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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Why do we tolerate racist groups?

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash May 10, 2019

I’ve been writing columns for two years and a half in the Métro Montréal newspaper. During that time, I have had my fair share of hateful comments, racist insults and online harassment. When I do not feel like getting hate mail, I write about environment and the way we are dooming this planet. I also stay far from comment sections.

Lately, there is a surging right-wing tendency in North America and Europe. In Canada, Jason Kenney, Doug Ford, François Legault and Dennis King were recently elected to lead provincial governments in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. Let me just say they are not the most progressive folks out there and that it’s looking good for Andrew Sheer in the upcoming federal elections.

In the United States, we all know what it looks like. In Spain, the new far-right party Vox gained significant support by capturing 10% in recent national elections. In Poland, the far right often gathers thousands of supporters in the streets for ugly demonstrations of hate and violence. Nazi salutes, flags and racists slogans are on full display. Far-right political parties in Europe have made recent breakthroughs in Hungary, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Austria, France and Bulgaria. Recently, Brazil elected a far-right government that poses a threat to Indigenous rights that were already in danger since the ruralista took control of the congress. Have we not learned from World War II?

Social media platforms are particularly tolerant toward individuals who spread hate. They constantly hammer the same argument – freedom of speech is a fundamental right.

Yes, but freedom of speech is not absolute, meaning if you go around saying stuff that compromises someone or a group’s physical integrity, you can be arrested. Violence is not a fundamental right.

Platforms like Facebook have weak policies when it comes to hate speech. Racist users can go around calling Indigenous folks “squaw” or “kawish” without getting banned, while I’ve seen someone being temporarily banned for making fun of white people who don’t season their chicken.

Some people will say that jokes against white people are as offensive as jokes against Blacks or Indigenous people. But you always have to consider the context and the socio-economic situation of the people targeted. Jokes about unseasoned chicken will not marginalize white people, as they are a majority in all major decisional institutions of this country.

Using racial slurs to characterize Indigenous people does real damage, however. It feeds the violence we are already subjected to. And I hope we can all agree that jokes about unseasoned chicken do not constitute hate speech.

Facebook recently decided to ban far-right groups after letting them organize and promote their actions for years. However, in Quebec, far-right groups such as La Meute remain on the platform. No experts in radicalization here were consulted, and too many people refuse to acknowledge the severity of the situation in the province.

You don’t have to infiltrate those groups or witness their counter-protests whenever there is a demonstration against racism to realize how violent those people are. Just read the comment sections about the legislation enforcing non-religious clothing that Legault’s government is trying to pass. We need to condemn such hate collectively.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.