The barriers of nativism and fear: Let’s rethink the walls that divide us – Foran

Always a pleasure to read Charlie Foran’s ruminations, this time about the invisible walls that divide us.

Somewhat one-sided, as walls can and are also be built by the left, not just the right, and part of the challenge in inclusion is allowing uncomfortable but respectful conversations from a variety of perspectives:

A handful of political leaders recognize this, and are mounting counterarguments. “Diversity is our strength,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted after the Trump administration’s first attempt at a travel ban on Muslims. During his successful run for the French presidency, Emmanuel Macron thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel for saving “our collective dignity” with her open-door refugee policy.

But the most incisive thinking about walls may be emerging from community-based activism. Movements clustering around Indigenous reconciliation and restitution, anti-racism, and LGBTQ rights – to name just the most prominent – are certainly asking tough, uncomfortable questions about the way things are.

No surprise, these groups, mostly associated with the political left, are especially cogent at pointing out the walls protecting careful constructions of dominance. They identify privilege based on race and prejudice; they query which history is being told, and who is doing the telling; they insist colonialism is alive and well in heads and hearts, along with colonial policies and practices.

For people on the outside of power, social, economic and political barriers aren’t invisible, and never have been. The walls have been right before their eyes for as long as they, or their ancestors, can remember. For those on the inside, meanwhile, such critiques can sound strident and totalizing, a threat to supposedly communal values, even to a way of life. They don’t see those structural barriers – or they just don’t care.

They also counterpunch. Proud Boys, believing their Canada to be under siege, attack an Indigenous demonstration in Halifax over the statue of Cornwallis. In a tweet, President Trump cites the “medical costs and disruption that transgender [sic] in the military would entail” as one reason to reinstitute the ban against their serving openly in the U.S. armed forces. He also mentions unspecified threats to “cohesion.”

The President is right about the disruption, if nothing else. Of late, noisy, public challenges have been garnering most of the attention. Black Lives Matter disrupts the 2016 Pride parade to address “anti-blackness” within the Pride Toronto organization. A ceremonial teepee is erected on Parliament Hill during Canada 150 celebrations as a symbol of unresolved grievances.

Such high-profile disruptions certainly garner reactions, often from those with actual power. Equally important, however, are the quieter provocations and challenges being framed by these groups about what, in effect, we need to talk about if we really want to talk about inclusion. Respect for difference, fairness, equality, restitution are all ultimately measures of how individuals negotiate each other as partners in the basic enterprise of living together. They are tools for honouring the people on either side of you – not, curiously, something humans are very good at.

The truest conversions are always the self-willed, and, thanks in part to the forceful thinking of these various groups, individuals of good will are slowly, steadily wanting to re-examine a list of assumptions and make right a list of wrongs. Our parents didn’t teach us particularly well about some things. Nor did our history books. We sure don’t always see the walls we live behind, and help reinforce.

This is a profound project, and it is unfolding in messy real time. For sure, there is a lot of new thinking for a lot of us to absorb. But I can’t imagine a more necessary or essential conversation. Necessary for its own sake, and essential for the health of liberal democracies, which count on engagement and introspection from their citizens to thrive.

The principal challenge for now may be to come up with a working definition of real inclusion, one that is widely agreed upon, and that can become shared ground worth defending. That, too, probably can’t happen easily or comfortably. We’re still identifying the correct terms and appropriate players to do the work. This conversation is just beginning.

Source: The barriers of nativism and fear: Let’s rethink the walls that divide us – The Globe and Mail

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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