Letters to Irshad – Letter 5

Shades of Grey: Hear, Not Fear, Different Perspectives

5 min read

Dear Irshad,

I wanted to start this last letter with a quote from Bret Weinstein from your interview with him on his DarkHorse Podcast:

” The discovery of the humanity on the other side of a bridge that is supposed to be uncrossable is so rewarding; it is so reifying of the sense of humanity and possibility and optimism. I swear to you it’s addictive.”

Bret Weinstein, American evolutionary biologist 

In local author Paul Weinburg’s book of essays Reclaiming Hamilton from Wolsak & Wynn, Hamilton Senior Project Manager Sarah V. Wayland in her chapter titled City of Immigration: Inclusion and Exclusion, she mentions something that triggered a feeling of eureka. I had heard my grandfather mention something similar over the years but I had never seen it in written form from anyone else before.

The deed to the east end home my grandparents purchased during Word War II (only a city block from where I live now), actually stated that they were not allowed to sell to people of certain ethnicities. Sarah confirms this within this paragraph of her chapter:

“The arrival of more continental Europeans brought to the fore many restrictions against ethnic groups. For example, covenants in the Westdale neighbourhood forbade home sales to “Negroes, Asiatics, Bulgarians, Austrians, Russians, Serbs, Rumanians, Turks, Armenians … or foreign born Italians, Greeks, or Jews.” 

Sarah V. Wayland, Hamilton Senior Project Manager

Thankfully, those covenants were not worth the paper they were written on.

Irshad, what do we know about the cities we live in and how their histories – good and bad, paint a critical picture from where we’ve come, the influence that has had on us, and the clues those stories provide in guiding our path forward?

Another story with local relevance, tells of a time where more than two Italians were not allowed to travel together walking down the very street I live on. A fellow community volunteer shared this as he remembered his youth in this neighbourhood. At present, I do not have anything to corroborate this or give context as to why this would have occurred.

Like you, Irshad, I am not saying in this series that we shouldn’t be angry or call out actual bigots who show no signs of wanting to engage with us or would pose a threat to us or others if we were to try and reason with them. As you stated; “My call to distrust labels shouldn’t prevent us from judging; it should prevent us from judging prematurely, as in stoking prejudice.”

Although I am questioning what I feel is a singular vantage point for both viewing and addressing complex matters, these differences of opinion on approach shouldn’t keep us from staying informed, paying attention, or joining calls to action relating to these matters because real change happens when those outside of the groups most affected stand up in large numbers and shout ‘No more!’ 

In Desmond Cole’s book, The Skin We’re In, he breaks down his chapter’s into months, detailing the issues that were prevalent throughout 2017. He mentions how he and fellow advocates came together to save someone from being deported, how he reached out to families that had gone through unimaginable trauma to support them, and so many deeply disturbing incidents that should leave us angry and thinking about what we can do ourselves, to help bring these injustices to the fore.

Locally, did we head down to city hall last December to bring food to folks camped out on our city hall forecourt advocating for housing for our most vulnerable? Even though their solution to funding these initiatives was to defund the police and you do not agree with that approach, your support doesn’t have to be full-stop and without questioning. We can simply agree that our lack of affordable housing in Hamilton is in itself, a pandemic in desperate need of more of our voices.

Issues like defunding the police, basic income, Landback Lane, Standing Rock, and the like are not going away and changes to policies and governance relating to these issues may come into place without our input as we sit idly by. If nothing else, we should want to have a say and to know more, including how inaction from our governments has affected not just black, Indigenous, and people of colour, but those with varying mental and physical disabilities, social standing, and let’s not forget a demographic highly represented within our local hate crime reporting, our Jewish community. David Baddiel’s book, Jews Don’t Count, is important reading within the scope of this very discussion as well. This, the deed to my grandfather’s house, and laws surrounding congregating Italians, all brings closer to light the fact that there is so much more to this than the skin we’re in. 

“You don’t know what cost you’re paying walking around the world with bigotry.  It’s costing you every hour of every day in ways you don’t have any idea about until you get rid of it and when you get rid of it, you’ll discover that people are more interesting, they’re more fun, more surprising, and it really is like some giant raise that makes you freer than before.

Bret Weinstein, American evolutionary biologist. From his interview with Irshad Manji.

What does flippant name calling and tireless knee-jerk cancel culture tell us about someone’s past work or accomplishments? What does it say about their personal stories? What does it mean without the hard work of honest diversity and the kind of conversations that cannot be achieved without careful analogy and purposeful dialogue? 

Relationships are paramount to the success of our societies, but we are alienating allies because we aren’t willing to spend the time to understand one another and find common ground. Some may be too tired to help others understand but you, Irshad, have shown that many are willing to engage in meaningful discourse before blocking the trolls. The trolls; what are we going to do with them?

“Let’s ask young people a few questions. What do you want more – to be seen for your individuality or shown off for your labels? Would you rather own yourself or be owned by groups that claim you as ‘theirs’?” 

Irshad Manji from her book Don’t Label Me

Thank you Irshad, for showing us that there is another way to achieve what in many cases, are similar dreams for the future of humanity. 

Be well. Keep safe.

Your friends,
Larry & Finnegan

Previous: Letter 4 | Next: Afterword

The opinions shared within this series do not necessarily represent the views of all INSE members, volunteers, or that of it’s partners. We do however, see this platform as a space for open dialogue – within reason, built on respect for the plurality of opinions within our communities.

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