Writer in Residence

On Racism 1 of 3

By Dane Swan


This three part piece is my final for the month. I hope that I've generated debate and sparked conversation. Thank you and take care.


On Racism


I live in a country that not long before my birth, had an immigration policy that would have made my migration here almost impossible. A country that tore child from parent and immersed them in schools meant to brainwash them during my lifetime. A country that recognized racial profiling during the time I've lived here.


Not very far from where I'm sitting, a school board is being accused of rampant racism and Islamophobia. Police continue to practice unconstitutional “random” stops, illegal searches without warrants, and act as judge and juror towards the people they arrest. The current Prime Minister tied single motherhood and abuse to the music we listen to. I've watched Ottawa police beat a man to death, and Toronto police tazer and kick a man with bound hands online. In Ottawa last year, a person felt little fear vandalizing Mosques, Temples and homes with Neo-Nazi Swastikas. The recent, tragic event at a Quebec City Mosque is merely the pebble turning into an avalanche.


We are treated as less than human. We deserve it -- to be treated as a lesser species. We are to be blamed for the abuse that we receive without reason or rationale. Those in the majority, when given the opportunity, confirm this, responding with silence. That silence affirms that the racists and bigots are right. They speak for the silent majority.


When I first came to Canada, I was told that, “Slavery never happened here.” Or, “They were treated better in Canada,” and then I learned the story of Marie-Josephe Angelique. “There's never been segregation here,” and then I read about Viola Desmond. “People of colour have always been allowed to grow their own communities here,” and then I learned of the demise of Hogans Alley, Africville, the abuse of Chinese post-building the national railway, and the concentration camps for Canadians of Japanese descent vs the treatment of Nazis in Canada during World War 2. The response to every atrocity that minorities have had afflicted upon them here has been a combination of silence and attempts at re-writing history.


Do you know what a Maroon is? How about the number of geographic landmarks in Quebec that use a racial epithet in their title? How about something more positive, like the CHL? A “coloured” hockey league founded by churches in the Maritimes. This is the league where slap-shots and proto-butterfly goalies first appeared. Why is none of this being taught? Why is it that Black History Month is being replaced in many schools with Multi-Cultural Month, instead of giving each culture that aided in building Canada a month of celebration in our schools?


Who doesn't want to learn about Eastern Europe, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Ethiopia, China, Japan, France, England, India, the Philippines, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and indigenous communities in a real substantive way? Not only should we learn about these places, but also, how these nations, people and regions have had an important role in shaping Canada. Who isn't curious to learn how we all make this place work? How can racism exist in a place so dependent on so many cultures to survive? If we all understood that we can only become the country that we imagine, when we recognize the importance of others, silent reactions to the racist actions of others would no longer be seen as Canadian.


First, we must acknowledge all of us are humans, and then, we must all pledge that silence to discrimination is no longer a Canadian trait.


That goes for the literary community as well.  

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Dane Swan is a Bermuda-raised, Toronto-based internationally published poet, writer and musician. His first collection, Bending the Continuum was launched by Guernica Editions in the Spring of 2011. The collection was a recommended mid-summer read by Open Book: Toronto. In 2013 Dane was short listed for the Monica Ladell Award (Scarborough Arts) for his poem "Stopwatch."