History Repeating Itself
Recent events in Orlando, Florida caused many reactions around the world. It took me back to an article that I wrote and published in 2005 on the subject of us being one. That piece, which was entitled “Threatened Species: People of Colour, LGTBQ and Women,” told the story about discrimination, prejudice and narrow-mindedness negatively affecting the lives of too many. Never one to deal the race card or promote my own sexual orientation, it was difficult to avoid sharing my thoughts then and now about developments that affect the humanity of millions. So, today I invite you to explore this with me again. You might not agree but at least let my words open a space in your heart. Hopefully, it will cause you to take action – big or small – to end discrimination, of any kind, in your community.
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Now for the piece that I wrote in 2005 but remains relevant to this day. Funny how that happens, eh?
We Are Indeed One
We are your daughters, your sisters, your sons, your nurses, your mechanics, your athletes, your police, your politicians, your fathers, your doctors, your soldiers, your mothers. We live with you, care for you, help you, protect you, teach you, love you and need you. All we ask is that you let us. We are no different. We want to serve, like you. Need love, like you. Feel pain, like you. And we deserve justice, like you. Margaretie Cammermeyer (U.S. Nurse and Army Officer who was discharged after 26 years of service in the U.S. Army because she stated she was a lesbian.)
Justice is not blind – she very often ‘peeks’ to determine the race, economic status, sex, and religion of persons prior to determination of guilt. Connie Slaugther (African-American civil rights attorney and activist)
Even when I cry out, ‘Violence!’ I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice. Job 19:7
Some articles are far more difficult to write than others. This one falls in the group of very difficult. The challenge is not in finding the right words or stringing the phrases together. That is easy enough. Whether my sentences are grammatically correct or are poetic is hardly my concern. Whether one day I win a Pulitzer Prize is even further from my mind. What makes writing difficult for me is the pain, physical and spiritual, that surges through my body, causing my breathing to come in gasps, threatening to choke me.
Sitting at the computer to begin this article took some doing. As I have confessed before, very often I have no early warning or sign about what my next article will be. There are times when it is clear. Then there are other times when up until the day that I am due to post an article, I have no clue what I am to write about.
For a week my thoughts kept returning to the question, “What will you write about for next Monday’s post?” My muse was playing around with me again and information kept coming to me but I just was not putting them together. Right up to an hour before I sat down to put this together, I had no idea what to share.
Signs Of The Times
Returning from the hospital where I was a Resident Chaplain and went earlier to be with a dying patient and his family, my daughter told me a friend had called. As I was not home, he said he would send me an email. I had a fair idea that his email was confirming that he could not be at my daughter’s 18th birthday dinner. His RSVP, however, was not what gave me the idea for this article but it led me to it.
There was another email as well. This one was from a woman-friend. She had forward a message about the cancellation of a play which in itself was harmless as I had no plan on going anyway. This play, however, was special. It was to take place in the Surrey school district in British Columbia, here in Canada. The school district officials however banned the play, stating that it had offensive and sexual content. This was a production of The Laramie Project and for those of you who have not a clue what that is – here is some of what my friend sent me:
“The Laramie Project is based on the 1998 murder of a gay college student, Matthew Shepard, who was beaten and tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo. The young man died five days after he was found. Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project spent more than a year doing interviews in Laramie before writing the play in 2000. Since then, the play has been staged about 1,500 times in the U.S. and Canada.”
Whether the production was banned in the Surrey school district because of homophobia, as some claimed, or simply that the administrators really believed that the content was too strong to be considered family entertainment was being debated. My interest in this story had more to do with timing. Recently, there were newspaper articles that the Vatican had started a new witch hunt – seeking out the homosexuals in its midst. Then there was the continuing debate whether racism and class had anything to do with the response to the plea for help from New Orléans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It was also hard not to notice the fall out in Ontario, Canada as a result of the Premier’s decision not to allow any judicial arbitration by religious ‘laws’, including Sharia.
Adding to that slew of debates and the seeming rise of negativity, was the vile swirl of racially charged questioning of Michaëlle Jean‘s appointment as Governor General of Canada. No sooner than I had posted a congratulatory article on that, the critics came out to either denigrate the woman and/or the office of Governor General. Questions arose about her loyalty to the Crown and Canada and her qualifications to hold the post became the topic of discussion. Amidst all of this, there was of course the comments about her being an immigrant and woman of colour.
Being The Other
As I watched these developments, my heart sank. I could not write any further. I turned off the computer and thought I would finish the article later but never got back to it until one week later and one big scare.
Reflecting on what I had written so far and what had happened with me in the meantime, it was not long before I identified the common denominator in all these situations – being the other.
Non-white, non-heterosexual and woman – these all constitute object for derision, exclusion and domination. Sadly, many in Government do it, the Church has made it the platform of its mission, at least that is how it has played out. Those who have any bit of power see this – exclusion, injustice and dominance – as the name of the game.
Being a person of colour, a woman, questioning sexuality and an immigrant, I often feel like a threatened specie. Maybe the International Union for the Conservation of Nature‘s Species Survival Commission should put people like me on its Threatened Species Watch List. If not them, somebody should because if societies continue at this pace, people who identify as homosexuals, who have migrated from their countries of birth, people who have a non-white skin colour, people who earn less than the average two-income middle class, Caucasian North-American family and half of the world population – women, will soon be extinct.
Reports Of Hatred
Just read these few highlights and you will see what I am talking about. While most of them refer to North America, women, people of colour and LGTB persons in other countries share similar experiences:
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which released Women’s Economic Status in the States: Wide Disparities by Race, Ethnicity and Region, its first such report in 1996 stated:
[In the 2004 Report, it is noted that] despite changes over the last half century, Americans’ economic opportunities are still greatly impacted by accidents of birth, according to report author Amy Caiazza. ‘Being born Hispanic or African American, and being born female, make you less likely to earn a high salary than if you are born white and male.’ African American, Native American, and Hispanic women all have lower earnings and higher poverty rates than white women. But all groups of women have lower earnings and higher poverty rates than white men. Women are less likely to own a business and are less likely to work in high-paid occupations, such as jobs in science and technology or top levels of business.
Sex discrimination and job segregation continue to play key roles in holding down women’s earnings. Factors such as women’s lower levels of education, job training, and work experience explain less than half the gap in earnings. Racial discrimination and job segregation continue to hold down earnings for Hispanic women, African American women, Asian American women and Native American women. The report cites statistics that nearly one-third of employees in the low-paying private household sector of the service industry are Hispanics. Asian American women are also disproportionately found in low-wage jobs as domestics or doing poorly paid assembly work in the garment industry or Silicon Valley.
The Edmonton Journal on Sunday, September 25, 2005 reprinted a centre-spread feature on “Canada’s Stolen Sisters.” While the article focused on the plight of Aboriginal women of this country, one could easily see this affecting women of colour in any Caucasian majority country. It is a very long article but here are some snippets:
The death and disappearance of aboriginal women has emerged as an alarming pattern, from western serial murders in Vancouver and Edmonton to little-known Atlantic vanishings. Grim statistics and anecdotal evidence compiled by The Canadian Press suggest public apathy has allowed predators to stalk native victims with impunity. The record also points to an ugly truth behind the political and legal lethargy: racism.
Many young women head for cities from reserves and small communities to find work and, all too often, to escape abuse. Lacking educational skills to find jobs, and frequently battling personal demons, they become trapped in a cycle of poverty, substance abuse and prostitution. They become easy prey.
There are strong suspicions some officers don’t spend enough energy and resources on cases of lost aboriginal women – that they’re too easily dismissed as addicts or transients. [One law professor, herself an Aboriginal woman asks] ‘why aren’t we important?
If these stories were not enough, what about the report about Bill Bennett’s comments?
The former U.S. education secretary-turned-talk show host said Wednesday last week that ‘if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose — you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.’ It is reported that he quickly added that such an idea would be ‘an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do.’ But, he said, ‘your crime rate would go down.’
Does that sound similar to the comment made by American televangelist, Jimmy Swaggart on a Toronto multicultural station, which is also heard throughout the US? Only this time, it was about the LGBT community:
During the program, a rambling sermon by Swaggart who is trying to rehabilitate himself after an arrest for soliciting a prostitute, the televangelist turned to the subject of gay marriage. According to a transcript of the program, Swaggart said: ‘I’m trying to find the correct name for it … this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. … I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I’m gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died.’ The remarks were met with applause from his congregation.
Unable to continue writing this article for almost a week as my mind was full with the question about my ‘viability’ as a member of the human specie. Non-white woman and non-heterosexual, living outside of my country of origin. I found myself about 2:30 a.m., alone on the street in Edmonton one day.
No, I was not walking aimlessly searching for answers but on my way to fulfill a mission I felt called to do. It is one that I feel a great sense of humility and privilege in being asked to do. As I parked my car and exited the lot, uncertain where to go to enter the building that I needed to be in, I made a wrong turn and came across a few men. My gut told me this was not a good place to be and so I quickly turned on my heels and started to head back from whence I came. I could hear the men shouting after me and it seemed they were beginning to come after me.
Several thoughts crossed my mind as I ran. I will not repeat the expletives that came out of my mouth but I can tell you I prayed for my life, begging God to not make me the next woman, and one of colour at that, to disappear. Somehow I remembered that I had my cell phone and I quickly called my partner and breathlessly explained what was happening, just in case.
Later that day, having done my chaplain duties I recounted the story to my loved one. I said laughingly, “Thank God, Abigail and I we have been going to the gym again and I have been using those blasted treadmills!”
Jokes aside, however, this story could have ended differently and this article might not have been completed. When I think of that, it makes me realise how much our silence and non-action, even small ones, is helping to kill our sisters and brothers across the globe. For as long as we do nothing, men and people in positions of power will continue to think they have a right to rape, abuse and even murder human beings because they are different.
The ‘Struggle’ Continues In 2016
Fast forward 10+ years, and here we are – countless Aboriginal women continue to go missing and assumed dead across Canada, immigrants and people of colour constantly profiled and marginalised, those worshipping “a different God,” than the majority in western nations assumed to be terrorists, those of another faith labelling others as infidels and heathens, people of varying sexual orientation murdered in their place of refuge and joy – and the list goes on.
My plea to you reading this is simple: Do something, anything, that will protect the life of a woman, a person of colour, an immigrant, or the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, any one person living next door to you — they are part of this diverse Universe. We are One!