The Week's Conversations: Motion 103, Beyoncé, Talking to Racists, Music and Sports in a Hyper-Political Time, Vancouver's Housing Crisis, Uber's Sexist Workplace

A weekly conversation between friends.

Meanwhile in Canada: Motion 103

In October 2016, a petition was presented to the House of Commons, calling for a condemnation of Islamophobia, in all its forms. A motion passed with the support of all members, including Conservative MPs.

Now, with another motion before the House of Commons condemning “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” some Conservative MPs are up in arms, accusing the motion as an attempt to stifle legitimate expression, and perhaps even, provide a backdoor to the imposition of Sharia Law.

There are many reasons why the Conservative opposition to Motion 103 is flawed, inaccurate, and reflects the irrational fear or hatred of Islam and Muslims that the motion seeks to condemn. Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong articulates perhaps the most definitive defence of Motion 103. Warda Shazadi Meighen and Lorne Waldman also provide a substantive critique of the opposition to Motion 103 that is worth reading.

Or, you can simply read the text of Motion 103 itself to understand that the opposition to Motion 103 is exaggerated and itself insidious:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Motion 103 does not provide Muslims or Islam privileged status in Canada. It is simply an attempt to recognize and better understand the sources and consequences of Islamophobia in this country, and is similar to the motions the House of Commons has passed in relation to challenging other forms of systemic racism in Canada and around the world. And this recognition and understanding is worth pursuing, given the murder of six congregants of the Culturel Islamique de Québec in Quebec City by a man who hated Islam and Muslims.

The debate among Conservative MPs over the existence of Islamophobia less than six weeks after an unprecedented terror attack that killed and seriously injured individuals for no other reason but for being Muslim demonstrates that Islamophobia is real and needs to be confronted. Regrettably, Islamophobic sentiment runs deep in some corners of this country, and it is likely that this will not be the last time that condemning hatred towards Muslims becomes a rallying point for bigots attempting to denigrate the place of Muslims in Canada.

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Reading: A Home Remedy for Prejudice

Last week, prejudice against Muslims in Canada took a nasty turn, as the type of blatant Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry that is usually found stewing in the ‘comments section’ went public.

At an event in Toronto hosted by The Rebel, over a thousand people railed against Motion 103, claiming that the non-binding resolution to respond with evidence-based policy to the rise of Islamophobia was in fact an attack on free speech. The next day, the free speech subterfuge was dropped, as small crowd gathered at an “anti-Islam” protest outside of the Masjid Toronto. Muslims prayed inside.

Though anti-Muslim rhetoric remains mostly on the fringe in Canadian politics*, it is undeniably becoming more prevalent, and is seeping slowly into the mainstream. Indeed, no less than four (!) of the candidates running for Conservative leadership not only attended, but spoke at the Rebel-hosted rally.

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Quebec City, this is particularly a concerning development. Reading the news this week, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dismay and even hopelessness. How can we combat what seems like blind prejudice? How do we push back against a powerful political movement of which Islamophobic rhetoric is apparently a central part? Of course, there are no simple answers to these questions.

I was heartened to read about the case of Garry Civitello, a middle aged white American who called into a show on C-Span last year, where he admitted that he was prejudiced against black people. Heather McGhee, a black woman, responds with some simple advice: “Get to know black people, read up on black history, stop watching the nightly news.”

Civitello accepted her challenge. He read books by Cornel West, Bryan Stevenson, and J. L. Chestnut, Jr., and slowly, his viewpoints were transformed: “My fears, my anxieties—those still linger. But I’m starting to see root causes. I was assuming people were being lazy. Or they didn’t care. They were being irresponsible in society. Now I’m finding out, no, they can’t get loans in banks—they have to use pawnshops. And I inherited a house!”

It’s not easy work to talk to friends and family about race, racism, or Islamophobia. And simply encouraging them to watch less network news and read more is a clearly a facile solution. But it’s a start.

At this important crossroads, it is also critical that the Canadian media works to share the stories of Muslims in Canada — to elevate their perspectives and bridge the divide that has slowly been widening for years.

* A fellow theread editor disagrees with this statement. Indeed, the Bloc Québécois have a history of running blatantly Islamophobic campaign ads.

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How to Argue with Racists

Daryl Davis’ cool attitude, specifically his willingness to befriend white supremacists though he himself is Black, is kind of hard to understand. I had a chance to hear him on Love + Radio this week, as part of a 2-part series the show put together. The first episode is “The Silver Dollar.”

As the son of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, Davis grew up enrolled in international schools around the world. His classes were always mixed. Those formative years let him access being multicultural as the norm rather than an attitude of tolerance.

When he moved back to Belmont, Mass., as a 10-year-old kid, he remembers having soda bottles and rocks thrown at him at a scout rally. This experience of feeling othered was completely new to him:

“It was so incomprehensible to me that someone who knew absolutely nothing about me would want to inflict pain upon me, for no other reason other than the colour of my skin. They didn’t know anything about me! I hadn’t done anything. And I literally thought, they were lying to me.”

Alongside a career as a musician, writer, and actor, he deconstructed the belief systems of some prominent KKK members and convinced them to change their minds. And it wasn’t through seminars, speeches, or Twitter wars, it was through friendship.

Here’s Davis again:

“If you have an adversary, an opponent with an opposing point of view, give that person a platform, regardless of how extreme it may be. And believe me I've heard something so extreme at these rallies it'll cut you to the bone. If you agree with them, great - no problem. If you don't agree with them, that's fine, too. You challenge them, but you don't challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently and when you do things that way, chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform.”

“If you have something that’s mean, and you’re mean to it, you make it meaner… Same thing with hate.  If someone hates you, and you’re beating on them, they’re gonna hate you more...But you can drive the hate out with logic, love, and respect. And that’s the logic”

In the second podcast of the series, "How to Argue," Nick van der Kolk takes in some tips from Davis about how to do this. Here are Davis’ top tips:

1)    Gather your information. Get an astute knowledge of the other person’s side before meeting them. Review it in your head. Be as familiar with their position, as well as your own.

2)    Invite them to have a conversation, not a debate. Try and understand why they feel the way they do.

3)    Look for commonalities - something, even with your worst enemy.

The patience to engage the other side and have these conversations is becoming difficult. This last week, we saw the echo-chambers of groups like Rebel Media emerge and anti-Islam protests in Toronto. It can be hard to imagine having meaningful conversations in these settings.  Davis’ gentler, long-game approach perhaps offers something different.

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A Renaissance Madonna, A Yoruba Love Goddess

Beyoncé’s pregnancy photos were glorious. "She appears as not one but many women—or, instead, maybe the universal woman and mother—at once Virgin and Venus, Flora and Leda.” "In her curves, her wimple, and her beatific face, Beyoncé is set against a bright blue sky like a late medieval or Renaissance Madonna. She is as soft as the Aldobrandini Madonna.” The photos manage to reference imagery surrounding the Virgen de Guadalupe, Queen Nefertiti and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, among others.  I loved them immediately.

And then came her Grammy performance, which references Yoruba river/love goddess Oshun, African water goddess Mami Wata, the Hindu goddess Kali, and the Roman goddess Venus. “[T]he distinct Baroque character of the piece, with the gold, the rays around Beyoncé’s face, the carpet of roses, and the flowing robes bring to mind Latin American Baroque virgins and female saints, including perhaps Saint Rose of Lima, the first American woman to be beatified.” If you haven’t watched it, then I’m not sure what we’re doing here. Who cares about Adele or our fellow theread editor’s crisis of faith over indie rock, Beyoncé is a walking embodiment of femininity and power, an empress of music, a Black woman and mother, and you should be paying attention. The fact that she could put together this piece and force millions to watch it during an award show is perhaps the single greatest thing that has happened in the last month (and great things have been few and far between).

"The Grammys performance was a gentle display of maternal vanity and a celebration of the sort of spirituality that converges with aesthetics. Much has happened to Beyoncé since she last performed at the ceremony: In 2015, she wore all white and sang "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" along with a choir. Since then, Beyoncé has expanded her public spirituality beyond Christianity, expressing interest in the ethnicity and animist spirituality that arrived to Louisiana centuries before. She is placing herself in a lineage — an act that takes vulnerability, humility, haughtiness. She's doing this for her children."

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Vancouver's Unaffordable Housing is Driving Millennials Out

Housing is increasingly becoming the dominant political issue in Vancouver.

Political advocacy groups such as Abundant Vancouver have formed to advocate for housing policies that allow for greater housing accessibility, and seem to represent a large and growing segment of Vancouver’s population that are shut out of the housing market due to high costs. Not only is home ownership outside the realm of possibility for many in Vancouver, but rental prices have also increased substantially, despite the high number of vacant homes in the city.

Things seem to be coming to a head with the City of Vancouver’s policy review for pre-1940s character homes, which would make it more difficult to demolish them to build denser housing. With 60-85% of Vancouver consisting of single-family homes, there is genuine concern that further inhibiting the ability to build multi-unit housing on pre-existing single family lots would increase inaccessibility when the aim should be the opposite.

Perhaps it’s time to challenge the planning and design philosophies that have led to the dominance of single-family homes in Vancouver and housing inaccessibility. These debates are not new, and in certain lights, recall debates over housing in the 1970s, when Mayor Tom Campbell sought to turn neighbourhoods such as Kitsilano and Kerrisdale into a slew of high-rise buildings.

But, regardless of its antecedents, the consequences now are clearer than ever. Vancouver may lose a generation of residents, mainly millennials, still in their prime working and social development years, which would have significant impacts on the economy and character of the city.

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Music in a Hyper-Political Time

A friend of mine who has followed my musings on the “end of indie rock“ recently asked me:

“If indie rock is fundamentally about the minor plights of young privileged people, is there political space for it anymore? I guess the best indie albums show that personal disasters are still disasters, like the last Sufjan album.

It’s an intriguing proposition, and one that begs the age-old question: does popular music really need to be political to matter? Isn’t the best music timeless and universal? Doesn’t the best art transcend the context in which it is produced?

In a recent interview about this year’s Grammys with Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy, he was asked to comment on the outrage that followed Adele’s victory over Beyonce for album of the year, and on accusations of racism within the Academy. His statement rings incredibly hollow:

“We don’t, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity. When you go to vote on a piece of music—at least the way that I approach it—is you almost put a blindfold on and you listen.”

Of course we don’t expect Grammy voters to base their votes on gender or ethnicity. But to pretend that we can simply cloak ourselves in a veil of ignorance, or to consume art some sort of apolitical vacuum, is absurd. We’re talking about Lemonade , not The Ride of the Valkyries (though even that is probably political).

Not all art is political, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the context in which it is produced, nor the individual stories of those who produced it. Especially today.  

I think it’s safe to say that we’re living in a uniquely hyper-political era — one in which shopping is a political act and in which professional sports are viewed through a political lens. Indeed, the weeks of controversy surrounding the Trump team’s struggle to book artists for the inauguration is evidence of a newly heightened expectation that artists and musicians, in order to remain relevant, are obligated to express some moral or political stance.

Whether all this is ultimately a good thing, or a necessary thing, is difficult to say. One thing’s for certain, though — there’s no better music today than the music of resistance and solidarity:

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Links From This Week's Thread

Pride Toronto has hired Olivia Nuamah as its new executive director, the first time the organization has appointed a black woman to the role: “The fallout from Pride's stand on police at the parade has been unprecedented, with some members of the LGBTQ community saying they will boycott Pride. Ms. Nuamah will have to repair this damaged relationship with police, retain the many members who feel the organization no longer represents them and keep an open line with Black Lives Matter.”

An important reminder to “Question Your Answers”, featuring Michael Kenneth Williams. And an equally important reminder to “Question Your Questions”, featuring Rakhee Morzaria.

Top 30 Under 30.

Listen to this incredible live performance of “Compared To What” by the jazz legends Les McCann and Eddie Harris from 1969. The trumpet solo is riveting.

When Things Go Missing” is a read into how the loss of things and people affects us in our lives.

Voter ID laws suppress minority voting, finds a new report conducted by The Washington Post.

A new NYTimes series on how climate change is affecting cities starts off with a piece on Mexico City.

Uber is a model startup that has no interest in respecting its dwindling female employees

“Sanctuary Cities” offer immigrants very little protection in both the US and Canada.

“Populist correctness” is the new political correctness, argues Arwa Mahdawi.

Theresa May’s Empire of the Mind

Every single day, when I woke up in the morning, it felt like the front of my brain was on fire.” —   Former NHL goaltender Corey Hirsch shares the story of his life-long struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Sportswriting Has Become a Liberal Profession: “There was a time when filling your column with liberal ideas on race, class, gender, and labor policy got you dubbed a “sociologist.” These days, such views are more likely to get you a job.”

Santiago Ramón y Cajal is the father of modern neuroscience, and his remarkable scholarship and academic drawings are the subject of a travelling art exhibit that has received rave reviews. Cajal’s drawings are full of detail and radically transformed our understandings of the nervous system. This exhibit’s only Canadian stop is in Vancouver at an undetermined date.

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Amy Sanderson