Social Education

Letters to Irshad – Letter 3

Shades of Grey: Hear, Not Fear, Different Perspectives

5 min read

Dear Irshad,

“In responding to injustice with genuine empathy and meaningful engagement, we are nobody’s savior except our own.”

Payam Akhavan, International Human Rights Lawyer. From Don’t Label Me by Irshad Manji

I thought long and hard about whether I was going to address the issue that sparked debate within the father, community organizer, and former official in me but in the end, I seen no reason to be specific about the matter or the people involved for a broader audience. There are surely similar related issues in all of our cities and towns that share common key elements anyway.

Irshad, I don’t have much of a traditional education but I love to learn. One subject I have immersed myself in for the past six years is Indigenous history, culture, belief systems, and the horrible way we as a nation have treated our first peoples from stealing land that we promised them, to the residential school system. 

Politically, I believe in important issues like Standing Rock, 1492 Landback Lane locally, defunding the police, correction systems reform, basic income, and Black Lives Matter. 

My stance on Indigenous causes is more natural because of this learning including the knowledge that our Indigenous brothers and sisters are not fighting for these lands and waters because they want to develop or exploit them; they are protectors. 

Issues like defunding the police, releasing all prisoners, and Black Lives Matter though, have more of those grey areas you talk about in your book, Irshad. There are so many different viewpoints among those who choose to associate with these movements and I am among those variants. I believe it’s normal to be divided in our relationships with our workplaces and our other associations because as you hammer home constantly throughout your book, no one person, organization, or movement can speak completely for us. 

As for causes like releasing all prisoners, I am certainly not open to heading down to the Barton Street jail and pressing the magic unlock button on all of the cells, but I watch a movie like Where to Invade Next by Michael Moore and I am inspired at the thought of a better way to treat humans. I’ve read about people standing on an overpass looking down into the local jail singing Christmas carols to inmates and I am touched to think that there are others out there who still see the humanity down below.

We need to ensure the representation of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, Jewish, and all current and past marginalized groups, in the history we teach our children. The more we understand all of our stories, traditions, and our faiths, the more we appreciate the diverse cultures and beliefs that surround us in our communities, our schools, our places of work, and our religious institutions. 

I have many ideas, Irshad, on how we can genuinely immerse children in this kind of learning. I dream of our kids being able to be openly inquisitive in exploring these sensitive topics most of all, which includes teaching children strong communication skills. Ensuring our youth have the tools required to have these critical conversations without anyone feeling shamed, gamed, or that their opinions are wrong because our Other doesn’t agree with them. 

I also believe we need to have a long, hard look at our political and social structures to see how they negatively affect everyone. I know many see these systems as colonial and racist in themselves and from what I have learned through my life’s journey thus far, I can even agree to a growing extent. I also feel like if we could have an open and honest discussion without prematurely thrusting our fists into the wind, that we’d realize people of all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds feel there is a real need to re-look at these systems and how they are standing in the way of our success and well-being as people and a society as a whole.

The underlying message here, Irshad, is that I stand with Black, Indigenous, Jewish, and People of Colour and these important issues above. However, like your story about the Black Lives Matter member who wanted to have a conversation with police much to the chagrin of another leader, being in doesn’t mean not having an opinion about how we can do things differently.

On the surface, the discussions within the local issue are centered on racism, but what stood out through further study and from the vantage point of a former politician and father, is parents and students – humans, immersed in a complex social-political world. Analyzing this issue I see questioning, but an obvious need for better support for all parties from the institution itself – which is among the recommended action items – and within the broader community. 

I see the constant calls for elected officials to stand down or the word racist being passed around like an an hors d’oeuvre at a dinner party, and I wonder how closely everyone follows these global issues and if they do, is it from a White Fragility lens where everyone who is not a person of colour is inherently racist? One where saying all lives matter without actually saying it is like saying it? I am not here to target specific ideologies, but I am saying that many do not see these issues through a critical race theory lens and to attain a joint desire for human equality, we should be welcoming other viewpoints on how to achieve these like-minded goals.

I live in a community where these types of discussions are very prevalent. I would never use the phrase all lives matter, but I am against calling someone a racist because they said it unless it was obvious beyond a balance of probabilities, that it was rooted in racial bias. Context matters.

“For the sake of justice, we have to choose between what’s right and what’s wrong. But given all the situations that contain vivid shades of gray, how can we know we’re choosing well? How can we come close to understanding a person or a topic unless we’re exposed to views that challenge us to rethink?”

Irshad Manji from her book, Don’t Label Me

So much grey Irshad, and so many shades.

Be well. Keep safe.

Your friends,
Larry & Finnegan

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