Growing up, we used to live in predominantly white people’s towns where we were often the only black family, perhaps except for a handful of others, in the region. In school, I was often the only black student in class or perhaps even the whole school. Race and color didn’t really bother me growing up nor did I get teased, I guess because I had 5 older brothers that everyone knew so, in hindsight I suppose no one would dare to pick on me because they’d soon be dealing with one of my brother’s fists. My mom passed away when I was eight months old and my Dad remarried to a white woman when I was at the age of two years old. My dad ate white bread, we had brown bread, my dad would use white sugar while we had brown sugar, dad ate white rice – us brown rice and so on…
One day I was watching TV it was one of those awards night where Michael Jackson won his armful of trophies for his Thriller album. I loved his “Off the Wall” album yet, with Thriller, Michael Jackson’s controversial jump to fully entrenching himself into the world of music as a solo artist, became the “talk of the town” for a variety of reasons. It was of particular interest because Michael Jackson grew up in a Jehovah’s Witness family – just like me. Up until Thriller, his music along with his brothers and sisters had a wholesome family appeal. Off the Wall was a little gutsy but Thriller – woe, with that album he completely crossed the line! All of a sudden he’s was dancing dead people?! Sacrilegious!!! “Billy Jean – not my lover...” what?!! Michael Jackson? having sex and getting a girl pregnant? – out of wedlock?!! woe!!
Yes, with his Thriller album not only did his music announce the departure from his religious upbringing, he further entrenched this decision with a full makeover. He no longer wore an Afro – he’s got Gerry curls! his round wide nose, is narrow and pointy, say goodbye to the thick bushy eyebrows – hello pencil thin lines. Standing beside Diana Ross you think they are somehow related. And then here’s the real kicker – his beautiful chocolate brown skin is now a murky milky white…I don’t even know what to call it.
As a little girl who, up until then, was oblivious to the nature of color and race watching Michael Jackson win all those awards with his new makeover, well it hit me like a tonne of bricks. My whole world is “whitewashed”!! I thought perhaps being black is not a good thing. I began to cry. My stepmother just happened to walk into the room and demanded to know what was making me cry. I can’t remember what I said but I do recall her calling my dad into the room, the TV immediately turned off and out came the Bible.
God loves every one of us I was told no matter the color of your skin. God has a sense of humor, God loves variety, why look there’s brown bears and black bears and white bear but they are still bears and God loves his bears and they all play together no matter the color of their fur. Look at the variety of flowers, birds and the trees and all the different animals that roams this earth; he sees none of them any differently. Just like man, woman, and child. We are all the same despite the differences in our appearances. For the Lord made us in his own likeness and image and in the eyes of God everyone and everything is equal and the Lord loves us all – equally. Feeling a little better after the pep talk, I wipe the tears from my eyes and my dad gives me a kiss on the forehead, the Bible goes back on the shelf, TV is turned on just in time to see Cindy Lauper and Madonna! Nice! I was happy.
I guess I didn’t realize how much of an impact that conversation had on me because from that day forth I looked at and treated everyone equally, no matter who you were. Yeah, you may be my teacher and we’re supposed to give respect, that’s fine but we are still equal. Yeah, you may have more money than me – we’re still equal. Yeah, you may have more status than I do – we’re still equal. You may be a bum on the street, a panhandler, a homeless hobo, disabled, retarded – we’re still equal. You could be the Prime Minister of Canada, the Queen of England – you may even be the second coming of Christ – you got it! We’re equal.
Yes, with my rose-colored glasses I chose to view the world through the lens of equality, but that is until I got to university. Up until then, I was sorting my feelings and undercurrents of dissatisfaction concluding a phase of a crisis-of-conscience similar to what Michael Jackson must have felt when producing “Off the Wall”, and then for me, it went a little “thriller-ish” combining Women’s Studies with Humanities. All of a sudden I’m learning about gender, race, class, sexism, misogyny, status and blah, blah, blah! What?!! You mean WE are NOT equal?!! But Dad said we are equal and all this time I fully believed him thinking we are equal?! When in fact we are not?! I had to scan my memory to that Michael Jackson night to remember what my dad said and then suddenly I got it. Dad said in the eyes of GOD everyone is equal. In the eyes of man – I concluded – we are not equal.
How do we live equally in an unequal world?
Pillars of Democracy – Equality
We will continue to follow CPAC’s 25th-anniversary celebration with its last installment of their four-part documentary series entitled Pillars of Democracy: Justice, Freedom, Equality, and Representation which highlights four democratic events that have shaped our social and political landscape. This article will cover the topic of “equality”. Now I waited to write this article because out of all the topics we’ve discussed, the subject of equality, I’d say, underpins the other three.
I say this because respect for equality brings equal representation ensuring everyone has a voice, respect for equality provides freedom to live your life the way you see fit providing it brings no harm to anyone, and respect for equality brings justice. In fact, when you look at freedom, justice and representation I’m sure you can agree we are attempting to protect and involve those in “lesser” circumstances to be involved in the status quo; equality for women, ethnicity, religious beliefs, disabilities and so on.
There are, in fact, so many ways in which to approach this topic that even merely thinking about it becomes overwhelming and writing about it a bit repetitious in the sense that there are countless of articles, journals and news sources that have covered this topic from so many angles. I fear readers have become numb to the issue; I mean, what other meaningful way can we examine this issue of equality without putting the reader to sleep. To think about equality, and what equality might look like in our physical world, we don’t have to look any further than the internet.
“Equality means giving every person equal respect in society. Equality means that all people are treated fairly, without discrimination.”
In Canada we are not just a collection of isolated communities; we are a democracy, made up of people from all different backgrounds. Therefore Canadian values can be viewed as dynamic, or changing over time, and may be different to different people at different times. According to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s, Our Canada Report on Canadian Values; Canadians hold as their most cherished values freedom, equality and loyalty to country; they also value civility, including social etiquette.
Canadians are guaranteed equality of opportunity regardless of their origins, and equality before and under the law. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin reflects on the Canadian judiciary in a speech recently in Toronto, she says, “Canadians now expect court judges, to the extent possible, to make up of the society of whom they wish to judge for two reasons; first, diverse judges bring diverse perspectives into the courtroom, they bring different experiences to bare and give the judiciary as a whole a more nuanced understanding of the country and the issues. The result is better judging. Judges from these communities can provide insights and perspectives that might otherwise be missed and an inside perspective that is essential in our justice system.”
“Second,” she continues, “a diverse bench can give judicial legitimacy. An indigenous man facing an all-white court or for that matter an all-white jury…may experience the court as an alien institution disconnected from maybe even indifferent to his lived reality, he may consequently reject the court’s ability or right to judge his case and consider the outcome unfair. The same may apply to a woman facing an all-male courtroom or a person of color facing an all-white court. Canada is a democracy and its courts are not elite establishments they are the people’s court – they should reflect the people.” Our Parliament and the electoral system should seek to do the same.
Multiculturalism – Respect for Cultural and Religious Differences
In 1982, with the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution, multicultural policies were firmly entrenched in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing, among other things, equal protection and benefit of the law, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of, for example, gender, creed, religion, racial and ethnic origin. In 1988, Bill C-93, the Multiculturalism Act, was passed and became the first formal legislative vehicle for Canada’s multicultural policy. The Act went beyond simply guaranteeing equal opportunity for all Canadians, regardless of origin. It emphasized the right of Canada’s ethnic, racial and religious minorities to preserve and share their unique cultural heritage, and underlined the need to address race relations and eliminate systemic inequalities.
Canada’s cultural and legal heritage is rooted in the Christian worldview, which has provided freedom of speech and religion for all people. Yet there are some Christians who believe that we [in Canada] “are under attack, not only by secular humanists but also by other competing worldviews by a variety of theistic and pantheistic religions that are represented in Canada’s “multicultural” society.” People who insist on such religious inferences are often slow to realize that they are discriminating against non-believers in a manner just as objectionable. As such, one of the most difficult balancing acts in democratic societies involves simultaneously upholding freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Freedom of religion is entrenched in international law, and in the charters of many countries – including Canada. In an increasingly multicultural society, how can we best protect this freedom of religion, while recognizing that some people also need freedom from religion?
Some say the separation of religion and politics is intellectually impossible. They cannot be separated. This is because the political order rests upon the moral order and the moral order upon the religious order. Citizens who belong to religious groups are also members of the secular society, and this dual association generates complications. Religious beliefs have moral and social implications, and yes, it is right for people of faith to express these through their activities as citizens in the political order. The fact that ethical convictions are rooted in religious faith does not disqualify them from the political realm. They must be argued for in proper social and political terms in harmony with national values. With the advent of the internet, we now have the opportunity to show our values, expressing ourselves as a diverse and democratic society cherishing values of freedom, equality, multiculturalism and religious tolerance to the world.
What is the internet?
Simply put the internet is a long piece of wire that stretches in-and-out of homes, offices, governments, and institutions extending around the world. It is a vast network that enables individuals to communicate, to be informed, entertain, to conduct business and touches countless areas of economic, social, and political life. Broad claims about the goodness of the Internet are, of course, hard to refute and many continue to assume that the Internet allows motivated citizens, for the first time, the potential to be heard by a worldwide audience.
So much of what we do and who we are is tied to our online activity which comes with an immense responsibility. Through our digital identities, we can experience ‘equality in an unequal world’ because here on the net, you can become anyone and anything! That’s because the internet provides a vast level of anonymity regardless of status, race, gender, sexuality, class, [dis]abilities (etc) and to many this anonymity brings a level of equality to the user that is difficult to replicate in the real and physical world. “Many commentators have seen in cyberspace the chance for a new form of relationship in which when people can become whatever they wish and in which race (gender, sexuality, religion, ability, status etc) may become a “skin” to be slipped into or shed as desired.” Yes, the internet is a place where you can be yourself, express yourself or become something completely different than what you are in the physical world.
Additionally, the Internet helps define our narratives, our mind frames and “orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be”. It helps us to use narratives to “define what is normal and what is legitimate, as well as the limits of what is politically [and socially] possible”. “In a world where “ethnic cleansing” has become a crude neologism for extermination and where a “new racism” has emerged as a serious ideology justifying cultural and material genocide, issues of cultural respect and mutual cooperation between ethnically diverse populations confront governments as possibly the most challenging issue for the third millennium. If we bring together cyberspace and cultural conflict, we can begin to see a space where communities can take greater control of the ‘representation’ of their own histories and in so doing, move toward a future that is infused with a greater awareness of the necessity, but also the fragility, of cultural collaboration.” [Democracy and New Media, 2003, p. 213]
The internet also provides an opportunity for addressing issues of inequality, for example, relating to gender; women are now able to mobilize themselves, educate and advocate for the variety of issues they stand for and to help emancipate themselves and their families from their current economic position of oppression. The disabled can access education, health, and social services that in previous circumstances might have been difficult to reach. Other marginalized groups can use the internet to reach out to other groups, organizations, and individuals who share the same challenges to encourage, receive guidance and learn best practices in dealing with those challenges. Yet, as we are all aware, with every great invention is the possibility for it to be used of ill means and the internet is no different.
National Broadband Strategy
Equality on the internet first begins with access; access to a network, that is fast and affordable, as well as equal access to information. Although many are connected through the internet be it through cellphone, laptop, tablet or through their computers at home, on the individual level; not all citizens enjoy universal access to the internet, let alone high-speed connections. In a 2014 issue of Forbes magazine, it was quoted that “Fast and affordable Internet access will be this generation’s greatest leveler that will improve education, health, and career outcomes….”
Despite 82% of Canadians already have access to broadband internet services delivering in excess of the new targets set by the CRTC, equivalent solutions still elude customers that are frustratingly out of reach who reside in remote and rural areas. Approximately 18% of Canadian households do not have access to fixed broadband Internet access services at the CRTC’s target speeds of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. Many of these communities lack sufficient transport or access networks needed to provide them with broadband Internet services comparable to urban areas.
A coordinated national action was necessary to address this problem; the risks of non-action are too great; missed opportunities for innovation, creativity, and engagement; reduced competitiveness; weakened domestic prosperity; and diminished prospects for Canadians. CRTC, industry players and governments at various levels are trying to figure out how to pay for internet infrastructure in sparsely populated areas with little prospect of a return on investment. As such the CRTC established a new fund that will invest up to $750 million over 5 years to expand high-quality broadband services to remote regions and along highways. “The fund, which will be operated by an arms-length, third-party administrator, will distribute no more than $100-million in its first year, which was the amount of the subsidy for local voice service in 2016. It will increase by $25-million in each year over the following four years, to a total of a maximum of $750-million over five years.” [Globe and Mail]
CRTC’s targets are overly aggressive because they deliberately have chosen the selected upload and download speed targets in response to those set up by Canada’s trading partners. The US is at 25(Mbps), Australia’s at 25(Mbps), Europe generally is targeting 30 and Germany is at 50(Mbps). The map below shows the number of households or areas where these services exist and as you can tell it is quite sparse, centering on major urban areas.
Access and affordability are also an ongoing concern for low-income households where sacrifices are often made in exchange for affordable access to the internet. Geoff White, a lawyer, for the public interest and anti-poverty advocates Affordable Access Coalition called the CRTC’s decision “important and transformational”. Affordability issues such as setting a low price for basic broadband plan or establishing monthly affordability subsidies for low-income households for which CRTC did not address. Presently, Telus and Rogers have both launched initiatives for low-income households. While access is a necessary first step to ‘digital equality’, access without guidance does not necessarily lead to better outcomes.”
Net Neutrality = Access
“Access to information is a great equalizer and is a prerequisite for democratic participation.”
~ Josh Levy, Advocacy Director, Digital Rights Group, Access Now.
Access to the network and affordability are the first steps to ensuring digital equality across the internet. The second concern in acquiring digital equality is “net neutrality”. Net neutrality ensures that the internet as an agent for freedom that is continually free-flowing traffic of information without blocking or censorship. As more users join the information highway it is inevitable to experience some growing pains for people use the internet for a variety of reasons. One source of concern especially for content creators is earning a profit from their creations off the web without pirating services eating into their budget. This is an ongoing concern for businesses, commercial enterprises, and distribution networks.
Net neutrality is an often misunderstood issue facing communications in the 21st century; it has come under fire from political and corporate interests and many advocates are fighting to ensure its survival.” TriplePundit’s Marissa Rosen summed it up back in 2015 when the current net neutrality platform was established for the Internet, open and free communication has always been critical for any social movement and, indeed, democracy itself. According to the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable, Mr. Cohen referred to next month’s 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. “Civil-rights advocates of 50 years ago fought and ultimately won the battle for equal rights,” he was quoted as saying. “But the battle for equal opportunity continues. And that battle won’t be won, so long as we have people stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide because broadband technology is fast becoming the most essential tool for full participation in American society.” And the same goes for Canada and all other countries around the world. As such discussions of gate-keeping and Internet infrastructure highlight a crucial distinction that needs to be made regarding political and social voice.
To illustrate this point on an individual level, I will refer to the late singer-songwriter and musician Prince. As a content creator Prince had a complicated relationship with the web. Prince was one of the first to sell an album online but years before his death spent as much of his time taking his music off the internet as he possibly could. As an artist, he was already aggressive about protecting his work and even more so, as the corporate outfits that seek to control the flow of internet traffic, to various websites that mainly are in the business of pirating music and movies.
2015 Prince directed his representatives to remove his songs and albums from every streaming music service and online provider including Spotify, Rdio, and the European service Deezer. Tidal which is musician-owned remained as the only entity that could streamline his work. 2014 He removed all of his work from YouTube and complained about licensing rates that Google subsidiary paid to artists for the right to distribute their work. 2014 also saw him launch a $22 million lawsuit against bloggers who posted an unauthorized recording of his concerts but later dropped the lawsuit.
Prince was one of the earliest adopters of digital technology and the internet. Prince did not love or hate the internet, for him it was about control. Control of his music which led to the famous change in which be became known as a symbol and he resented the fact that the labels were the ones who made money from streaming, not the artist who created the music. He once told the Mirror in Britain: “the Internet is over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then get angry when they can’t get it.” Later in an interview with the Guardian, he clarified what he meant, “The internet” he says “is over for anyone who wants to get paid.” The same conclusion I came to which lead to switching my craft. He continues, “Tell me of a musician who’s got rich off of digital sales. Apple’s doing pretty good though right?” Many high profiled musicians followed in Prince’s footsteps.
His attitude put him at odds with the entire music industry and of music distribution on the internet. He didn’t want any of his music out there. He ferociously protected his copyright, enforcing his right as an artist to control the presentation and distribution of his work. As a result, Prince earned a reputation as an aggressive copyright enforcer, he did this by ruthlessly issuing a takedown notice to deter bootlegs of this performances off the internet, refusing to stream his music through any service except Tidal. 2006 Prince won a Webby Award that was quoted saying “Prince’s leadership online has transformed the entertainment industry and reshaped the relationship between artist and fan.”
Pirating is a major concern for content creators and distribution networks that lose considerable profit vs the more traditional venues for sales. Just by sheer design, the intentions of the architects behind the web did not create the internet to be used as a commercialized money making economic venue. It is a place for freedom of expression, of distribution and exchange. As such, discussions of gate-keeping and Internet infrastructure highlight a crucial distinction that needs to be made regarding political and social voice. Sadly, and mainly for the creative industries, the ‘business of art’ to make a profit using the internet (for most) still remains, and perhaps always will remain elusive.
December 14th marks the day that Ajit Pai, Trump’s Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed to repeal net neutrality in the United States which will ultimately affect the flow of traffic for Canadians because of it’s close proximity to the US. Briefly, net neutrality is the foundational rule that means all web services are treated equally. Net neutrality rules prevent giant Telecom conglomerates (and by extension politicians like Trump) from putting web content they don’t like into an unusable slow lane or blocking content entirely. “…it is important that we as a collective ecosystem acknowledge the importance of a wide multitude of content creators/distributors and voices to ensure that the internet maintains its wonderful diversity and complexity of thought, service, and entertainment. As publishers, if we want the internet to reflect our democratic values and be an engine of economic growth for everybody, we should embrace its original design of inclusive fragmentation and work together any way we can to make it so.”
This new FCC ruling will affect Canadians in four ways: your favorite U.S. web services could be slowed or disappear entirely; Canadian-based services and traffic stifled; online services could get more expensive, and the contagion could spread to the Canadian Internet environment.
In Canada, we are facing an increasing outcry from businesses in various industries that believe blocking content to some level, even repealing net neutrality is worth pursuing with the proper authorities. A report from Canadaland, informs readers about a coalition lead by Bell that includes; Shaw, Rogers, Cineplex and Quebec theater chain Cinema Guzzo, to name a few, as well as, broadcasters, movie studios, and cinema operators from across Canada. The coalition is filing their application with the CRTC requesting its support for website blocking of pirate website privately without court-ordered approval.
This is very dangerous.
University of Ottawa law professor and internet policy expert, Michael Geist cautions that it would be the classic start of a slippery slope. “If you make the argument that you’re in a position to block for these purposes, it seems pretty obvious that we’re going to see other groups say that you ought to be blocking for other purposes,” he says. Once that happens it would put those who are living in marginalized and income strained households at further risk as they do not have funds to pay for high-speed services and would thus be vulnerable to blocked content for learning and essential services.
The coalitions seek to see all internet service providers (ISP) across the country be required to block consumer access to a blacklist of egregious pirated websites. Geist says the CRTC has essentially ruled out its willingness to outright block websites, even if they do break, for example, copyright laws. The CRTC has the power to order blocking but will do so only in exceptional circumstances. The proposal points to other countries that have put up similar blocks including the United Kingdom, France, and the European Union. But they are court ordered blocking whereas the coalition’s proposal does not have one.
Canada already has some of the toughest anti-piracy laws in the world, yet the coalition would like to see more severe restrictions on internet access to piracy sites. “Our government supports an open internet where Canadians have the ability to access the content of their choice in accordance with Canadian laws. Net neutrality is a critical issue of our times, much like freedom of the press and freedom of expression that came before it. That’s why our government has a strong net neutrality framework in place through the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and seeking to enshrine net neutrality into Canadian law.
Equality, Multiculturalism and Religious Tolerance – Online Hate
Hate speech seeks to reinforce social norms and predominantly targets social groups whose position in society is subordinated to others’, or whose ideas and behavior conflict with one prevalent system of norms. It begins with making judgments. When judgments are based on misinformation, stereotypes can develop. When we unfairly apply our stereotypes to ACTIONS against groups regardless of individual differences in every group, we are “discriminating”. Cyberbullying and cyber-racism, for example, shows how it plays out with individuals. Take a moment and observe yourself and perhaps even record your own blind spots and unfair biases that you hold towards various groups—we ALL have them.
“(Racism:) It is cruelty, it´s ugly and I hate it. You are my brother (points out to the children). They are my brothers. If you are black, white, Arab….we are all the same. I love all races equally…. I love all people of the world.” ~Michael Jackson, TV Interview with children in Tunisia, 1996
Michael Jackson and Prince seemed to have had a friend/foe relationship; both extraordinarily multi-talented and at the top of their game. Yet, in speaking of equality they shared so much in common. Both African American performers experienced racism and discrimination with Michael Jackson being the first black superstar post-civil-rights era. Both artists were highly reclusive, and experienced difficulty with their record companies as they fought and won over the industry, fans and public alike; both are questioned about their sexuality and both shared the same religion albeit at different points during their lifespan. Despite hatred, racism, enemies in both artists’ own camps and a media willing to be brought to the highest bidder, they both broke barriers, smashed stereotyping, and crushed those who tried to discriminate.
And of course, part of this is that Prince was a black man in America who owned his sexuality without collapsing into the hyper-masculinity that white racism has often imposed on black men. Prince was also recognized fairly early as someone who was reshaping perceptions of black culture and black manhood. Michael Jackson was literally walking in the shoes that no Black person has ever walked in before. It’s cool being a song and dance man. That’s what they want. Don’t dare become a thinking businessman. Don’t dare beat the record industry at their own game. Michael started being labeled crazy when he began making business moves that no one had been successful at doing. A Black man with no real formal education becomes the most powerful man in the industry.
Given these limitations, hate speech continues to exist and proliferate with a sense of impunity. Through sophisticated tactics, producers of hateful speech are able to promote hateful narratives, sustaining inequality, discrimination and the marginalization of some groups. Groups have learned to navigate through the terms of service and community standards, and through anti-racist and human rights groups’ actions and reports, in order to maintain their activity and visibility on social media. However, these limitations are being challenged by activists and governments.
The way hate speech circulates and expands online shows how unequal power relations are also present in the very design of the platforms. This design determines the extent to which hate speech remains present, circulates and is structurally enabled. Reporting mechanisms are needed but are not sufficient to combat hate speech online. Hate speech as a social phenomenon cannot be approached as the problem of one individual who complains or is dealt with in one-to-one cases of reported hate speech (individualism) but as an issue of concern for our collective democratic co-existence. ” ~[We CAN Manual]
DECEMBER 10, 2018 -INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY
December 10, 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt, Paris the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). After the horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War, countries around the world came together to express their belief in fundamental human rights and the dignity and worth of all human beings. “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” These words are taken from Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.