By Paul Chislett:
It took a minute to see the graffiti on the clear window of the bus shelter. After months of seeing videos and photos online showing people encountering racism in person or scrawled somewhere, I gaped at the words in front of me, ironically on a screen of sorts.
Probably written with a Sharpie, the words singled out immigrants, calling for them to go back to their country, and worse (see photo). It was horrifying, yet not surprising to see. You know when something awful happens in a usually smaller town or city and people say, ‘gee, you hear about this happening elsewhere but I never thought it would happen here’, and I always think, why couldn’t it happen there, we’re all part of this world and no place is immune to natural disasters nor human made ones. That racism is alive and well in Windsor should not be shocking.
Windsor is a mid-size Canadian city, yet we’re ranked as the 4th most diverse city in the country. That’s pretty impressive. Plus, we are the major border crossing of the country across from Detroit, Michigan. For a city this size we have big city issues, yet we generally think of ourselves as a pretty tight knit community compared to the alienation experienced in major metropolitan areas. So, yeah, the words were shocking. Not in this town, I thought. I also thought of the next person coming to the bus stop, a young woman of colour, a recent or established newcomer perhaps, and if I was appalled at the words I saw, I could only imagine the fear she would experience.
I was reminded of the video online recently of commuters in a subway car finding similar racist graffiti in the car and how they banded together to wipe it off, only to find it written with an indelible marker. Someone says hand sanitizer would take it off and so they used that, and there they were all working together to clean off the signs. I tried wiping off the ink in the bus shelter but to no avail and had no hand sanitizer on me. Not wanting to leave this crap for someone else to find I called 311 to report the graffiti so a transit crew could clean it off – least I could do. I got on the Number 2 bus just as the phone call to 311 was ending.
(Photo: Paul Chislett)
This incident, if I am reading it correctly, brings into focus the issue of working class anger so much talked about now – the kind of anger that manifests itself in someone scrawling racist comments on a bus shelter. I know working class anger because I am working class and I’m generally pissed off at the abandonment of public policy that once pointed toward the common good and is now harnessed to further enrich and empower the managerial class; the cadre of professionals networked into government and the market economy, seeking their own rewards out of the system, eager to enrich themselves at the expense of working class people.
Gone are too many decent jobs paying a living wage at the same time as schools and hospitals face cuts and privatization, public infrastructure crumbles, wars never run out of funding, and the very concept of the common good is receding in the rear view mirror of history. Working class people are right to be angry – just not with each other.
Through the Windsor Workers’ Education Centre I’ve met a number of recent and established new comers, as well as a few men who are recently arrived refugees from Syria. Those young men always talked about needing to work and not being a burden, and many of the recent and established new comers are women of colour who have experienced racism, sexism and harassment in local vegetable packing plants in the area. They are working class just like me. We all belong. No one is illegal. No borders. Wars, borders, oppressive systems of control – these are all constructs the powerful have always used to keep the masses under control. In my experience, working class people cooperate, and seek mutuality. But when austerity and theft of public resources become official policy, too many become afraid and susceptible to race baiting and the promotion of hate.
I believe the worker centre has an obligation to speak to white working class women and men on racism, free speech (as in hate speech is not free speech), working class history, the global economy and trade agreements, austerity politics, and so on, so as to attempt to put in context the anger and fear that seems to be permeating throughout this group of people. And, to ‘put into context’ would be to constructively focus the anger where it belongs: toward the systems of oppression and ‘power over’ wielded by a ruling class so far impervious to working class organizing.