“Stop it,” Donald Trump commanded in his recent 60 Minutes interview. This was the President-elect’s lukewarm response to racist and violent outbursts in the U.S. As the next president, he’s obliged to denounce such acts. However, he fuelled his campaign with hateful rants.
Black, Hispanic, Muslim-Americans, and women alike, find themselves in a new and distorted U.S. In it, bigots are emboldened by Trump’s wall-building, bullying, misogynistic mentality. Anti-Semitic graffiti appears in San Diego. A Muslim student in Michigan is forced to remove her hijab — or risk being set on fire. In North Carolina, the Ku Klux Klan plans a victory parade.
In a few short months, Trump turned back decades of social progress. For some, he normalized racism. Trump didn’t simply materialize this hatred, though. He identified an undercurrent of fear and twisted it for his own gain.
Early in his campaign, Trump said the following about Syrian refugees: “We have no idea who these people are, where they come from.” He gave tacit permission for Americans to be fearful of newcomers — and activated their imaginations.
I work closely with refugees and immigrants. These include a handful of the over 25,000 newly arrived Syrians that Justin Trudeau welcomed to Canada. Their stories are heartbreaking. They lived through war, persecution, sometimes even torture. Many of these new Canadians faced multiple losses before they arrived here.
My colleagues across the country and I help refugees learn English. We assist them in accessing housing and resources. We support them in rebuilding their lives. In doing so, we see that their concerns are much like that of all Canadians. They long for happiness, success, and belonging.
Unlike the illusions of monsters Trump manages to conjure, the refugees I work with are just people. They want to learn English and understand their new community. They hope to provide opportunities for their children. They are desperate to find work and contribute to society. Much like previous generations of immigrants to Canada, they mostly seek a better life.
We tend to think refugees are fine once they escape war zones and arrive in Canada. In actuality, they face many new obstacles. Most were forced to leave behind their funds and possessions. This leaves them living in poverty.
They don’t understand our health, education, and social systems. Even if they did, most don’t possess English language skills. This means they can’t yet communicate with their kids’ teachers, doctors, and dentists. Some lack family support. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a reality. Many will experience racism or Islamophobia in spite of their demonstrated resilience against those who wage war.
In Syria, 13.5 million people require humanitarian assistance. Trump applies a blanket label to these people. He has insisted he’ll bar refugees from entering the United States. This stance is in line with his campaign of suspicion, ignorance, and outright deception. Consequently, he leaves his country more frightened, divided, and vulnerable than any time in recent history.
Conversely, Canada stands as a model of humanity and inclusivity at this time of crisis. Our support for our planet’s most vulnerable populations is celebrated. Individual and grassroots efforts to support refugees have sprung up across the country. We should be proud.
We can’t kid ourselves, though. Trump’s brand of fearful rhetoric is contagious. We must inoculate ourselves with knowledge and actively participate in offering refuge.
As Canadians we must call out those who promote hate and fear. We must ask questions, learn about our new citizens, and work to understand their needs. We must ensure our institutions and services are adequate and responsive. We need to personally talk to these new citizens and welcome them into our communities.
We must do everything in our power to avoid the missteps of our U.S. neighbours. This will take diligence. Some will make crude attempts to fracture us and replicate the conditions of Trump’s ascent. We must not yield to such tactics. Canadians cannot succumb to fear. Our path forward is found in hope and inclusion.
I’d also like to stress that we don’t just give safe haven to refugees. These people offer as much to our society as it offers them. From the Quakers and Ukrainians, to Kosovars and Bhutanese, our nation is richer for those refugees we’ve welcomed. Adrienne Clarkson, Kim Thuy, K’Naan, and Michaëlle Jean are all refugees. These individuals contribute to the very fabric of this great nation.
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