Calling Out Racism and State Terrorism

  • National Newswatch

Statements such as “what can we do?” or “we cannot find words to describe our feelings” when responding to the current trends of state terrorism and systemic racism need to be interrogated, questioned and challenged.  Such statements are dangerous as they imply that these racist acts are random and occur in a vacuum, and they deny the histories of oppression that the Black, Indigenous and all racialized peoples have been subjected to throughout history.  The reality is that such acts of state terrorism cannot be seen outside of the current United States' neocolonial and imperialist project to dominate and control, and one that continues to commercialize human beings, their labour and their property. Questions such as “what can we do?” reiterate the notion that the experiences of George Floyd and many others are only random individual acts of police brutality against Black Bodies.It is not surprising to see the rage and unrest crowding the streets of the United states, and advancing across borders, in reaction and as resistance to hate supremacy embodied and enacted through police brutality.  What is surprising though is that these acts of solidarity and calls for resistance broke through when U.S. citizens and people in the Western world began to see and experience practices that have been saved for people and countries in the Global South.What took Americans, Canadians and Western communities by surprise is the recognition that state terrorism has reached their shores, and that their citizenship is no longer a potential saviour of such imperial and colonial practices and brutalities.  Although such wake-up calls are necessary, they need to be placed within a context of state terrorism and the focus needs to be on the cause of oppression more than on its symptoms, which in this case is police terrorism against Black Bodies.  It is critical to understand that interrogating the question of “what can we do?” makes acts of state terrorism against Black Bodies individually oriented and neglects to see that these are only symptoms of larger problems that run deep into our value systems as societies.Perhaps the questions we ought to be asking are: Why have we not been asking these questions as we stood witness to the normalization of state terrorism against all Indigenous bodies and lands? Why have we not been asking these questions as we continue to stand against state terrorism in other parts of the world?—Reality is that Indigenous peoples of this land, Black people, peoples in Cuba, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Libya and many other countries have been living these realities for decades and centuries.But what is different now is that suddenly state terrorism is targeting citizens inside Western countries.  The reality is that Trump and his administration are only continuing the legacy of previous U.S. imperialist administrations.  State terrorism needs to be condemned and resisted, no matter where and against whom. U.S. imperialist practices have divided the world long ago; continuing to turn our faces away from this reality will not serve justice.As Arab Educators in Canadian universities, these tensions are not unfamiliar to our realities.  We both teach about social justice issues in our classrooms and we grapple with how to help our students see the importance of current events as a way to solidify our efforts to interrogate state terrorism and to join efforts in pulling out its festering imperialist roots.  In answer to the question, “What can we do?”, as educators we teach about White supremacy and we encourage our students to disrupt, challenge and resist the systems in place. We point to how Whiteness and White supremacy are deeply engrained in our social and political systems, and how institutionalized systemic racism and state control of political and social practices is continuously justified and legitimized.We offer examples of how systematic racism is normalized, made difficult to identify, and often left unchallenged.  We begin with thinking about our social locations and positions, to question the assumptions and the patterned codes that we have come to socially and culturally believe as truths, to critically reflect on how this impacts our behaviours, and to look for ways to disrupt and dismantle the systems in place.We teach the importance of acknowledging the Indigenous land on which we stand in every class meeting, an act that levels us all as settlers and re-positions the ranks, categories and social stratifications—through this acknowledgment, we come to realize that we all stand in the same position as immigrants on this land unless Indigenous.  As importantly this practice brings us to be critically aware of the privileged positions we have acquired as a benefit to being on this land.  We bring to light how, as one example, racial exclusion in the in the women's suffrage movement was not removed until the 1940s and did not extend free voting rights to the Indigenous communities until the 1960s.  We think about the fact that the last residential school was closed only in 1996.We also bring awareness to how our daily actions can also act as agents of racism.  We think about comments like “I don't see color of skin,” or “I have always been raised to see everyone as equal” are ultimately individual statements that do not advance the struggle against systematic racism.   We think about how race is not biological but is a social construct that decides and shapes the lived realities of racialized bodies—a reality, in a Western hemisphere, in which race constitutes difference, and where difference becomes anything other than White.We think through this basic question: Why is it that a White person in the U.S. or Canada is referred to as a man or a woman, while all others are identified by their race, as Black men or Black women, Indigenous, Asian, Arab, and the list continues.As educators, we see the current dynamics and racist systems in direct contradiction to the neoliberal push for state withdrawal from social programming and essential services.  The interconnectedness between neoliberalism, White Supremacy and fascist ideologies has been running undetected in higher education circles resulting in a dangerous political and ideological vacuum.  Such vacuum can be clearly seen in the lack of attention and involvement in dismantling White Supremacy and racism, operated and perpetuated within and through academia and higher education institutions.  As academics, we believe that defunding the police would drive the state to redirect their attention to, reprioritize, and reinvest in social program health services and education. Rejecting the legacy of White Supremacy and embodying acts of resistance to many state hegemonic practices is no longer a privilege that we can afford.  We all have an ethical responsibility to use our positions to challenge racial inequalities by pointing out the need to resist state terrorism, and by calling it out, naming it and rejecting it.Ghada Alatrash teaches in the Women's and Gender Studies Department and the General Education Department at Mount Royal University.  She holds her Ph.D. from the University of Calgary in Educational Research:  Languages and Diversity.  Yahya El-Lahib is a long-time Disability Activist and Associate Professor with the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.  He is co-Editor of the Routledge Handbook of Disability Activism.