Electing Hate: A reflection on the fallout of electing bigots.
My first real exposure to overt racism, something that many people experience on a regular basis, came 3 years ago today, in a way that was all the more horrifying because it was not me that was the primary target, but my children and some of their caregivers.
For those who don’t know me, I am a white cis man who is married to a white cis woman. We live a solidly middle class existence in a gentrifying blue collar neighbourhood in Montreal. We have French names, speak both French and English, and are well educated. I say this not because I am particularly proud of any of it, but to paint a picture of how privileged we are, and why it is that I rarely experience overt prejudice.
To set the stage, the Parti Québécois had been elected with a minority government, and were playing populist identity politics in the hopes of garnering a majority government in the next election. Identity politics are almost invariables racist and xenophobic in nature, and this was no different. After much rhetoric, the PQ officially put forth what they called The Quebec Charter of Values on September 10th, 2013.
According to the Minister of Public Security, hate crimes in Quebec almost doubled in the following year, from 167 reported crimes in 2013, to 257 reported crimes in 2014. Statistics are still missing for 2015 and 2016.
It was one of these incidents of hatred that we got caught up in one fateful morning. Thankfully, virtually all of the violence was online and in the media, and so our children, and their educators, were not directly exposed to it. But the effects on the educators and the owners of the daycare were none the less terrible.
You see, the daycare is owned and operated by a Muslim family, and some of of their employees wore the niqab when out and about in the neighbourhood. This was not a secret to us when we registered our children there, nor was it a secret to any of the other families. The daycare clients were a mixture of our neighbourhood – some Muslim, some Quebecois de souche (“pure blooded Quebecois”), some anglophones, some immigrants, some a mix of the above.
We were drawn in by the Montessori style educational program, the gentle nature of the educators, the pluralism that reflected our community, and perhaps ironically, the secularism of the daycare, which is far, far more secular than the public school my older children now attend.
One day around lunch time, our kids were on their way back from the park, and it just so happened that two of the educators that day were wearing niqabs. While this was nothing new to the people who lived in the neighbourhood, a real estate agent from somewhere else on the island was visiting a local property and could not resist her racist urge to take a picture of the group and post it to Facebook – uncensored (a likely violation of Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, under which privacy is a respected right.). I considered reposting the photo here, but the truth of the matter is, for many it is still a controversial photo, and it is not the point of this post. For the most part, photo would not have been out of place in any neighbourhood in Quebec in mid November. A group of 6 children aged between 3 and 5, walking with two educators in the neighbourhood. Everyone is bundled up for the weather, with the kids in winter jackets, boots, hats, and mittens. The two educators are likewise wearing protective clothing, but instead of having their faces covered with scarves, they are covered with a niqab.
The results were immediate. The ground had been made fertile for hatred, thanks in part to ongoing rhetoric from the PQ and other politicians, and the photo went viral.
The comments kept me from sleeping for days. They included violent threats (translated) such as “2 bullets, it’s hunting season, let’s go!”, or “I hope that they will be raped by pigs, and then burnt.” Some simply Islamaphobic, such as “Islam is the crack cocaine of the religions… We don’t need either of those poisons…” or “Your kids teachers are now radical muzzies [sic]”, and some were both “Put the muslim [sic] down like you would a deranged dog.” Even more disturbing were the people asking around on racist forums for the address and/or phone number of the daycare. Those last ones gave me nightmares.
We held emergency meetings, all of the parents and daycare workers. We agreed that we would take a position of solidarity, and that particularly those of us who were white and had French family names would step up and use our privilege to defend and support these people, these members of our community who gave so much, and who were now under attack. But it was not easy. We wrote an open letter, however the French media did not want to use our full names out of fear for our personal safety and the safety of our children. My partner went on national television, basically saying WTF and asking how it could have come to this in a society that prides itself on being open and multicultural. There were radio interviews with other parents, and newspaper editorials.
Eventually, as these things do, it ran its course, and life moved on. Some families were too spooked by the incident and decided to move their children to a new daycare. The daycare decided to hire additional non-niqabi workers to take the kids out to the park, and eventually, the denizens of Quebec decided that the Charter was the wrong way to go and voted the PQ out of power, effectively killing it.
But not a November has gone by where I have not thought back to this incident. The fear, the horror, the anger, mixed with the love for our neighbours, and the joy of the expressions of solidarity from everyone involved. I can finally think about it without it making me want to cry, so there is that. Part of me still wants to sue the woman who took that photo, though, that is mostly just me feeling vindictive. Clearly, I still have not forgiven her careless act that put so many people in jeopardy.
And now, here we are with Trump, a racist demagogue who’s rhetoric against Muslims has undoubtedly contributed to rise of anti-Muslim hate crimes to levels not seen since post 9/11. Rates for 2015 were up 61% in the USA vs 2014. By all accounts, 2016 is gearing up to be even worse.
Donald Trump, who has made no secret of his racism, homophobia, misogyny, and general bigotry, to the point where it won him the support of the KKK, neo-nazis, and the alt-right, has recently appointed his campaign CEO Steve Bannon. Steve Bannon is the former head of Breitbart News, an alt-right publication known for its strong anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views. When asked what the difference was between the alt-right and skinheads, the answer was “intelligence”.
It is little surprise that overt acts of racism and other hate crimes are on the rise, and not just in the USA, but in Canada as well.
While it should be obvious that not all Trump supporters are racists, or homophobic, or misogynistic, or otherwise bigoted, at least not more than the average person in the West, what is clear is that they have put their desire for Trump to win above the rights and indeed very lives my friends and family. To cheer for a Trump victory is to celebrate the awful, and it is to throw my children’s generation under the bus. How do I answer when my children say ask “will global warming destroy the world before I am old?” when the answer is “probably”?
I have had Trump supporters tell me that they they are not bigots and that they don’t support all of these heinous actions. But they continue to fail to see the link between the behaviour of Trump and his inner circle and the actions of many of his supporters. I have had Trump supporters tell me that they don’t want to be made to feel like the bad guy, that this is a historic anti-establishment moment, and they just want to enjoy the win, and watch the swamp be drained.
I get being anti-establishment. Politically, I am an anarchist. But I would be hard pressed to call this a victory for the anti-establishment, though only time will tell. What it is, however, is a victory for white supremacy. It is a vote for change, whatever that ends up being, at the expense of people of colour, the LGBT+ community, Muslims, other marginalized people, and possibly even the very future of our planet itself. That isn’t hyperbole when the President-elect has said he will use nuclear weapons and doesn’t believe in climate change.
If you don’t want to be a bad guy, then you can’t support Trump. There is no middle ground on this one. Trump can not be divorced from his hateful rhetoric. This man has already had terrible consequences for marginalized people, and his election only makes it worse. If you are against hatred, you must also be against Trump.