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Canada: A Cure for Racism

About 10,000 people gathered at Victoria Park, in downtown London, Ont., last Saturday, in a collective denunciation against anti-Black racism and police brutality. “No justice, no peace,” many chanted.

Witnessing the unity of so many Londoners against an issue like racism was inspiring. But it also focused my mind on imagining what precisely a changed world could look like.

“It’s easy to fear the unknown, but the miracle of humanity is its ability to come together in times of need,” said J. J. Sereday, a Brooklyn-based videographer, who, in April, shot a video of the Forest City when he and most Londoners were in lockdown due to COVID-19. (London is often referred to as the “Forest City”.)

This strong show of support for #BlackLivesMatter is a great first for London. At the same time, it is an affirmation that racism is alive in Canada and that more needs to be done to reverse generations of inequality. But if now is the time where Canada is going to uproot systemic and institutional racism, we first need to accurately define what we mean when we talk about ‘racism’.

Because, if we can’t name it, we can’t change it.

Not only are opinions divided on what constitutes systemic ‘racism’, but some Canadians refuse to accept that we have a problem at all. Public comments made by Ontario Premier Doug Ford and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki are just two examples that come to mind. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to bring in “significant, concrete, and rapid measures.” That sounds good, but any measures need to have an eye focused on the long-term if we are going to effectively dismantle the racism that runs at the very core of the Canadian identity.

What does that racism look like? Let me tell you because I’ve lived it.

As an immigrant boy who easily passed for white, I tasted the bitterness of discrimination within days after landing at London International Airport. I relinquished my Middle-Eastern roots, lost my Islamic name to don a more Western-sounding one, and slowly shed my identity to continue being ‘one of them’. And so long as I remained silent, it worked. But the secret of who I was weighed upon my shoulders like an Everest. During the Gulf War, I dared not speak up and disclose to my white friends that I was an Arab. When the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, so did any hope of normalcy.

When I did finally break the silence and came out using my given name, there was always the suspicion of crossing borders, applying for jobs, or introducing myself to others. As a candidate knocking on doors in the 2019 federal election, some would still ask me ‘whose side I was on’. One day, I returned to my car to find a note that “the terrorist should go back home.”

When news of the Prime Minister’s blackface controversy erupted, journalists asked me to comment. I took this opportunity to speak as a person who had faced racism. I reminded fellow Canadians that we could use this unfortunate time as an opportunity to talk about how real racism and privilege were for many marginalized individuals in our community.

Having spent the past several months in COVID-induced social isolation at home, I didn’t have to think twice about participating in last weekend’s protest. I knew that I needed to stand in solidarity with people of colour. While the coronavirus has kept us in lockdown for months, racism has plagued us for a long time and has ruined more lives than COVID-19 ever will. Any measures we put in place need to be swift and long-lasting. We need more than just words.

As a nation, we need to reflect and atone. If we are going to fix our systems and practices, we need to start with a system of shared values that governs how we create and enforce laws that represent us all.

Diversity is a fact but we can choose to be inclusive. We can start by ensuring that all elected officials, police and community services, frontline and essential workers, teachers, and trustees, receive ongoing education starting with unconscious bias and cultural sensitivity training.

We also need to take the conversation beyond academic realms to enable all members of our community, minorities, marginalized, immigrants, and the most vulnerable and enable them to participate in the conversation as we redraw the “circle of safety” so their voices are amplified and their perspectives included.

If our actions and efforts are sincere, we can start to dismantle the racist structures that have built our nation, subjugated Indigenous communities to centuries-old colonization, and enslaved people of colour.

I’m optimistic we can right these wrongs, but the process will be a very painful and costly one. But it will be time and money well-spent. Together, we can build safer, more inclusive communities and, perhaps, the miracle of our humanity will help us find a cure for the most virulent of all viruses.

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Mohamed Hammoud
Mohamed Hammoudhttp://www.desire2lead.com
Mohamed Hammoud is a dedicated and driven community leader who believes that diversity is a fact, and inclusion is a choice: this is why he strives to break down taboos and misconceptions by using emotional intelligence to shift the landscape and create a positive impact. As an executive with a London-based tech company and a private consultant in leadership development, diversity and inclusion, Mohamed is a multilingual facilitator and engaging keynote and TEDx speaker, media commentator, and community activist. Mohamed is committed to progressive community-building and has served in various capacities as a board member to different not-for-profits and community organizations. He has recently been appointed as Chief Learning Officer with New Canadian Media in an advisory teaching and mentoring role leading NCM’s efforts to diversify the pool of candidates of journalists capable of working in Canadian newsrooms. A contributor to various media outlets, including the CBC and the London Free Press, and an award-winning Toastmaster, Mohamed recently gave a TEDx Talk about identity at the Awake and Aware TEDx Conference in Traverse City, Michigan. Working tirelessly to advocate a message of community inclusion through acceptance and diversity, Mohamed brings his ambition and drive for making positive changes to the Canadian multicultural community.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I am not sure where my opinion will land in this article, well written for sure. Racism dates back to the 1800s if not further. Being a caucasian female, I can honestly say, I never used the word or actions of racism in my family, but I did explain History to those I taught, which included the word and what is meant by it, and that is one of the things greatly missing in our younger generation. They do not know History. I believe that our government, political platforms foster a doctrine of discrimination, and taking God out of everything, which goodness, kindness, compassion emanate from Holy Scripture has also fostered what we see today. Thank you Mohamed, and let us all fight for unity, not just one.

    • Completely agree, we are taught racism, it’s ingrained in our education, society, laws and it’s very intentional. But we can unteach it to ourselves and when people like you believe in making that change, it’s possible. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Mohamed, I understand first hand the uncomfortability you have confronted as an immigrant. As an American living in the Middle East, and having two American/Saudi kids who look ‘white’ too, I have more than an understanding, I’m living it. I feel alot of it is politically driven. The human child doesn’t see color or age, they just recognize love, anger, meanness or sadness. There is much work to be done. It must be confronted and fought with education to break down the ignorance. We are all God’s creation.

  3. Well written Mohamed! I’m glad you are using your own name! I’m so proud of you and what you wrote here my friend! I’m sorry to hear of the injustice you had to live through.
    I am here to support and am standing with you
    The time is NOW! 🙏👏🏻👍🇨🇦

  4. Thx for your article
    As a Canadian myself I couldn’t agree more that the inclusiveness, the mindsets and stigma’s have got to change. We pride ourselves on the fact that we are a muti cultural country and I can’t think of a better time to start practicing what we preach than right NOW!
    As far as our Indigeous people go; they were everywhere to the ends of the earth BEFORE we we anywhere.
    Why not make them an important part of our history too.
    But it will only be possible if we hold the same principles and work together moving ONWARD! Loree xx

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