Over the weekend, I was organizing some old files and came upon speeches and letters I had written ten years ago.
Letters demanding accountability for police discriminatory actions. Articles that described the multiple ways in which discrimination is lived, and how new forms of discriminatory treatment were constantly being invented. Speeches advocating that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (the NGO I was heading at the time) confront the powerful, and insist on the taking of responsibility; comfort the powerless, to ensure that discrimination not become internalized; and energize the indifferent, reminding them of the famous Niemöller poem (I used to adapt it to the Canadian context: first, the Indigenous, then the Métis, then the Black slaves, then the Chinese, then the Jews, and later the Muslims).
I have notes and chapters insisting that “Peace, order and good government” — the words of the Canadian Constitution Act, 1867 — not be used to quash dissent in the name of a “no disruption” agenda. “Peace and order rooted in inequality,” I wrote, “are not only bad government, they bring neither peace nor order.” This was ten years ago.
Reading through this material felt like Groundhog Day, the “déjà vu all over again” of Yogi Berra… Depression sunk in. Nothing had changed. It might even be worse.
What to do now that I am at Massey?
First, a good dose of self-reflection. Did I contribute to the marginalization of the equality discussion? Did my attention shift? Did I wrongly become interested by something else? Worse, did I contribute to the muting of some of these equality conversations?
What can the relatively new Principal at Massey who wrote all these things ten years ago do? What should she do?
I continue to believe that there is some wisdom in thinking about the three groups: the powerful, the powerless, and the indifferent. Challenging “the powerful” to embrace responsibility to act and change; supporting and being present for “the powerless” to ensure that people who are or could be victims of discrimination — Indigenous peoples, Black, Muslim, Jewish, disabled, LGBTQ+ — can find their own voices and be heard, and; advocating to ensure “the indifferent” learn to care.
This is the reason for the continuing work for our community to understand Indigenous history, to develop an Anti-Black Racism Workplan, to formulate an Accessibility Strategy and to continue to express an unwavering commitment to upholding human rights. Massey must model an ethical way of listening, but also of reflecting and responding.
I hope that you will help and be inspired to provide good suggestions and ideas.
We desperately need new material. Let’s create it.
Nathalie Des Rosiers