On Nov. 17 last semester, Dalhousie University, Saint Mary’s University, and Mount St. Vincent University sponsored the forum aptly titled Race in a Glass Nation: Fragility and Dissent in the University and Beyond.
It was incredibly empowering.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Sunera Thobani; she addressed key issues our universities and society are facing with regard to racism, fragility, and dissent. She’s an associate professor in the Department of Asian Studies and the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia.
Dr. Thobani discussed these issues pertaining to race, white privilege, fragility, and respect with regard to the backlash faced by Dalhousie Student Union Vice-president (Academic and External,) Masuma Khan.
For context: Khan presented a motion for the DSU (of which all council members voted in favour) to not partake in Canada 150 activities to stand in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples of Canada with the justification that Canada is more than 150 years old.
Due to a procedural issue, the motion did not pass.
The motion that did pass on July 19 was a watered-down version of the original motion. Subsequently, Khan faced a tremendous backlash from members of the student union council, and death threats and hate speech from the community at large.
Michael Smith, a Dalhousie Master’s of History student, filed a formal complaint against Khan in an attempt to formally have her impeached, claiming that she is reversing racism with her personal Facebook post that read, in part “#whitefragilitycankissmyass.”
In order to disprove – while resoundingly proving that white fragility does exist – the case was reported to the Senate Disciplinary Committee on the allegations that Khan was violating Section 1 C(f) of the Student Code of Conduct, by using language that caused students to feel “demeaned, harassed, and intimidated.”
Senate disciplinary action for standing in solidarity with a visible minority – the Indigenous peoples of Canada?
Our institution is not post-colonial.
The case was dismissed on the grounds that, “among our diverse student body, there are particularly distinct lived-experiences of exclusion and discrimination among students who have been historically underrepresented or under-served by institutions of higher learning,” according to a memo from Vice-Provost of Student Affairs.
Minorities – historically and presently – have faced exclusion and discrimination in universities, at the workplace and beyond.
The issue as articulated by Dr. Thobani, shouldn’t have been taken up to the Senate Disciplinary Committee in the first place – she’s a woman of colour standing in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples of Canada, who have been discriminated since the dawn of colonization.
Racism isn’t just about making a racist comment: it is historical, it is systemic, it is about power dynamics, and how the status quo continues to be reinforced.
We are not creating a safe space for critical dialogue to talk about issues of racism and inclusion. By silencing activists who are demonstrating allyship with Indigenous peoples, we are reinstating the status quo.
Surely if Khan’s #whitefragilitycankissmyass causes people to feel demeaned, harassed, and intimidated, then the students that urinated on residents’ lawns, snorted cocaine in front of children, and fell out of windows belligerently drunk should also be reported to the Senate Disciplinary Committee for the same reasons. There was a community meeting where residents complained that they felt harassed and intimidated.
Dal has used the Code of Conduct as a tool to silence activists.
Dr. Thobani asserted that social activism isn’t about using cute and fluffy language. Anger is a response to oppression. When people are angry, they are going to use provocative language to get their point across. What we should really be focusing on is the sentiment behind Khan’s post instead of getting bent out of shape with #whitefragilitycankissmyass.
Indigenous peoples are still oppressed; therefore, it is critical that we acknowledge their repression and stand in solidarity with them.
Dalhousie hosted a Universal Basic Income (UBI) conference in October and an Indigenous Elder said during the Q&A period that, “At first it was ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide, now it is economic racism. If you looked at the stats with a critical eye, you would see that Indigenous peoples in Nova Scotia’s median income, on the whole, is significantly lower compared to non-Indigenous Nova Scotians.”
Dr. Thobani concluded, “We have to be the difference that makes a difference.”
If we strive to be postcolonial, we cannot silence social activists like Khan. We need to work towards creating a space to have a critical dialogue about issues of racism and inclusivity.
Like universities used to be.
So how can we, as an institution, be the difference that makes a difference?
Dalhousie needs use this opportunity to take a step towards the right direction by issuing a letter of condemnation against the countless death threats and hate speeches that Khan has received.
Comments like: “Hey Masuma , if anyone is to celebrate the colonisation of Canada it would be someone like you, who’s family immigrated from there piece of sh*t country in hopes of a better future for them selves and there children, which seeing as how you are enjoying the privelidge of advancing your education at a university which was built on land colonised by us proud European decendant Canadians whom built this country from the ground up . The country which you are taking advantage of all the perks , but criticising us for being proud of what we accomplished. You’re a hippocrit and your brown tears can lube up my big fat c*ck to fuck your little Muslim pussy with bitch.”
This needs to be condemned.
By not dispensing a letter of condemnation, it is normalizing hate speech and death threats.
Dalhousie needs to exercise its institutional capacity and communicate that hate speech and death threats are vehemently unacceptable responses for when a minority stands in solidarity with another visible minority.
Ongoing incidents of racism like, the 18-year-old Richmond woman who faced a racist attack on public transit, are becoming more brazen. It’s crucial that in this climate Dalhousie issues a letter of condemnation so we can take move forward affirming that we don’t condone racism.