Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

While America Laughed

The news broke today that actor and comedian Bill Cosby had been found guilty of sexual assault against ex-basketball player Andrea Constand. At 80 years of age, and after a long life in the spot-light, Bill Cosby’s final years will be spent behind bars.

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Andrea Constand surrounded by supporters following a guilty verdict in the Bill Cosby rape case. –Getty Images

Over 60 other women have come forward over the years to describe abuses that span over several decades, but due to statute of limitations, only one of those cases has been brought to trial. Several of these women were in the courtroom today. They openly wept and cheered when the verdict was read. They finally had justice.

This news has saddened me deeply. Not because Bill Cosby is “America’s Dad”, the man who made us laugh and cry on a weekly basis during the 80’s and early 90’s. But because while he was in front of the camera, accepting accolades and adoration from his millions of fans around the world, there were 60 different women living with the unbearable trauma of what he had done to them; the violation of their body and their will, and knowing that they may never convince a world that the man adored for selling Pudding Pops and Jello-O was actually a sexual predator. The cost of our entertainment was far too great, and I fear it is the very thing that blinded us.

I grew up with Bill Cosby. My father loved reading his books and listening to his comedy tapes. There are very few good memories of my childhood that aren’t linked to Bill Cosby.  He was a fantastic actor that played his part so well– he had the world fooled that his on-screen and on-stage persona was his true self–but the art is in his duplicity. The mark of a great thespian is the ability to become someone you aren’t, and the verdict this week proved that he gave an award winning performance his entire life. His trophy is now a 6×6 cell.  His final bow is a tragic end in a comedy of errors.

But then I contemplated about the impact of the verdict and why it was so significant. There is little question the entertainment industry has consumed pop culture. We define our lives around the television shows and movies we watch. The portrayers of the characters we adore are played by flawed men and women, and never has that been more apparent than this past year. Each new accusation brought to public attention has spawned further discussion about sexual misconduct and who to believe. Women who have previously been afraid to speak up or point fingers are finding camaraderie among the countless others who suffered just as they have. But as a public, we contribute to the stigma preventing women from coming forward. We resist believing these women because we are so attached to the body of work these men were a part of, and to admit their guilt tarnishes the craft they helped create. Will anyone be able to sit and watch The Cosby Show ever again without thinking of the allegations levied against its largest star? Its doubtful.

But the bravery of the women who have been stepping forward is remarkable. Even in the face of continual pushback when they try to speak their truth from people who refuse to believe their idols are capable of such horrendous crimes, they are making their voices heard. And the momentum is continually building. And it was necessary, especially after the outcry from women all across the world when the verdict for the Brock Turner case was announced. The victim impact statement was the plea for justice heard around the world, and it was the plea that was ignored and dismissed by a judge who only saw a young man’s talent.

If you don’t remember her statement, here is a reminder of what no one should ever forget:

You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.

A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person…When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing.

On that morning, all that I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately.

One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article. In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. This was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work. I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me.

The rest can be heard here. (Her words still haunt me. She had a legal system that believed her, and still she received little justice for her ordeal.)

Brock Turner was sentenced to only 6 months in jail, and only served 3 of those 6 months. The woman he assaulted will have to spend the rest of her life trying to cope with the trauma he inflicted on her when she was unconscious and vulnerable. But because he was a young man with potential and talent, he was excused and his crime was minimized by a lighter sentence.

There is still a public outrage concerning that trial, and I suspect it is precisely one of the reasons why there is such a movement among women to take back the power and the dignity these men robbed from them. Talent and power and wealth is no longer a protector of the guilty against facing their accusers. Whether it be a loss of status, a loss of employment, a loss of respect or a loss of freedom. Some argue that the price of a tarnished reputation is too great, that simply the whisper of inappropriate behaviour is enough to sink a career for any of these men. Some have even said that the women were asking for it, they wanted it, what did they expect when they pursued a famous person in such a way. All of these statements are inherently wrong because it places a greater value on talent then it does on a person’s right to have autonomy over their own body.

Women have worked tirelessly to break barriers for a hundred years in order to even the playing field in terms of rights, professions and status. Women were fed the lie by men in powerful positions that in order to get a head they had to put out and shut up, but therein lied the deception, because the men were never going to allow the women to get ahead. And so long as the men could control and manipulate with sex, they could keep the power. So now the men are having to pay their due. And sadly, the largest one to fall is the one who broke the most barriers within his career. But his success is not enough to keep him from facing the consequences of his crimes, not anymore.

The price of our entertainment should never be at the expense of someone else’s denied consent. Not anymore.

The tragic and the comic lie inseparably close, like light and shadow.

–Socrates

 

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Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

I Am Racism

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”
― Albert Einstein

At the beginning of April after the tragic death of a bus load of Humboldt hockey players in Saskatchewan, a Canadian writer issued a tweet;

It was the tweet heard around Canada, and it was sickeningly ill-timed and in poor taste. Soon afterward she was vilified, trolled and threatened with bodily harm, rape and death.  **I want to be clear, I do not support or condone ANY of the horrendous and vile words that were spewed in her direction. I do not wish this woman ill-will nor do I think she is a horrible human being. But I did not agree with her statement. She exercised her right to free speech, and sadly the consequence was a horrible week online for her and anyone associated with her who publicly agreed with her.

But while her tweet was tactless and agenda driven, she did bring up an issue that was sorely under-pinned in Canada. Her point, while poorly communicated, is that systemic racism exists in North America. She drove that point home over and over again, especially when people would respond with such vitriol and blind hatred in response to her persistent and unapologetic argument.

The conversation about racism has been brought into the social consciousness due to a variety of factors, mostly because a new and rising generation–one not immune to prejudice–are speaking up in defiance of a system that has unbalanced the scales for far too long. Another because polarizing political structures in the U.S. and Canada have become ever more divisive due to a wider expanse between conflicting ideologies.

I started to see examples that inspired me to look further at this issue, rather than assume I was immune to this issue.

Sandra Oh, who played Christina Yang on one of my favourite television shows was interviewed by Vulture, and she revealed to the interviewer that when she was initially offered the part for her new television show Killing Eve, she didn’t realize that she was being offered the lead role.

[So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us. It’s like, how does racism define your work? Oh my goodness, I didn’t even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers. Why? And this is me talking, right? After being told to see things a certain way for decades, you realize, “Oh my god! They brainwashed me!” I was brainwashed! So that was a revelation to me.

–Sandra Oh

A talented, and brilliant woman who has worked tirelessly in her field and has won accolades for her performances doubted that she was leading-lady material. This woman was born to stand out, yet the pervasive prejudice that exists within our systems of society told her that she didn’t fit the mold.

Naomi Wadler, an 11-year old from Alexandria, made headlines on March 24th when she gave a rousing speech during the Rally in Washington, D.C for the March 4 Our Lives Event.  She was interviewed extensively after the event, and in an interview with Elle Magazine she says:

I once had a social studies teacher who made it out to be that black people in the past had more freedom than they did, and I knew it wasn’t true. She said basically they didn’t have to fight in wars, they could run away, and that running away from slavery was so easy. I felt like it made all the white kids around me believe that slavery, segregation, racism were not that big of a deal.

And once, in third grade, a boy and I were playing a game, and he said how I should be the slave or the beggar woman because I’m black, so I can’t have money. I’m Jewish, too, and that same boy told me that I can’t be a black Jew because there aren’t black people who are Jews.

              –Naomi Sadler

One week ago, two young men were arrested after sitting at a Starbucks while waiting for a friend. Their skin colour alone was the reported mitigating factor in why law enforcement was called in that situation that escalated into a nationwide incident. The incident has provoked Starbucks to respond by closing all of their U.S. based stores in order to conduct bias-education for their entire employee base. A bold move for sure, but one that seems is increasingly necessary in a society where people of colour are being shot and killed or arrested in suspicious circumstances that seem to be related to race.

Prejudice is taught. Prejudice is ignorance in action, and it has to stop. The more we deny it, the less we’re able to have a civil discussion about it.

But even the discussion has become a war of words and sound bites. It’s not enough to simply shove our view point down the throat of others and then run away. (Or log off our computers) There needs to be intentional discussion with respect and dignity. Purporting one race over another has never been acceptable, so turning the tables on the balance of power is not the answer. The idea that “white identity” is being lost amidst  multi-culturalism and diversity is a fear that is being fuelled through evangelist style media reporting from the alt-right. And the issue is becoming a hostile hot bed of the ugliest side of humanity coming into the light.

There has to be a point where we stop, and listen to the experiences and the truth that belongs to people of colour. Certain sects of society balk at the idea that white privilege is even a phenomenon, but when I think about it closely I realize all too quickly that the colour of my skin has never given anyone reason to fear me or be suspect of me. It has never denied me an opportunity or respect.

I remember an incident when I was a teenager working in a retail store. One of my co-workers, who was one of my superiors, instructed me to follow a shopper around the store because she looked “suspect”. I did as I was told because I was the young employee, but other than the colour of her skin I had no reason to see what my co-worker saw. The woman I was instructed to follow was a person of colour, she had long braids in her hair, and she was wearing a large denim jacket. I remember the jacket because I was hoping it was the reason she was targeted, and not because of her skin colour. But then the woman caught me skulking around her while she browsed through children’s clothes. She knew what I was about, and called me on it. I was horrified and speechless. She was mortified and furious. And in hindsight, I couldn’t blame her. She left the store without purchasing a thing.

Twenty years later, and we are no more evolved as a society. The incident from my teens illustrated that prejudice did indeed exist, it was just disguised behind a different rationale. It’s subtle, and deceptive. But now there are hoards of people speaking up, and shouting at the top of their lungs, “It’s NOT okay!” It’s not okay to assume someone is suspicious because of their skin colour. It’s not okay to assume their intelligence level because of their race or country of origin. It’s not okay to assume someone is incompetent because their first language isn’t English. It’s not okay to assume that someone is criminal because they have darker skin. It’s NOT OKAY. If our foundation of belief about a person or people group is rooted in the colour of someone’s skin or their country of origin, then the problem begins and ends there. And it is that mindset that needs to change.

This quote, written by Dr. Debra Soh for the Globe and Mail was so inspiring yet sobering at the same time:

What is racist is placing such an emphasis on immutable characteristics a person had no say in obtaining. As an Asian woman, the way I look has no bearing on the way I think, and to assume otherwise is close-minded and patronizing.

What struck me so powerfully about this is her articulation of something so profound that it transcends the racism issue. There is a belief in North American culture of what defines normal: white, male, attractive, skinny, blonde, blue eyed, tall, able-bodied, straight, and rich. There are a few exceptions to this list, however, anything outside this “norm” is considered less-than. The amount of things on this list that can be controlled by any individual are few. We are born into circumstances and into our bodies– yet we are judged and discriminated against by the very things we have no control over.

Most people would deny they’re racist. I deny I am racist. I do not believe that I hold intentional judgements against people of another race or ethnicity from me.

Yet, truth be told, I have.

I HAVE made initial judgements about someone because of their ethnicity.

I HAVE made jokes about people groups that aren’t my own.

I HAVE mocked someone else’s accent.

I HAVE made assumptions about a people group because of their ideology or their religion.

I HAVE discriminated against someone because of how they dressed or how they smelled or how they spoke.

I WAS WRONG, and I AM ASHAMED.

But what I believe sets me apart is my willingness to be educated and humbled. I am full of remorse for my ignorant mindfulness.  And it motivates me to change and adapt my behaviour or thinking in response.

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.

–Albert Schweitzer

Nora Loreto’s timing and tactics were poor when she made her statement that fuelled a fire storm of hate. But she wasn’t wrong. Systemic racism and its ugly prejudices need to be exposed and need to be dismantled. Society can not look backward and continue to endorse these narrow-minded and ignorant views of humanity any longer. And once we take that view, we need to take action and do something to correct the behaviour. Only then will things begin to change.

 

Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

Be Brave

The Western world has become so polarized in their political thinking that it has created a dialogue of ugly hatred. This has been especially evident in the world of Christianity*.

We live in a world where the issues are pushed so aggressively that it causes conversations to become more about the issue rather than the person or people group directly affected by it. When we only see the issues and fail to remember that every policy, every law is directly affecting someone else, we make it our mission to simply have our way and we lose our humanity.

No policy, no law should cause us to forget our humanity.

The solution to our current world condition does NOT lie within the hands of a single politician. A solitary person has the ability to affect GREAT change if they are willing enough to step up and speak bravely, without hate or malice.

The conversation I would like to see is one directed by compassion rather than agenda.

John F. Kennedy was a President who cheated on his wife multiple times, was hooked on pain medication, and yet he was instrumental in bringing about change in the racially divided South. Can a corrupt or morally questionable man or woman still influence an entire culture for change? 

We cannot be so agenda driven that we forget that the things we are fighting so passionately about have the ability to bring help or harm to our society. And in order to know the difference we have to be willing to listen to one another, learn and grow, possibly admit where we have been wrong, and have a willingness to change.

*I am a Christian, and I firmly believe that when we look at the character and life of Jesus we would see that He was a man who saw our humanity first. THAT was why He came to earth and THAT was why He came to save. He wasn’t interested in a political agenda, He was interested in US.