By Paul Ratchford
Our city is on the precipice of institutionalizing racial discrimination as part of adopting an intersectional approach in its climate emergency response. Doing this would be both corrosive to the social fabric and potentially dangerous.
Background: embedded in appendix H of the administrative report is a recommendation that the city “ensure” publicly funded workshops have “a majority of black, Indigenous, and people of colour among participants”. The impetus for this report was an approved motion by Vancouver council that asked for city staff to incorporate an “intersectional lens into climate actions”.
In a long thread on Twitter, I say that racism is racism regardless of which group it is directed toward and irrespective of that group’s perceived power level within society.
Coun. Christine Boyle and some others have suggested that Racism = Prejudice + Power.
I would note there is no mention of “power” in the Oxford dictionary definition: “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”. Let’s leave aside the semantics, though.
The absurdity of City of Vancouver staff advocating for and Boyle defending racial discrimination is easily highlighted with an example. Consider the following scenario.
A physically disabled, homosexual, white, Jewish, and female person from an economically disadvantaged background seeks to be a participant in a publicly funded City of Vancouver workshop. Unfortunately, this individual is discriminated against in participant selection because the city needs to ensure a majority of participants are black, Indigenous, or people of colour.
Of course, it would be reasonable for this individual to point out that millions of Jews were massacred in the Holocaust in one of the darkest chapters in human history, and women didn’t even have the right to vote in Canada until approximately 100 years ago, and engaging in same-sex sexual activity was illegal in Canada until 1969, and disabled people have been discriminated against as well.
Yet, despite this person being part of multiple groups that throughout history have experienced discrimination, she is discriminated against simply because of her white skin colour. That is moronic, wrong, corrosive to the social fabric, and potentially dangerous.
So, where are we left? What do we do when facing discrimination in our society or the world? Do we simply add a group or two and change the wording to include homosexuals, women, Jews, and disabled people? If only it were so simple.
There are so, so many ways people differ from each other, which could be (and often are) the basis for discrimination. Consider sex, sexual orientation, race, age, beauty, intelligence, health, and wealth, to name just a few. The logical endpoint to considering all our differences is the unique individual. Think about it.
What we should do is value individuals, fight for their rights and freedoms, and build into our systems and our power structures protections for individuals. By doing this, we fight against unjust discrimination.
Vancouver councillors face a simple and important choice. Council can choose to continue a long dark human tradition of discriminating against people solely based on skin colour or they can reject that path and recognize there are 631,486 in Vancouver as of 2016 census, 631,486 unique life stories and experiences, and council can protect all those individuals from unjust discrimination. I hope city council (including Boyle) will make the right choice.