Foxy Insights: What Canadians (and the Rest of the World) Can Learn From Ferguson

Social media campaigns and hashtag activism have usually been derided as a load of crock by venerable and wise observers, and most of the time, they are right. When raising awareness really can do some good, however, that is when hashtag activism works. The ALS Ice Bucket challenge and Ferguson, Missouri, are two campaigns sweeping social media right now, and both are very successful, in their own way.

The Ice bucket challenge has raised $70.2 million dollars (and counting) dollars for ALS research. Basically, the idea is that if you get challenged, you have to either dump some ice cold water over yourselves or donate 100$ to combat Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, AKA Motor Neurone Disease, AKA Lou Gehrig’s disease (read more and donate here). While I haven’t been challenged (and really can’t right now due to tight student budget plus ongoing surgical complications) and I really want to roll my eyes at the whole thing, it has accomplished its mission of raising money and awareness for a truly terrifying disease (Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom touches on it, and is an excellent read), with the bonus of not being offensive or hypocritical like the whole NFL pink ribbon, so I can’t be too cynical.

Ferguson, on the other hand, has succeeded in a very different way in raising awareness. Again, for those of you living under a rock, Michael Brown, a young black man, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white cop, in Ferguson, Missouri on Saturday August 9th. Protests have been on going, and all kinds of conversations have been renewed, over excessive police militarization, and especially systemic racism. What’s really interesting about #ferguson is that we observers get to see the point of view that we don’t usually get to see: that of the black community, the “rioters”, the wronged. They’ve been challenging police reports (keeping them honest? Maybe? Although I suspect the truth, per usual, is somewhere in the middle), and creating a national conversation that very much needs to happen.

As Canadians, we sit very comfortably back and watch, but like the rest of the world, we assume what’s happening in America is a uniquely American phenomenon, made in Murica. That racial strife is something that we don’t have to worry about, not in the civilised regions where we live, because of our charter and great history of human rights.

Oh really?

On August 20th, 2014, 15-year-old Tina Fountaine was found floating in the Red River, like the 1017 murdered or missing aboriginal women between 1980 and 2012. Her body has sparked calls yet again, for a study as to why so many aboriginal women end up dead. If you don’t think 1017 is a lot of people (first of all, screw you), think of it this way: Part of the reason notorious pig farmer and murderer Robert Picton managed to get away with it for so long was because a lot of his victims were aboriginal women, and the Vancouver Police Department failed to act due to systemic bias. Canadian aborigines account for about 4.3% of the population, but account for 16% of murdered females.

Yeah. Let that sink in for a bit.

And yet our glorious leader doesn’t think there’s cause for concern. Nor does his right-hand, sexist unmentionable whose nominally in charge of these things (In case you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of either Stephen Harper or Peter McKay, the Canadian Justice Minister, for various reasons detailed here for Stephen Harper and Peter McKay because he seems incredibly out of touch, in my opinion, which hasn’t been improved by this debacle). They probably just don’t want another report telling them they’ve done something wrong.

Now, admittedly, it’s not systemic violence against a disadvantaged group, like it is in America, but according to the UN, it’s a crisis. It’s systemic ignorance about a disadvantaged group, which can be infinitely more dangerous because we pretend it doesn’t exist. Violence against women is only part of the problem, sadly enough. Aborigines as a whole in Canada tend to be less educated, poorer, in poorer health, lack basic necessities on reserves, more likely to become alcoholics or substance abusers, and more likely to become convicts or the victims of crimes, and we, the rest of Canada, are by in large ignorant of the issues.

I’m not asking you to carry the white man’s burden here, or pay for the sins of our forefathers or whatever. For one thing, I’m not white, nor am I a man, and my forefathers certainly weren’t involved in defrauding natives of their land. I am, however, very proudly Canadian. I am asking you as Canadians to be aware and to be mindful of these issues, and most of all, to be humble. We may live in a country of free healthcare, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and tolerance, but we still have our social gaps to bridge.

That’s the lesson that Ferguson has to offer the rest of the world, Canadians included: this is what happens when you let biases become too ingrained, too systemic. This is what happens when the social gap becomes too wide.

Foxy Insights is a series about a normal person’s view on everything, not necessarily sexy. Read more here.