Column: We should never tolerate intolerance

Every so often something happens to shock us out of our smug complacency about bigotry in our community.

Every so often something happens to shock us out of our smug complacency about bigotry in our community.

Last week it was an obnoxious rant, filled with racial slurs and caught on video in Abbotsford. Before that it was a handful of Klu Klux Klan recruitment flyers dropped on lawns in Chilliwack and Mission.

Disturbing as these incidents are, they are relatively rare.

But scratch a little deeper and something uglier seeps out.

Canadians like to think prejudice is an anomaly in our society. We look south and see our neighbour’s history of racial tension and like to believe it doesn’t happen here.

True, we are spared the burning crosses and white sheets, but that doesn’t mean bigotry does not exist.

Some of it is obvious, as evidenced by last week’s video. But often the racism is more subtle.

It might be the extra attention paid to a dark-skinned customer by a suspicious store clerk. It might be an off-hand comment or “joke” about a minority. Maybe it’s the casual exclusion of those slightly different from us (or even the overt inclusion).

None of us are free from prejudice. Stereotypes and assumptions cling like moss to our perceptions. They are nurtured by our individual histories, environments and upbringings. Our language is peppered with antiquated expressions that reflect prejudice. Popular media is rife with stereotypes stretching back so many decades they can seem laughable.

Some stereotypes are more toxic than others, especially when used to shape public opinion.

But whatever their form, they are hurtful.

Prejudice is ignorance in action. It needs to be challenged, even in its subtler forms.

One of my greatest regrets is not standing up to a group of “friends” when I sat next to the new kid in my junior high class. His family had recently immigrated to Canada from Pakistan. He was nervous, and conspicuous in our predominantly white, suburban school.

As I sat down I noticed the smirks from the group a few desks away. “How can you stand the smell?” one of them quipped. “Come sit over here,” another laughed.

I was angry and embarrassed, but worse, I was silent.

I didn’t move. But I didn’t challenge the stupidity of their statements either.

I just sat there.

And that’s how racism festers. If we allow bigotry to go unchallenged it will grow like mould in the darker recesses of our society. We may not see it, but it’s there, tainting the perceptions and attitudes of our children until it erupts into ugly episodes of hate and intolerance.

We need to be better than that.

In a country shaped through immigration, we need to appreciate the diversity of others – not fear it.

Our individuality makes us stronger, and it’s something we should be willing to defend.

Just Posted

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
Student’s quote in Chilliwack high school yearbook equates graduation with end of slavery

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Alexis Paige Simpson has not been in contact with her family in two months. (RCMP photo)
Chilliwack RCMP looking for missing 20-year-old woman

Police say Alexis Paige Simpson has not been in contact with her family in two months

RCMP seek dash-cam footage after Chilliwack road rage incident

Male driving a black pickup stopped and allegedly threatened to punch another driver

Doses prepared at pop-up vaccine clinic in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, in the M3N postal code, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. ( THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston)
4 vaccine clinics coming to Neighbourhood Learning Centre

Fraser Health made clinics ‘low-barrier’ meaning pre-registration not required

Deepak Sharma of Abbotsford has been convicted of the sexual assault of one of his cab passengers in West Vancouver in January 2019.
Former Abbotsford Hindu temple president convicted of sexual assault

Deepak Sharma assaulted a female passenger when he was a cab driver

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

Most Read