Saturday, July 4, 2020
....all it takes is for Good People to do nothing.....
Warning Sensitive Images and Issues are contained in this posting.
While as a nation we are often considered polite, quiet and tolerant – the fact is that these attributes are stereotypes which often mask some of the harder realities of our daily lives, and history. It is not easy to hear or accept, but Racism exists in Canada. Often many of us – who are white and mainstream – don’t experience it, don’t see it and choose not to engage it. Many of us have likely directly or inadvertently judged someone for how they look – whether it is their clothes, their accent, their skin colour, or their religious faith. Stereotypes find their way into jokes, conversations, and our online postings. We often wrongly assume that an off kilter comment isn’t racism. We wrongly assume that racism is only things like burning crosses, or people in white sheets, or concentration camps. However racism also includes systemic biases, institutional discrimination, social distrust, and the casual disregard for others in our communities simply because of a perceived ‘difference’ in them. Racism, perhaps at its most undermining is that is which both subtle and socially accepted. However what we saw today was neither subtle nor in anyway acceptable.
It is with this in mind, today was a tough day for us on The Great Trail, because of what we encountered along the pathway. As we trekked along the Iron Horse Trail in Waterloo Ontario we came across dozens of racist, anti-black, anti-immigrant, and anti-aboriginal posters. In their commentary, in their sentiment, and in their very presence they were intolerant, hateful, and divisive material and it was spread across the community.
Neither of us have never before torn down a poster before but we simply could not keep walking without making the community safer by removing them. They were wrong in every way possible and they had to be taken down.
Every black person, every Muslim, every Indian, every Hispanic, every Asian, and in short every person we met on the trail today throughout Kitchener, Waterloo, St. Jacobs, and Hawksville was kind, supportive and only wanted to enjoy the day and the outdoors. Those on the trailway today ranged from being very young to requiring assistance owing to their age, some where students on their way through campus, and others were families out enjoying the cooler morning temperatures. No one was doing anything criminal and no one was being rude or disrespectful, so what is anyone in this community so afraid of that that they have to post so many anonymous posters and spread such social division?
Now let us be clear, we believe in Free Speech, we believe in the right to protest, and we believe in the right to express yourself. But these posters are none of those things, they are simple, dumb ass, racism. They convey a stunning ignorance about our histories, a willingness to ignore the strength of our cultural diversity, and a profound inability to think beyond a single narrow and troubled vision of the world. Instead they only served to foster hatred in the community, make people feel unwelcome, and demonstrate the close mindedness of one individual. They did nothing to advance the important ongoing discussions revolving around racial tensions in our society, and undermined almost every social norm that we, as a country can accept. Therefore, these posters had to be removed.
We tore them down, ripped them up and put they where they belonged, in the garbage.
As we have trekked across Canada we have only encountered social support and encouragement. People from the Atlantic coast to the St. Lawrence Seaway to our nation’s capital to the centre of the GTA have made us feel welcome and at home. We have stayed in the homes of people of colour, been treated to lunch by Aboriginal families, received assistance from a Muslim store owner, and gone birding with an Asian lady- this is our Canadian family while travelling across the nation. That means that we treat every community we visit (however briefly) as our community. We care for it, we strive to improve it, we say hi to those who meet me on the trail, and we want to keep our community safe. Neither of us could walk though our community today and leave these posters up, because they made this community unsafe and unwelcoming for everyone else here. These posters had to come down.
Since concluding our trek today we have been stunned by our brief research into the region and the discovery that these types of messages have plagued the community and been used to hatefully target specific individuals. Neither of us knows what to say or what to think of these things. But we do know we will not walk past racist material without removing it, we will not walk past someone being degraded, harmed or attacked without intervening, and we will stand up to those who spread hate and divisiveness in our communities and across Canada.
For the past year our #hike4birds has taken us from Cape Spear Newfoundland, though Cape Breton and Nova Scotia, to PEI, through New Brunswick, into Quebec, and now half way across Ontario – and we can honestly say that as people and as Canadians we are better than this type of commentary. We are a community, regardless of our differing backgrounds, cultures, colours, races, religious beliefs and identities – and no one in this community and this country should be allowed to denigrate another. We can all do better. Together we are stronger.
Nature is for everyone, the outdoors is a safe space, and everyone deserves equal respect and treatment.
As the Great Trail recently said, ‘we may not get the words right’ but trust that we are trying. Well we might not get the words right, and we might not be popular for standing up for what we believe, but trust that if you experience this type of racism and feel alone that you aren’t. Nature is for everyone, it is a safe space, it is a place we can all go to be the best versions of ourselves, and to find ourselves. And no person, no poster, and no comment should be allowed to take that away from anyone. Canada’s wild spaces, natural places and its trails are for everyone.
We will continue to take down posters, stand up for those who are targeted by such hatred, and continue to promote #diversity and #inclusion in the outdoors throughout this trek.
Today we spoke up and we acted. What will you do to help others in our communities and in nature to ensure that we are all safe?
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”