Celebrating Humanity in All Its Myriad Facets
As we welcome the month of June – a time to remember and celebrate National Indigenous History, LGBTQIA+ rights, and the emancipation of slaves in the United States, I find myself struggling. I struggle to reconcile the desire to celebrate the rich tapestry of differences that is an integral part of humanity – whether race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation – with the stark reality that humans have and continue to be killed and harmed every day for those very differences. We must redouble our efforts to learn from tragedy, to understand, and hopefully to affect change – even the smallest changes - so that we and the next generation do not fall into the same traps of bigotry, hatred and racism.
Last week, McGill University’s flag flew at half-mast in memory of the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were recently discovered on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. At the same time, closer to home, we have been following the inquest into the death of Joyce Echaquan at a Quebec hospital. We are reminded of the devastating effects of colonialism - of institutional racism against Indigenous peoples carried out by those charged with care giving and education. Thankfully in Canada we have come to recognize the residential school system as a form of cultural genocide. But we still have a long way to go.
Further south, remembrances took place for the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, when a mob of the town’s white residents virtually eradicated a thriving Black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This memorial comes on the heels of a new record set in police related violence and shooting deaths of Black citizens in the US, but also continuing confrontations in Canada, as well as a rise in Anti-Asian and Anti-Semitic sentiment. According to Statistics Canada, Black and LGBTQIA+ people remain among the most targeted populations for hate crimes, which saw a peak in 2019.
So how can and should we respond at the School of Continuing Studies? You might wonder, “What does this have to do with me? I am just trying to get by, advance my career or learn something new.” And yet, it has everything to do with us as students and as educators. Knowledge can be weaponized, just as technology can be. And the effects of bigotry, hatred, bias, and blindness to other perspectives can be felt everywhere – even in the most quantitative or scientific inquiries or courses
We must resist the urge. But goodwill and a desire for positive outcomes from advancing our education is not enough. Each one of us has a responsibility to uncover and actively re-dress the implicit structural and institutional racism that might have shaped how and what we learn. At SCS, one way we are doing this, for example, is through a series of workshops and events focused on how to incorporate Indigenous understanding and knowledge into our curriculum and on how to raise awareness of Indigenous cultures not only of the past but also present. I invite you to do your part as well. Help us identify different perspectives, speakers, writers, case studies, and examples that we might incorporate into our curriculum and community practices. The fight against racism and hate knows no calendar; it is not limited to one month. But let us take this occasion to celebrate the long history of those who came before us and walk beside us, and who have been persecuted and targeted merely for their perceived race, ethnic or sexual identity. Let us celebrate humanity in all its myriad facets!