She decided to base the exercise on eye colour rather than skin colour in order to show the children what racial segregation would be like. If you are not familiar with the exercise, here is part of a documentary explaining her exercise.

The results from the exercise are startling. As a result of the exercise,  Jane Elliot declared,

 “You are not born racist. You are born into a racist society. And like anything else, if you can learn it, you can unlearn it. But some people choose not to unlearn it, because they’re afraid they’ll lose power if they share with other people. We are afraid of sharing power. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Atlantic’s article, New Evidence That Racism Isn’t ‘Natural’, reports on a 2013 paper in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, of four researchers who performed amygdala studies, previously done on adults but now was being done on children. The amygdala is mass of grey matter inside each cerebral hemisphere involved with the experiencing of emotions. The researchers found that the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14 and once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse the peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader in the 1960s said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” This is what I believe as well. Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, once said, “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” There is no doubt in my mind that racism is learned and evolves from fear and ignorance.

I’ll finish with another one of Jane Elliot’s quotes.

“White people’s number one freedom, in the United States of America, is the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white. We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.”

The same holds true for Canadians. We too have the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white and we too have the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant. “Ignorance is bliss” they say. It is time to speak up against the stupidity of racism!

“Peace Through Strength”; I Don’t Buy It!

A commentary on the belief that peace is achieved by strength.

NBC News reports that current Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, made the comment that “all options are on the table” over derailing North Korea’s weapons program. The news article also reports that Tillerson’s bluntness was met with immediate alarm by national security analysts and academics.

The Washington Times article, Trump administration: ‘America First’ and ‘Peace Through Strength’ national security policies states that President Donald Trump and his administration face an array of security threats and challenges around the world as the new president seeks to refocus U.S. government policies on putting America first. It also says the Trump administration’s immediate priorities include revamping the military and intelligence policies toward the Islamic State terrorist group. Just on March 16, the budget released by Trump’s administration proposes a $54 billion hike in defence.

Time, the online version of Time Magazine, has a section titled, Unpredictable America. In that section it says, the world’s sole superpower was once the international trump card, imposing order to force compromise and head off conflict. Now it’s a wildcard, because instead of creating policies designed to bolster global stability, President Trump will use U.S. power overwhelmingly to advance U.S. interests, with little concern for the broader impact.

On January 14, 2017, US Senator, John McCain said,

“What we have to understand is what Vladimir Putin is and so we have to go back to the days of Ronald Reagan. Peace through strength, the only thing that Vladimir Putin understands is strength, that for his aggression the price is higher than what he might gain from it.”

Those of us who are more matured remember the Cold War. Wikipedia explains that this was a “war” of geopolitical tension between powers in the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its satellite states) and powers in the Western Bloc (the United States, its NATO allies and others). Each side had a nuclear strategy that discouraged an attack by the other side, on the basis that such an attack would lead to the total destruction of the attacker. In essence, peace through strength. “Peace through strength” is a phrase which suggests that military power can help preserve peace.

George Washington, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, allegedly said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace”. But it was Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, who made the phrase standard when he said, “We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression”. What alarms me is Mike Pence, the present vice president of the United States is quoted as saying, “I think I’ve always believed in Ronald Reagan’s adage, “Peace through Strength”.

Ironically, I received the following quote in my email inbox from NealeDonaldWalsch.com.

On this day of your life, Dear Friend,

I believe God wants you to know that peace cannot come to this world until you are convinced that violence will never produce it. Hurt does not heal hurt. Violence will not bring an end to violence. Help the world to understand this by reacting differently, responding newly, when anger and a need to hurt you is sent your way.

You will have such an opportunity in your life. And probably, more than once. Do not miss the chance to humbly send a message of love.

The words, “peace cannot come to this world until you are convinced that violence will never produce it… Help the world to understand this…” literally jumped out at me. Why I wondered? Then the answer came to me. This is truth!

It is what is said in the western religions sacred scriptures of the world. In the Hebrew scriptures it says, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it”. In the Christian scriptures it is written, in 1 Peter 3:11, “let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it”.  In Islam’s sacred scriptures, the Quran, it says in chapter 49, verse 11, “Surely all believers are brothers. So, make peace between brothers, and fear Allah that mercy may be shown to you”.

Even many of the world’s greats have said that “peace through strength” is not the way. A man who is one of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India, famously declared, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind”.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American activist for the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of those rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and the influence of Gandhi. King once declared, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”.  Even Albert Einstein, widely regarded as a genius said, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding”.

Bridget of Sweden, a mystic and saint, and founder of the Bridgettines nuns and monks, allegedly once said, “The world would have peace if the men of politics would only follow the Gospel”. Margaret Mead, an American anthropologist during the 1960s and 1970s, is quoted as saying, “The first step in the direction of a world rule of law is the recognition that peace no longer is an unobtainable ideal but a necessary condition of continued human existence”. With all the world’s racism, war mongering, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigration rhetoric, citizens of this planet are craving to obtain a peaceful world and Mead is right; it is necessary for human existence.

For the most part, men have been the leaders in this world and still are. UN Women Website reports that as of June 2016, only 22.8% of all national parliamentarians were women, a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995.  We continue live in a world, as it has been for most of world history, ruled by males.

BBC has an article called, What if women ruled the world?  The article quotes Janet Napolitano, United States Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, under President Barack Obama as saying, “I think it’s fair to say that women are a little more collaborative in their approach overall, and a little less driven to conflict as opposed to driven to working out problems.” Mary Robinson, President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, once said, “We need to take decisions now that will make for a safer world for our grandchildren and their grandchildren, and I think women are more likely to do that when they come into positions of leadership.”

More and more I am coming to the conclusion that people like Janet Napolitano and Mary Robinson are right. Maybe the world would be a more peaceful place if more women were running things.

Alice H. Eagly did a study in 2013 at Northwestern University called Women as Leaders. In this study she looked at leadership style versus leaders’ values and attitudes. Northwestern University is a private research university based in Evanston, Illinois. Her conclusion was, “There are multiple indications that women, compared with men, enact their leader roles with a view to producing outcomes that can be described as more compassionate, benevolent, universalistic, and ethical, thus promoting the public good”.

Something has to change if peace on this planet is ever to be obtained. Women, by their very nature would understand that peace cannot come to this world until humans are persuaded that violence will never produce it.

The Hideous Consequences of Political Rhetoric

A commentary on the increase in “hate crimes” due to political rhetoric.

rhetI am deeply disturbed by some of the events occurring in my beloved country of Canada. I have always been proud of the fact that Canada celebrates cultural diversity. Multiculturalism in Canada is the sense of an equal celebration of racial, religious and cultural backgrounds.  The Canadian federal government, under then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, put forth the ideology of multiculturalism which places emphasis on the social importance of immigration. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act is a law that was passed in 1988 and it aims to preserve and enhance multiculturalism in Canada. When I taught high school social studies I always proudly emphasized this fact to my students. So, when I learn of islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigration views expressed in my country, I am alarmed and angered. These are some of the things that have happened in Canada.

In early March, Montreal police arrested a 47-year-old man hours after a bomb threat targeting Muslim students forced the evacuation of three buildings at Concordia University’s downtown campus. Apparently, several media outlets in Montreal received a bomb threat claiming to be from the “Council of Concerned Citizens of Canada,” a white supremacist organization also known as C4, which claimed that “small […] amateur explosive devices” had been placed in two buildings on the University. The email stated that C4’s goal was to injure Muslim students. The email also began by citing the election of U.S. President Donald Trump as inspiration for the group’s violent agenda (see CBC News).

Also in early March, a late-night fire at an Islamic information centre and mosque is being investigated by Toronto police. A police spokesperson said the fire is considered “suspicious” and being investigated as arson. It was not ruled as a hate crime then, but it certainly “smells” like a hate crime (see CBC News).

The Globe and Mail is reporting that police are investigating the discovery of swastikas inside an Ontario university classroom this week which left some students feeling distraught; the school calling the symbols “hate graffiti”. The news report says the police are treating the incident as a case of mischief at the time of the article. Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario told reporters, “This incident is an unfortunate reminder that anti-Semitism continues to persist even in a society as welcoming as Canada and a city as diverse as Toronto.” Hillel Ontario is an organization that strives to enrich the lives of Jewish students attending Ontario’s colleges and universities (see Globe & Mail). Sure seems like a hate crime to me.

Far right groups opposed to a federal government motion condemning Islamophobia took to the streets of Montreal in early March. On the opposing side were around 100 representatives of anti-fascist groups, carrying signs saying “Make racists afraid again” and chanting “Immigrants in, fascists out.” Tensions between the groups quickly flared despite a police presence (see CBC News).

Then there was the Quebec City Mosque attack that occurred on January 29th. Alexandre Bissonnette, only 27, was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder while using a restricted firearm. During that attack, six men died in the shooting while evening prayers were underway at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (Islamic cultural centre of Quebec) [see CBC News].

A Winnipeg business owner who identifies herself as a witch says her store has been repeatedly vandalized over the past six years and she wants police to investigate the incidents as hate crimes. Dominique Smith owns Elemental Book & Curiosity Shop Inc. Smith sells alternative spirituality products such as herbs, crystals, incense, books and tarot cards. She also teaches classes out of the business and occasionally has gatherings for worship and rituals. She says her shop’s window has been broken three times. She has had people come into the store harassing her and her staff, telling them that we were evil and needed to repent. Ms. Smith says she’s had to clean spit and urine off of her door and windows countless times over the past few years (see CBC News).

Now I ask the question: what has happened to “tolerance and understanding”? Why does it appear to be disappearing? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not that naive. Canada has always had its share of racists and bigots, but for the most part my country is seen as a tolerant, multicultural society. In fact, analysts at the London-based think tank, the Legatum Institute, ranks 142 countries based on their economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom and social capital.  In 2015, the Institute ranked Canada as number one for being the “freest country in the world” with its tolerance of immigrants, minorities, freedom of expression and beliefs. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of Canadians (92 %) agreed that their country is a good place for immigrants. The United States was ranked 15th for personal freedom (see CTV News).  In 2016, Canada dropped to second place and the United States dropped to position 26 in terms of personal freedom. (see Legatum 2016).

mother-teresa-beautiful-words-love-thy-neighbor-quotes-if-you-judge-people-have-not-time-acknowledge-them-caring-givingCanada is predominantly a Christian country. In the 2011 National Household Survey, two-thirds of Canada’s population reported affiliation with a Christian religion. Christianity is a religion that follows the teachings of Jesus whose teachings focus on the themes of love of God and love of neighbour. In fact, Matthew 22:36 – 40 in the Christian scriptures says, ‘Teacher [Jesus], which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He [Jesus] said to him,” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ If Christians believe this, then I do not understand why Canadians (at least some of them) are becoming (maybe they’ve always been so) increasingly intolerant and bigoted. At least this is what the various news articles are suggesting is the trend. It just doesn’t fit with the teachings of Jesus.

Sadly, this trend seems to have begun when the US presidential campaign began and much anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and anti-Mexico rhetoric began filtering into Canada’s news. Middle East Eye, an online news organization that provides news from a Middle Eastern perspective, reports that Donald Trump’s election victory is causing a ‘spill-over effect’ in Canada, where hate-motivated incidents have seen a recent spike (see MEE). Even some of our Canadian politicians are now spewing toxic, divisive rhetoric. I truly thought Canadians were different; that Canadians were more tolerant because of our multicultural diversity.  In fact, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, during an address in London, United Kingdom, in November of 2015 said, “Diversity is our strength.” Now I always thought so, but perhaps I’m just naive.  It was Pierre Bayle, a French philosopher, who once said, “It is thus tolerance that is the source of peace, and intolerance that is the source of disorder and squabbling”. He is so right! I still choose to believe that the majority of Canadians are tolerant and welcoming people no matter what race, religion and belief a person may have. The individuals carrying out these despicable hate crimes act out of fear perpetrated by rhetoric. Publius Cornelius Tacitus, a senator and an historian of the Roman Empire, once said, “Fear is not in the habit of speaking truth.” People are acting out of fear and thus executing heinous, hateful, acts because of lies spread by toxic political rhetoric. This has to stop!

Why is the Vatican Still Stonewalling Pope Francis?

A commentary on the sexual abuse scandal in religious institutions

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)CBC recently had a story that caught my attention. The story was called, Leading member of pope’s sex abuse panel quits, says Vatican is stonewalling. I haven’t heard much about the sexual abuse scandal in a long time, so I naturally assumed that the church had dealt with the issue. It seems I was wrong.

The news article reports that Marie Collins, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, quit out of frustration because of the lack of co-operation from other Vatican offices, known as the Curia. Ms. Collins claims there is “cultural resistance” at the Vatican that include some officials refusing the pope’s instructions to reply to all correspondence from abuse survivors. Collins wondered if the continuing reluctance to address the problem is “driven by internal politics, fear of change, clericalism which instills a belief that ‘they know best’ or a closed mindset which sees abuse as an inconvenience?”

clapping-hands-transparent-b-g-mdNow I applaud Pope Francis as I sincerely believe  he is trying to correct a wrong. A CBC article, Pope condemns “evil” child abuse, reports that in 2014, Pope Francis made his first public plea for forgiveness for the “evil” committed by priests who molested children. He then stated, “I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests… [committed]… to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children.” He went on to say, “The Church is aware of this … personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem…” It was then that Pope Francis set up the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a commission whose job was to propose the best initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, so that everything possible was done to ensure that no more children are abused by predator priests.

Historically, there was a systematic cover up by bishops and other Catholic hierarchy in many dioceses around the world to cover up the crimes of pedophile priests who raped children and committed other sexual abuses. This was done by moving allegedly abusive priests to other parishes, where abuse often continued. Protection of the institutional church became of all-encompassing importance to the Catholic hierarchy. Here is a brief history of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, reports of clergy sexually abusing children first surfaced in the mid 1980s. In the mid-1990s a number of books were published on the topic. The topic became the focus of intense scrutiny and debate after the Boston Globe published a series of articles covering cases of sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese.

The National Catholic Reporter reports that in January of 2002, a Judge ordered Boston Cardinal Bernard Law to turn over 10,000 pages of records. The Boston Globe used this evidence to initiate an extensive series on clerical sexual abuse in the archdiocese. It was the Globe and Mail that revealed that John Geoghan, a former Boston priest, who was accused of abusing more than 130 children during his 30 years as a priest and as a result was convicted of molesting a child in 1991 and sentenced to 9-10 years in prison where he was killed by a inmate.

According to a study being conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, about 4% of priests committed an act of sexual abuse on a minor between 1950 and 2002. However, it should be noted that the graphs and statistics sited in the report end before the Boston scandal.

The sexual abuse of children under the age of consent by priests has been reported in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia as well as other nations throughout the world. Many of the cases spanned several decades and were brought forward years after the abuse occurred.

This abuse is not unique to the Catholic church. Wikipedia has a list of abuse allegations that occurred in Jewish communities, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), the Anglican Church, as well as other religious institutions.

It isn’t just prevalent in religious communities. In Portland, Ore, a jury reached a $1.4 million verdict against the Boy Scouts of America in a trial that showed that since the 1920s, Scouts officials kept “perversion files” on suspected abusers but kept them secret.

The Huffington Post reports that in June 17, 2012 then Pope Benedict XVI told Irish Catholics that it is a “mystery” to him why priests and other church officials have been abusing children entrusted to their care for at least the past several decades.

Much of the abuse in the Catholic church was directed towards altar boys. I was an altar boy in the 1960s so I could have easily been one of those victims. Thankfully, I wasn’t. I can easily see how the abuse occurred. In the 1960s it was taught that the “holy fathers” (priests in other words) were directly consecrated by God.  These men believed they were Christ’s representatives on earth and were acting on Christ’s behalf.  These men were often put in charge of large numbers of children who have been taught that priests are God’s representatives and must be obeyed in all matters. You can see how easily abusing young children would have been. Talk about a “betrayal of trust.” I personally knew some of the priests who were accused of sexual abusing children.

I also personally know people who have experienced sexual abuse, none of which were by priests however. Nonetheless, I’ve seen firsthand what this abuse has did to them. People who were abused as children become damaged adults. Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS) is a provincial membership organization that supports agencies who offer services to survivors of sexual assault and abuse. This organization says survivors experience many of these responses after sexual assault or abuse:

  • Diminished self-esteem with frequent feelings of shame, humiliation, guilt, anger, and powerlessness
  • Negative self/body image and feelings of ugliness associated with shame and embarrassment of body
  • Physical symptoms of stress – such as headaches, stomach upsets, eating and sleeping problems, lethargy
  • Increased anxieties or tendency towards depression or depressive behaviour
  • Feelings of anger, fear, rage, couple with numbness and disconnection from shock
  • Increased isolation from others, withdrawn or difficulty trusting others
  • Erratic mood swings from hyper-alert to inconsolable grief to aggressive
  • Increased usage of alcohol or drugs to numb or cope with feelings and memories
  • Self-harm such as cutting, burning or scratching as way to numb or cope with feelings
  • Difficulty in returning to usual behaviours with inter-personal relationships
  • No or little desire for sexual intimacy
  • Increase in risky sexual behaviours
  • Flashbacks of the incident(s) and fear of being alone
  • Nightmares or other sleep disturbances
  • Loss of employment or school time due to inability to concentrate

This is why, in my view, sexual abuse by clergy is so difficult to comprehend. These men were supposed to be holy folks; people who carry out God’s work, yet they carried out heinous acts. This is why, in my view, crimes by the priesthood or a minister are so much graver and need to be taken seriously. Furthermore, those at the top of the hierarchy who knew of these scandalous acts, and yet still protected the abusers, should be even more shamefaced. I applaud Pope Francis for trying to prevent these atrocious crimes from happening again, but it seems there is still resistance within the church to deal with the issue seriously.

weeping-jesusThe Guardian quotes Father Thomas Doyle, a former canonical lawyer at the Vatican’s Washington embassy, as saying, “One of the massive holes in the Roman Catholic church’s approach to this issue, still today, is a failure to completely comprehend the depth of the spiritual damage that is done to the victims, to their families, especially their parents, to their friends and to the community itself.”  It is not difficult to understand why the faithful are confused when they were taught that sexual acts outside of marriage were intrinsically evil, always a mortal sin (an action that leads to a separation from God’s saving grace), and never moral, regardless of intention or circumstance. To preach one thing and act in opposition to what was taught would confuse anyone. I’m sure Jesus must be weeping.