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Denise Balkissoon
Denise Balkissoon

Denise Balkissoon

We all profit from soldiers on the front lines of hate Add to ...

Hate works. In the past month or so, I’ve received e-mails labelling me a “darkie,” and a “vizmin girl hack” who is a “diversity hire” at this publication. Someone suggested I should be dismembered. These are just the most memorable excerpts of late.

People who don’t like my ideas aren’t content to just ignore them. They scream at me to shut up, now. They belittle me into self-doubt and will comment on this piece that I’m not deserving of my job, though I doubt their work requires absorbing a constant stream of ugliness. The burden of hate is exhausting and heavy. It makes me cry. It makes me want to quit.

Much of my recent hate mail has been in response to Colour Code, The Globe and Mail’s podcast about race. Our episode this week, “Surface Tension,” is about hate crime: specifically, the 2007 epidemic of “nipper-tipping,” when Asian fishers were pushed off of bridges and boats into lakes in Southern Ontario.

Colour Code: A podcast about race in Canada

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The episode was planned well before the American election, but it’s now painfully timely. In the past week, I’ve read about a woman in Michigan being forced to remove her hijab under threat of being set on fire, and high school drinking fountains in Florida being labelled “white” and “coloured.” Swastikas have been showing up everywhere. Women have been groped and grabbed and then told there is nothing they can do about it now.

I was not surprised by the results of the election, though I was sickened, and I am not surprised by these events, though I am distraught. What I’ve been pondering is how hate crimes fit into larger systems of injustice: white supremacy in America predates Donald Trump, and would not have ended had Hillary Clinton won. What does a new wave of violence in the U.S. do that wasn’t being accomplished by the mass incarceration of African-Americans?

What does Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch hope to gain braying on about “shared values”? And yes, this is the same thing. The Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act that Ms. Leitch championed during last fall’s federal election campaign resulted in multiple incidents of violent Islamophobia. I saw a photo taken in a Toronto park this past weekend of a sign exhorting white people to “learn” about resisting multiculturalism. There is not that much difference between there and here.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that those who commit hate crimes are soldiers. They do the dirty work that other people can’t face, but still benefit from. I’ve been re-reading black lesbian theorist Audre Lorde, who already named all of this decades ago, which is both comforting and devastating to consider. Hatred, wrote Ms. Lorde in the essay “Eye to Eye,” is an emotional habit or attitude of mind in which aversion is coupled with ill will. Its goal is destruction.

And so, I’ve decided, those who act out their ill will in the form of verbal or physical violence create a space that allows everyone else to benefit from their aversions without facing them. It is easy to say that it is wrong to murder indigenous women, something most of us would never do. It is harder to examine how settler insistence on private property – which I own – prevents indigenous women from being in a position not to be murdered. If I am able to condemn the first, I can avoid confronting the second.

I am terrified to give up my privileges because I, too, cling to the illusion of security. I often tell myself this is because I want to protect my child. I am not yet as brave as my friend Catherine, who is white and who showed her two white children, not yet teenagers, the video of Eric Garner being suffocated by police, then held them as they cried. Eroding privilege isn’t pretty. But in its love for humanity, it is beautiful.

For this week’s episode of Colour Code, my co-host, Hannah Sung and I went to Sutton, Ont., and tried to interview people about one of the worst episodes of “nipper-tipping,” which left a man brain-damaged. What we found was that almost no one – from the perpetrator and his family, to friends of the victim, to residents of the town – wanted to discuss the event. Almost 10 years later, people still won’t look at the incident, perhaps afraid they’ll see themselves in its poisonous reflection.

But a war fought on your behalf is still your war, even if you aren’t on the front lines of the fighting. Just as hate hurts people beyond those who actually receive its direct blows, it also enriches those behind its soldiers.

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Follow on Twitter: @Balkissoon

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