OVERT, ORGANIZED RACISM TAKES SHAPE IN CALGARY UNDER COVER OF COVID-19
Jyoti Gondek, the Calgary city councillor for Ward 3, lit up social media recently after she saw video of racists parading downtown.
“I'm broken today,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Soldiers of Odin walk the streets of my city, filled with hate for people like me, while so many silently watch it happen.”
The thing that got her was the boldness, she told me afterward. Far from being ashamed or even uneasy, these so-called Soldiers of Odin and Proud Boys are happy to be identified.
“At least the KKK wore masks,” Gondek said bitterly, referring to the notoriously vicious U.S. racists.
“It's not OK for people like that to march around my city,” she told video host Ryan Jesperson. “This is my city, too. You can't march with that kind of hate.”
The councillor perceptively notes that serious problems such as racism are festering under cover of COVID-19.
The crisis is so all-consuming in its many forms — mental health, unemployment, the virus itself — that many people shy away from other worries.
But, Gondek asks, want to scare away investment? Just give people elsewhere the idea that Calgary is a racist city.
“The economic argument in and of itself should be enough for everybody. You need to show you're a place where everyone is welcome.”
Gondek says she's looking to the business community for more anti-racism leadership.
After she posted her tweet, the councillor was overwhelmed by supportive responses.
That pleased her. She didn't stay broken for long.
But the reaction also showed that many tolerant people need to be prodded by a specific incident before they speak up, if they do at all.
“Good people with moderate views don't say what they think,” she said. Silence in the face of such hatred only adds fuel to dangerous movements.
Gondek says she isn't thinking of running for mayor next October, but doesn't rule it out. It's also possible that Mayor Naheed Nenshi will run for a fourth term.
Although they could end up as political opponents, Nenshi and Gondek are aligned in their views on racism and the lot of minorities in Calgary.
Nenshi often speaks out forcefully against racism. In a year-end interview, he painted a moving picture of the city's social realities for many people who are targets of racism.
“COVID-19 has exposed for me the enormous class stratification of our city's economy, and how we have abided by it for so long,” he says.
“In my neighbourhood, (the upper northeast) even at the height of the lockdown, the traffic barely changed when the rest of the city was so quiet.
“That's because every morning, very early in the morning, a bunch of people get up and they get on the bus and they go to work.
“Most of them are women, most of them are new Canadians.
“They go to work in the longterm care centres, where they help our grandparents wake up, and clean them and change their diapers and get them ready for breakfast.
“And they do that through the morning and then they leave, because the privately owned long-term care centre will only give them 30 hours a week so the company doesn't have to pay benefits.
“And then they get on a bus and head across town, to another long-term care centre, where they work the afternoon and evening shift — their second fulltime job — or they go to another job, just to put money on the table.
“And, by the way, they still don't get benefits.”
When it seemed that workers going to multiple centres were causing spread, he says, “We blamed these people: how can you work at two different places?”
But the economics of family survival gave them no choice.
These people work in retail, warehousing, transportation, distribution systems, hospitals and many other areas where an employee must be present.
They also live in peril from COVID-19. Nenshi says that recently the upper northeast of Calgary had a higher incidence of cases than any country on the planet.
The province is getting help to these neighbourhoods in Calgary and Edmonton through the new COVID Care program.
This comes late, but it's positive. Rather than demonizing these people, we need to support them by fighting racism and finding ways to improve their economic standing.
Nenshi hopes that gets serious attention as the pandemic fades, “instead of us just flipping back to the way things were.”
Nenshi and Gondek are telling it straight. If we don't pay attention now, the virus will leave other terrible problems behind. Overt, organized racism is one of them.