It is nearly impossible to pick up a newspaper, or catch a bit of the day's happenings without reading or hearing about acts of discrimination. Unfortunately, we might even be a witness to such an act. While it is not pleasant to be reminded of the potential some people have to say or do things that harm others; it is important that these dark deeds are brought out to the light of day. We can't change that which we do not acknowledge.
Some acts of discrimination result in death. We are coming near the anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre. On December 6, 1989 a young man (I refuse to use his name) shot 28 people, killing 14 women, before committing suicide. He separated the male and female students, singling out the women because he was “fighting feminism.” This hate crime served as a call for action on violence against women and vigils have been held every year since that horrific event.
Eleven people were killed in The Tree of Life Synagogue in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the morning of October 27 of this year. The gunman made anti-semetic remarks during the shooting. He was wounded, then taken into custody. In late January of 2017 six people were killed and eight were wounded inside the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre. In 2015 a white supremacist killed nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Acts of discrimination, or hate crimes do not always result in death. However, they can do irreparable harm to the spirit of another person. People far beyond the borders of Nova Scotia were in shock after the cruel bullying incident of a 14 year old Glace Bay boy who has cerebral palsy. He was coerced into laying down in water while approximately 30 students stood around. One boy tossed a rock in his direction and a girl told him to lay back down...then stepped on him because she didn't want to get wet. The father of a boy who was involved indicated his disgust at his son's behaviour, and also indicated there would be ramifications for that behaviour. If that dad holds true to his word, his son stands a chance to become a better person.
Still...it would seem that the ugly side of humanity keeps popping up. On October 25th Isaac Saney, a professor at Dalhousie University, a boarded a Halifax Transit bus with his four-month old daughter. Saney, a man of colour, indicated that a white man and woman began making racist comments as he and his child boarded the bus. This continued on...with comments about “people being let into Canada.” When Saney asked them to stop, things got worse with the two spewing threats. The driver kicked the two off the bus and reported the incident. A woman passenger got off the bus with Saney and his child because she had noted the two running ahead to where Saney would be getting off.
The woman called the police.
Discrimination is a plague on society. Very young children do not discriminate. They may notice differences in skin tone – but those differences have little meaning for them. Attitudes towards others tends to come about through classical conditioning. It might be seeing a parent frown or turn away when in the presence of a member of a particular ethnic group or a person of a different race. It comes about through hearing negative comments or seeing negative actions...time and time again.
It is necessary to counteract classical conditioning which results in any form of discrimination. We must consistently stand up for the rights of all people to live fully. All people must enjoy the freedom to worship without fear, and to be part of a safe and accepting society...regardless of their sex, skin colour, cultural identity, religion, and physical ability or disability. That is my sermon for this week, and the next week, and the next...into eternity.
Shirley Hallee is a freelance writer living in Amherst. Her column appears weekly in the Amherst News