COMMENTARY: Can we achieve racial equality when education does not negate ignorance?

Armed homeowners standing in front their house along Portland Place confront protesters marching to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's house Sunday, June 28, 2020, in the central west end of St. Louis.
Armed homeowners standing in front their house along Portland Place confront protesters marching to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's house Sunday, June 28, 2020, in the central west end of St. Louis. Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP

Canada Day hit different this year. How could it not? We are in the midst of a health crisis, the likes of which we have never seen in our lifetimes.

But the coronavirus has also exposed a pandemic within a pandemic. Issues that we have been seeing for years but pushing to the periphery, like enduring social inequalities and anti-Black racism, are now being brought to the forefront of our attention. We are in a time of reckoning. 2020 will be a monumental year for our history books.

But when we look back, what will be written? Will it be the year we experienced real, actionable steps towards concrete social change, or will society fall back to its shameful status quo once the spotlight isn’t so blinding?

Read more: How nice are Canadians, really? Reckoning with racism, police use of force tests long-standing myths

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On June 27, Conrad Black wrote yet another piece for the National Post denouncing the existence of systemic racism in Canada. While he asserted, “I undoubtedly benefited from what is now called the ‘white privilege’ of having well-to-do parents,” he failed to connect the dots that his generational wealth and other benefits of his white privilege are widely a result of systemic racism — a system that has favoured his white skin over people of colour, particularly Black and Indigenous people.

Black also discussed Jessica Mulroney‘s threat against Sasha Exeter‘s livelihood. Feigning ignorance on the actual events that had transpired, which resulted in Mulroney’s multiple firings from her on-air and branding partnership roles, he felt compelled to give an opinion regardless.

Commentary: Yes, there is systemic racism in Canada — our history is filled with it

“It was painful to read the renunciations that Ben and Jessica Mulroney felt obligated to make, Ben expressing what amounted to guilt about his ‘white privilege’ and his vehement attack on unspecified racist practices in Canadian society,” Black wrote. “It all has an air of bloodless Stalinism, as people who are not in fact guilty of anything confess and repent. (Nor is being white or having successful parents an offence.)”

Once again, omitting facts in favour of a personal agenda, defending “white privilege.” Sympathetic to the Mulroneys’ undue misfortune (with no mention of damage to Exeter, of course), he called Ben and Jessica “fine and fair-minded people” — it brought to mind that time the U.S. president referred to some other “fine people,” absolving them of any wrongdoing.

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“It would be helpful if these Liberals kept the full story of this country in mind when discussing racism.” Those were Rex Murphy’s words, among others, in a piece he wrote last month denouncing the existence of systemic racism. Canadian media certainly gives older, wealthy, white men who have themselves likely never experienced systemic racism pretty big megaphones to wax poetic on the topic.

What Canada Day means to racialized Canadians
What Canada Day means to racialized Canadians

Murphy’s piece was not only disturbing, but spreading falsehoods is irresponsibly damaging and dangerous. However, I did agree with this one part of his statement: a full story and clearer picture is imperative.

But for me, that full story means acknowledging the 3,000 people of African ancestry who were enslaved in the United States and brought to this country to live in slavery. That means acknowledging the 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children who were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools — the last residential school did not close until 1996.

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That means acknowledging that even our national anthem, which many of us sang loud and proud as we celebrated the country’s 153rd birthday this week, was in fact written by the same man who founded a travelling blackface minstrel troupe, performing widely across Canada and the United States to great acclaim.

Read more: The history of Canadian slavery goes back 400 years, except we’re blind to it

We must educate ourselves because there has been gross miseducation. But that is the scary thing: those in power are often highly educated. Yet as educated as they are, like Black and Murphy have shown, they are not necessarily the most enlightened. Black completed a law degree at Université Laval in 1970 and in 1973 completed a master of arts degree in history at McGill University.

There is Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple armed with an AR-15 rifle and handgun, aimed at protesters walking by their expansive home — these two are not unintelligent people. They are two educated lawyers, two so-called defenders of justice.

Read more: ‘Ken and Karen’ — Couple aims guns at protesters passing mansion in St. Louis

There is actor Lori Loughlin, who has finally pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges of wire and mail fraud. Based on the plea agreement, she will serve two months in prison, pay a $150,000 fine and have a two-year supervised release.

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Needless to say, Aunt Becky will be fine; she’s apparently already planning her TV comeback. Had she not got caught in the college admissions scandal, her children, along with all the other rich kids whose parents have paid their way into the most prestigious colleges across America, would have access to the highest education. But would they have the moral compass to make decisions that would benefit all of society, or would they continue maintaining the status quo of social and racial inequality that best serves their interests?

How marginalized groups view Canada Day
How marginalized groups view Canada Day

The architecture of an inequitable system was purposeful: it was made by design to attain and retain power for a select few. It is the highly educated who were proponents of our residential schools. Highly educated lawyers protect police who kill men like Ejaz Ahmed Choudry and D’Andre Campbell. A highly educated judge delivered the verdict in the case of Dafonte Miller, acquitting both brothers of obstruction of justice. Highly educated CEOs of corporations sit on executive leadership teams with near-zero diversity without batting an eyelid.

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Higher education does not equate to higher learning. Education cannot solve systemic problems in the absence of collective action.

Read more: ‘From taking a knee to taking a stand’ — Why anti-Black racism in Canada can’t be ignored

I love this country deeply. I am grateful that my parents chose to immigrate here from England in 1981. Canada is my home. It is breathtakingly beautiful. But there are ugly truths hidden amongst the beauty.

Part of my pride in being Canadian is being able to acknowledge the ugliness and work with my fellow Canadian citizens to make this country even more beautiful — one where we truly embrace the values of equality, diversity and respect for all. A big part of that requires the willingness to learn and unlearn lessons from the past to pave way for a more promising future.

While I am hopeful for change, I am fearful that it may not come in the ways I would like to imagine — there has to be a desire to reimagine the structures that create inequality in the first place. Because only then will we have a fighting chance at change.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.