Imtiaz Popat: This is who we are—let's confront racism

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      The pepper-spray attack on Syrian refugees last Friday in Vancouver drew condemnation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "This isn't who we are," Trudeau said in a tweet.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson, also on Twitter, described the incident as a "disgusting display of hate".

      But this is who we are and this was not an isolated incident and these disgusting displays of hate against Muslims and other minorities are, in fact, on the rise. We have seen many such incidents all across North America and Europe.

      There’s widespread support for U.S. Republican candidate Donald Trump and former prime minister Stephen Harper, giving them the opportunity to demonize Muslims. This, in turn, creates more hate and creates a climate for more such attacks to take place.

      The pepper-spray assault is one of many recent attacks, including at rapid-transit stations in Vancouver and in Calgary, as well as at mosques and temples in Ontario and other locations in the U.S.

      The fact is that the West has a very racist history and as we mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day next week, things have not changed that much. We are still struggling to fulfill King’s “dream” for equality.

      While many worry about terrorists among us and our government make laws to take away our civil liberties as a result, white supremacists are building a movement and training militia such as the one that has taken control of a government building in Oregon State. When indigenous warriors tried to mount a protest at Gustafson Lake, we sent in the army to stop them in what was the largest domestic military operation in Canadian history.

      So we cannot pretend that this is not who we are and ignore the truth. We need to be honest and acknowledge that yes, that we do have a racist history and that in fact racism is on the rise and it’s not getting any better.

      We cannot “overcome”, as was the cry of the civil rights movement as we mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, until we acknowledge this fact and then work together to confront this recent rise in racism.

      We need our governments not to deny what is going on but commit to working against racism. This can come by strengthening our laws to protect us and not weakening them while protecting racists.

      We also need commitment from our governments to commit funding toward antiracism education and awareness. 

      Imtiaz Popat is a community radio and television host and an equal rights activist who organized a recent protest outside the Trump tower in Vancouver.