Tag Archives: Racism

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of D-Day to Neo-Nazis in Detroit

By Marvin Ross

The western world has just finished celebrating the 75th anniversary of D-Day – an event in history described by Barrack Obama at the 65th anniversary as the struggle for “a slice of beach” that changed the course of history. A somewhat more elegant statement than the comments made by Trump about whom one paper said the D in D- Day does not stand for Donald.

Obama was correct. Post World War II, we had the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, the establishment of the UN, NATO, the development of the UN Peace Keeping Force thanks to Canadian Prime Minister, Lester B Pearson followed by the European Union.

The post war period saw tremendous economic growth in North America and Europe along with growing civil liberties and progressive policies. Abortion became legal in the US and Canada, human rights advanced as the result of sit-ins in the US, the advocacy of Martin Luther King, the creation of Human Rights Commissions in Canada and non discriminatory policies in rentals and acceptance to universities.

I don’t mean to discount the problems like the absurd War in Vietnam but that war was met with great opposition not only in the rest of the world but in the US as well.

Having grown up when the war ended as a child of working class immigrants, my own opportunities were greatly expanded. Quotas against minorities in universities were ended as well in hiring practices and rental. My fellow students at a working class immigrant high school had an opportunity to pursue post secondary learning in a variety of professions without burdening our futures with debilitating student loans.

But we are doing a disservice to the men and women who sacrificed so much during that war to ignore our recent and rapid descent from that progress and idealism.

What is happening in the US is scary. Women’s rights are under attack, violence against African Americans is increasing and while there are no lynching, there are police shootings and beatings. Election boundaries are being jigged to disenfranchise African Americans. The US has become a bully wrenching children from mothers, picking fights with various countries and I could go on.

But the US is not alone. The UK has its Brexit, Italy a right wing anti-immigrant party gaining in popularity along with similar groups in France, Germany, Hungary and Poland. Germany has just announced that it is dangerous for its few remaining Jews to wear the kippa.

Canada has a growing populist movement with a number of provinces electing right wing governments attacking the environment, poor people, workers and others. The upcoming Federal election in October will be a test of our ability to withstand the populist movement.

And then there is bigotry. Racist ideology is growing with attacks against Jews, Muslims, Blacks, immigrants, the gay community and others. The Province of Quebec is at it again with its proposed policy to prevent people from wearing religious symbols and the renewed antisemitism is infecting the left as well as the right.

After this was drafted, I read a report from a left wing source on Facebook that armed neo-nazis in Detroit showed up at the Pride Parade. Wary of fake news, I googled this to verify it and found very few references in the US other than Fox News. It was carried by papers in the UK and by the Jerusalem Post. In DC, there was a gun threat for the Pride Parade resulting in a panic and seven people were injured. Poland, however, was peaceful although the LGBT community there is under threat.

So, while we should honour those that served in World War II, and relish the progress that was made in the world after the peace, we should guard against slipping back into the conditions that precipitated that conflict as we seem to be doing.   If we do not reverse course, we are screwed!

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Racism – A Tale of Two Nations

By Marvin Ross

My intention is not to come across as smug which many Canadians can be when talking about the US. I am hoping to point out some fundamental differences between Canada and the US that, I think, deserve some analysis – and that is racism.

Despite the great similarities between the two countries, racism has evolved differently. I am not so naive as to suggest that racism is not a problem in Canada but it is much less so than in the US and certainly,  first Nations still have a long way to go. However, numerous people have commented that the support for Trump was motivated by racism given what he emphasized in the campaign and I totally agree. Actually, the great American satirist and commentator, H.L. Mencken, predicted the Trump win. He said:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

And so, maybe the inner soul of many Americans is in agreement with what Trump said.

One study that is being quoted to explain what appears to be a racist backlash is research suggesting that having demonstrated that they are not prejudiced by electing a Black president, people feel they have license to demonstrate their discriminatory views.

I’ve attended numerous medical conferences in the US and was stunned to see the divide between Black and White. The first conference I attended was the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta in the late 1990s. There was a parallel meeting of the Black Cardiology Association within it. There is also a Black psychiatry association founded in 1969 in part to address the barriers that Black psychiatrists encountered.. Then there is a Black caucus of the American Library Association to help recruit African American Librarians. In one hotel I was at in Houston, there was a meeting of the Hispanic MBA Association which was developed to open doors for Hispanics with MBAs.

I have American friends who tell me that a deep seated racism still exists but that it is (or has been till now) kept in check. Trump has let the genie out of the bottle as demonstrated by the reports of racist incidents all over the US since the election. And while this review of a book that I publish on the trauma of growing up as the child of Holocaust survivors denying the existence of the Holocaust was posted on Amazon just before the election, I suspect Trump’s rhetoric gave the reviewer license to come out of the woodwork.  When confronted with these racist incidents  in his interview on 60 Minutes, Trump thought much of it was generated by the media but did tell his followers to stop. What was disappointing was that the interviewer did not ask him what he expected when he inflamed his followers with anti-Hispanic and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Toronto is one of the most racially diverse cities in the world and home to 230 different nationalities. It is home to a large annual Caribbean Festival, Greek and Italian Festivals, a number of China Towns, Korea Town, East Indian areas, and people who, for the most part, get along well as this example of multi-ethnic co-operation demonstrates. It was not always like that. Growing up in the 1950’s, Toronto was white, Anglo Saxon and Protestant run by the Loyal Orange Order. The big event was the July 12 Orange Parade which celebrated the Protestant defeat of the Catholics at the River Boyne by King William in 1690.

In 1875, Orangemen rioted because they took offense at a Catholic procession and thousands rocked the core of the city. Well into the 20th Century, Orangemen were the centre of partisan politics in Toronto. In 1933, Toronto, experienced the Christie Pits riot when a gang of youths unfurled Nazi flags after a predominantly Jewish baseball team won a semi final game. Jews, assisted by Italians, battled the flag bearers and their followers for hours all over the downtown in what was called the worst riot in Toronto history. Years later, that was the park where I played baseball and went swimming.

In my school days, there were very few Blacks other than the small numbers who mostly came via the underground railway, few South Asians, Chinese, and others. The main ethnics were Jews and Italians and we Jews new enough that certain parts of the city were dangerous for us to go to. The Danforth was one area (now Greektown) and the Beaches where the Nazi group allegedly came from. We also knew that there were quota systems in universities, bans against hiring Jews by hospitals, law firms, banks, etc,  neighbourhoods that would not sell to Jews, resorts that would not rent to them, and the list went on.

In my early teens, our Jewish family doctor referred me to a medical specialist for a problem. When my mother asked if he was any good, the doctor said, he is one of us at the Toronto General so he must be very good to be on staff. I later read that that specialist was specifically hired to break the ban of Jews at the hospital. My dentist of many years back then once told me that the only way he could get into dentistry was because he played on a national championship teen basketball team. He went to the director of recreation for the City of Toronto and told him of his desire to study dentistry but he couldn’t because he was Jewish. “Leave it to me” the official who was probably an Orangeman told him. He was accepted.

Similar problems existed for the few Blacks at the time and I have no doubt they still experience problems today but it is improving (I hope). Historian, Irving Abella, gave a very good history and reasons for change in an address in 2000 called Jews, Human Rights, and the Making of a New Canada.  Abella’s wife, a refugee who was born in a displaced persons camp post Holocaust, sits on the Supreme Court of Canada. Abella mentions that Bora Laskin could not get a job in law when he returned to Canada from Harvard Law School. His wife, a trained cosmetician, could not get hired at Eatons (the large department store). Laskin eventually became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1961 when Louis Rasminski (who graduated from the high school that I went to) was named Governor of the Bank of Canada, Ottawa ceased being what former British High Commissioner Joe Garner called the most “anti-Jewish capital city” he had ever encountered.

How people actually managed to accept a less racist society in Canada is a mystery. Bringing in anti-discrimination legislation cannot change attitudes but it did. We may still have a long way to go but we have come very far in my lifetime.

The problem of licensing as mentioned by psychologists in the US has not happened here either. We have had a female Chinese Governor General, a Black Haitian female Francophone Governor General and a Black Lieutenant Governor in Ontario. As representatives of the Queen, they are really only ceremonial but they were out there for all to see. And the Lieutenant Governor, Lincoln Alexander, was voted in 2006 as the greatest Hamiltonian of all time by readers of the Hamilton Spectator. Steel City Hamilton is often referred to as a rust belt city. Alexander was the first Black Member of the House of Commons elected four times and has a highway named after him.

After all this, my question remains, how did Canada evolve into a more tolerant society willing to take in thousands of Syrian refugees when the US refuses most refugees and does not seem to have evolved much? Someone suggested that the violence of slavery and the violence of its ending in the Civil War marked the American psyche forever. I don’t know but I do think it is worth exploring the reasons for the difference between our two countries.

Meanwhile, let us hope that the Donald has enough sense to put a halt to the activities of his followers.