Tag Archives: violence

White People Are The Worst – Hockey Edition

2 May

Trigger warning for racist and violent language and images

Last night, Montreal Canadiens player P. K. Subban scored the winning goal against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal.

Predictably, Boston fans were outraged. In this case, though, with Subban as one of the few black players in the league, their anger took a sickeningly racist turn.

It was so bad that the n-word was briefly trending on Twitter in Boston. Seriously. Think about that for a minute. Think about how many people must have been tweeting one of the vilest, most degrading racist slurs in our language in order for it to be trending in a city the size of Boston. That is not just a few racist fans making everyone look bad – that is a whole fucking lot of people trying their hardest to make Subban (and all people of colour) aware of just how unwelcome they are among white people.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a sampling of some of the tweets:

That stupid n—-r doesn’t belong in hockey #whitesonly.”


Someone needs to smack PK subban across his big n***** lips. #scumbag”

F*** PK Subban. F****** n*****. Wish he got sold”

Even worse, one fan tweeted this image (the account has since been deleted):


This is not a fluke. This isn’t even the first time Subban has experienced a slew of racist tweets – the same thing happened while he was playing for Canada’s Olympic hockey team. This is not a little blip in an otherwise decent system. This is white people telling you what they really think of people of colour. Seriously, you don’t have to scratch too deeply to find the violent, still-beating heart of racism in most white folks. All it takes is your favourite sports team losing a playoff game, and out it comes.

You know what the real kicker is? I bet the majority of the people tweeting these things would say that they’re not racist. They would tell you that they have black friends. That the n-word is just a word, and anyway how come black people can use it and they can’t? They would tell you that it was just a joke. It was all just a stupid joke. Stop being so sensitive, jeez.

I can’t believe that this needs to be spelled out for some people, but: white people using the n-word is not a joke. Making references to slavery is not a joke. And Jesus Christ tweeting a picture of a noose at a black person is not a fucking joke.

The spectre of white violence is something that black people face every day. They live in a world where knocking on a white person’s door to ask for help after a car accident can result in them being shot in the face. They live in a world where defending yourself against an attacker can result in imprisonment, but meanwhile if they are murdered, unarmed and vulnerable, their killers can get off scot-free. They live in a world where a man can shoot and kill a black teenager because their music is too loud, and then not have the jury find enough evidence to convict him of first degree murder. They live in a world where deep-seated systematic oppression hounds them at every turn. To top it all off, they live in a world where white people are taught from birth to fear everything about them.

The Boston fans tweeting slurs at P. K. Subban aren’t an isolated minority. Donald Sterling, the racist owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, isn’t just a throwback to an earlier age where racism was acceptable. This is the racist landscape that we live in, and to which all white people, on some level or another, contribute. We need to acknowledge that every time we downplay events like this, every time we tell someone not to be so “sensitive,” every time we write stuff like this off as something other white people do, we are just making matters worse. Before any real change can take place, we, as white people, need to accept that fact that we all participate in and benefit from a system that privileges our interests above all others. And we need to understand that this same system makes life not just difficult but frightening and dangerous for people of colour.

Boston Bruins president Cam Neely issued a statement this morning, saying, “These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization.” Unfortunately, the truth is that they are a reflection of people associated with the Bruins organization –  perhaps not people employed by it, but certainly people who publicly cheer for the team and therefore contribute to how people outside of Boston perceive the Bruins. This statement is a start, but there needs to be more. We need more people calling out racism in sports – and everywhere – in order to affect change.

We need to show Subban and all other people of colour that we’ve got their back.




Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School

14 Dec

Every weekday morning Matt and I go through the same routine of getting Theo up and fed and dressed, making sure that he’s ready for another day at daycare. Every morning I kiss him goodbye, and, if I’m lucky, I get to hear him tell me that he loves me. He doesn’t really know what that means, of course, but he knows that it’s something that we say to each other, something that makes people smile. He knows that I like to hear it.

Every morning I watch Matt push Theo’s stroller out the front door and down the sidewalk, and I feel good, because I know he’s safe. He’s safe with Matt, and he’ll be safe at daycare. I know that I won’t have to worry about him all day long; I will be able to devote all (well, most) of my thoughts to yoga, writing, and all of the daily tasks that are part of managing a yoga studio. I can focus on things like drafting invoices, digging through endless paperwork, and updating our studio website and blog.

I don’t worry about Theo because his daycare is a good one. We chose it carefully, after polling local friends for recommendations and doing exhaustive online searches for ratings and reviews. Theo loves his daycare, and I know that the staff and other kids there love him. He’s always excited to be dropped off in the morning, running into his room without even a kiss goodbye for Matt, and in the evening he often doesn’t want to leave.

It would never occur to me that daycare wasn’t a safe place for him.

Just like it almost certainly didn’t occur to parents in Newtown, Connecticut to think of their children’s school as an unsafe place for them.

As you’ve probably heard, 27 people were killed in a shooting today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

At least 20 of those people were children.

An entire classroom is still unaccounted for.

Although there isn’t much information available, sources are saying that most of the shootings took place in a kindergarten classroom.

Why on earth would someone want to shoot five year olds?

Seriously, why?

This is the kind of thing that my brain has a hard time processing. Less than two weeks before Christmas, 20 families have lost a young child; countless other families will spend the holidays in the hospital with sons and daughters who are fighting for their lives or else enduring tedious, painful recoveries. I don’t know why the fact that it’s nearly Christmas, and the fact that tonight is the 7th night of Hanukkah, makes this tragedy seem, if possible, even more devastating, but somehow it does.

Maybe because I can’t help thinking about those 20 families, and how every December from now on they’ll have to watch the world around them celebrate while they are forced to confront painful memories of their child’s death. I can’t help imagining how every time they decorate a tree or light a menorah, they will have to think about that one person who isn’t there to hang ornaments or add their voice to the blessings sung as the candles are lit. Every time they draw up a shopping list for holiday gifts, they’ll notice that one name is conspicuously absent. Every festive meal will have one chair empty. The holidays will never not be a time of death and mourning for them.

What is especially awful is how commonplace mass shootings are starting to seem. You start to wonder if you have room in your heart and your mind to remember all of the victims, regular, every-day people who went to school, or the mall, or a movie theatre and thought that they were safe. You start to wonder if anyone is ever really safe, and then realize that you can’t live your life thinking that way. You start to build walls, emotionally and mentally, as a form of self-protection. You don’t think about it because you can’t; after the initial shock, you try hard to forget, knowing all the while how lucky you are to be able to do so, while others have to live through constant reminders of what they’ve lost.

In the days to come, there will be a lot of talk about gun control; people who are for it, and people who are against it. The NRA will issue its typical statement, something along the lines of, It’s not guns that kill people, people kill people. Conservatives will talk about the second amendment. Liberals will be told not to “exploit” this tragedy to further their own agenda; they’ll be shut down with cries of, Today is not the day to talk about gun control.

As a friend of mine said today on Facebook, those people are right. Today is not the day to talk about gun control. That day passed many years and many homicides ago.

Gun-related violence is a problem, one that is only growing worse. How is it exploitative to look at a tragedy like this, dissect it, and try to figure out how to prevent it in the future? How is it exploitative to point out that, without a semi-automatic pistol, the shooter would not have been able to injure or kill nearly so many people? How is it exploitative to wonder what laws need to change in order for something like this to never, ever happen again?

And yeah, you can say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but there’s no way that a guy with a knife or a sword or a bow and arrow would have been able to create this kind of tragedy.

I’m glad that Theo is still so young, because that means that I won’t have to try to explain this to him. I can hold him close, and cover him in kisses, and cry quietly into his hair without him wondering why; at not-quite-two, I’m sure he’ll just write it off as another weird mom thing. And if he does happen to notice that I’m not really myself right now, well, he’ll be able to forget about it soon enough. Sadly, there’s a part of me that wonders how soon it will be until I can forget about it, too.

But forgetting makes it easier to avoid having to deal with what’s happened. It makes it easier not to ask the difficult questions, or make difficult decisions. Forgetting means that we don’t have to change anything, that we don’t have to be confronted with this kind of rage and sorrow until the next shooting happens.

Forgetting guarantees that this will happen again.

And to anyone who thinks that I’m trying to take their rights away from them, I’ve got news for you: I’m not.

I just want all of our kids to be safe in all of the places where they should be safe. They deserve that much, at the very least.


National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

7 Dec

When I was a kid, my mother had a button that looked exactly like this:


I couldn’t find a very large image of this button, but in case you’re wondering, around the edge it reads: “In commemoration of the 14 women killed in Montreal, December 6th, 1989 and all women who have suffered from violence.”

Every year, after my mother retired her Remembrance Day poppy sometime in mid-November, she would break out her rose button and pin it to the lapel of her coat. As a small child, I remember coveting the button, because I liked the picture on it. When I was older, it made me uncomfortable; I didn’t like that my mother wore a pin to commemorate a mass murder, and the look on her face and the tone in her voice when she explained the story behind it frightened me. Strangely, the story itself didn’t frighten me; it seemed too remote, totally removed from my day-to-day life. It was a freak accident; a tragedy, yes, but nothing that could ever happen to a person like me.

Later still, when I was a teenager and irritated by everything my mother did, I found the button obnoxious and sanctimonious. I’d grown up hearing my mother referring to herself as a feminist, a term that I refused to apply to myself. It seemed to me that most boys hated feminists and, when I was a lonely high school student with low self-esteem, the last thing I wanted was to do something that would cause the boys I knew to reject me even more. When they made jokes about women, jokes whose real punchlines were how stupid and pathetic women were, I laughed. Sometimes I joked back, making fun of the way girls dressed, of how many guys they slept with, how idiotic and shallow they were. Sure, I was a girl, but I was on their side – I wasn’t one of those girls. Never mind the fact that I probably would have given my eyeteeth to be cool enough to be one of those girls.

Back in those days, whenever late fall rolled around and my mother broke out her shabby, rusting rose button, I would roll my eyes. He was crazy, I would tell my mother. Like, mentally ill. It had nothing to do with women, he was just nuts. What if he’d killed only Dutch people? Would we have national day of remembrance and action on violence against Dutch people?

When I was a teenager, I thought that feminism was pointless at best, and a way of angering and alienating people at worst. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that sometimes angering and alienating people was a good thing; that there might be situations in which I wanted people to feel negatively about me and the things that I said. At the time, I couldn’t imagine not wanting to please every body, just like I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to kill me simply because I was a girl.

Now I know differently.

I’m not saying that anyone’s out to get me specifically, because as far as I know, they’re not. It probably helps that I come off as fairly non-threatening – I’m a small, mousy white woman who doesn’t work in a male-dominated field. I’m a shy, quiet woman who pretty much totally followed the status quo – I finished high school, went to university, then married a nice guy and had a kid before I turned 30. Probably the most threatening thing I do is blog (extensively) about women’s reproductive rights, but that hasn’t generated any death threats or anything.

But there are still people who hate me because of my gender. I mean, maybe not openly, maybe not obviously, but they do. We live in a culture of casual misogyny. A culture where over 600 First Nations women are missing or have been murdered in Canada, only to have our government do nothing about it. A culture where female sex workers are treated as objects instead of people. A culture where women are told to be less angry when they talk about the events of December 6th. A culture where women are constantly being ridiculed, judged and set up in competition against each other. A culture where my sister, an avid World of Warcraft player, has been asked repeatedly to turn on her webcam and show other players her breasts in order to “prove” that she’s a woman.

When Marc Lépine went to the École Polytechnique 23 years ago today, he entered the school with the intention of killing feminists. Feminists, he said in his suicide note, had ruined his life. Lépine had applied to the École Polytechnique in both 1986 and 1989 but had been rejected both times because he lacked the CEGEP courses necessary for admission. In Lépine’s mind, however, he wasn’t admitted to the school because women had taken too many of the available spaces. Women, he thought, had taken everything important, and left nothing for him.

Lépine killed 14 women just because they were studying engineering. Lépine killed 14 women for daring to want careers in a male-dominated field. Lépine killed 14 women for being women.

I was seven years old when École Polytechnique Massacre happened. I want to think that the world has changed since then, but really, has it? Women are still the butt of the joke. Women are still lacking in positions of power. Women are still being told that they need to compete against each other. There is still a persistent bias against women in the worlds of math and science. If there’s anything that can be learned from the latest American election, it’s that there are still men who hate women. A lot of men. Powerful men.

I don’t know if my mother still has her rose button. Probably not – I haven’t seen it in several years, and the last time I did, it was looking pretty beat up. I wish she did, though, and I wish that she lend it to me. These days, I would wear it with pride.

How We Talk About Mental Illness

10 Nov

Jared Lee Loughner was sentenced yesterday. In August of this year, he pled guilty to 19 of 49 charges, including first degree murder, after going on a shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona. His actions left six people dead and injured twelve others, including former Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Yesterday he was given a sentence of seven consecutive life terms in prison, with no chance of parole. Jared Loughner will spend the rest of his life in jail.

I remember this shooting vividly. It happened on January 8th, the day I was admitted to the hospital on bed rest at 34 weeks pregnant. I spent two weeks in the high risk antenatal unit, with only books and my computer to fill long hours spent in an uncomfortable hospital bed. Because I spent so much time online, I followed the shooting and its aftermath intently, metaphorically holding my breath as I, along with so many other people, waited to see if Gabrielle Giffords would live after taking a bullet to the head during the attempt on her life.

That’s what the shooting was, after all – an attempt to assassinate Giffords, whom Loughner hated for many reasons, chief among which was that she was a woman. In fact, he’d said repeatedly, both online and in person, that women should not hold positions of power. That was why he’d shown up there that day, why he’d brought a 9 mm Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol to a public meeting held in a supermarket parking lot  – because he couldn’t stand the idea of a female member of congress. The thought chilled me, as I’m sure it did many other women.

I’ve continued to keep up with Loughner’s legal proceedings, in part because of the mixture of fear, fascination and revulsion the shooting inspired in me, and partly because, in my mind, this event is somehow bound in the circumstances surrounding Theo’s birth. There was something so strange about sitting in a hospital, doing my best to ensure that a healthy new life came into this world, while someone else worked equally hard to take another life, or rather, several lives, out of it.

I’ve read a lot about the shooting.

I’ve read about Gabrielle’s amazing recovery, and her struggles to regain her mobility and independence.

I’ve read about Christina-Taylor Green, the nine year old who was among those killed.

I’ve read about the other victims, and how this tragedy has impacted their lives and the lives of their families.

Mostly, though, I’ve read about Loughner. How at first he was declared unfit to stand trial after a federal judge ruled that he was mentally incompetent, saying, “At the present time, Mr. Loughner does not have a rational understanding of these proceedings.” How he was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and was found to suffer from delusions and disorganized thinking. How, when he finally was deemed fit to stand trial, he was so drugged that he could barely talk. How he still resists being medicated, and has to undergo forcible treatment at the hands of prison officials. How he often doesn’t really seem to understand what happened that day, and has stated in court that he believes that his assassination attempt was successful, and that Gabrielle Giffords is now dead.

It’s pretty clear that Mr. Loughner is seriously ill.

I’ve been reading some of the victim impact statements today, and I’ve been surprised at how some of the victims talk about his illness. Take, for example, what Mark E. Kelly, Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, had to say:

“You tried to create for all of us a world as dark and evil as your own. But remember it always: You failed.”

I found this jarring, to be honest. Let’s be really clear here: I think that Loughner’s actions were, indeed, evil. I know that a mentally ill person’s “world” or mind or whatever term you want to use can certainly be called dark. However, it bothers me that Kelly would refer to the delusional world that Loughner lived in as evil. It also bothers me that Kelly seems to believe that Loughner had some kind of agency over his actions, as if he wasn’t driven by the illness that gripped him body and soul.

Another statement that I read said the following:

“We’ve been told about your demons, about the illness that skewed your thinking.

It’s a painful saga, a tale of missed opportunities and lack of support, of the appalling absence of attention to your behavior. Your parents, your schools, your community –- they all failed you.

That is all true, but it is not expiation. It is not enough. There are still those pesky facts.

You pointed a weapon at me… and shot me… three times.”

While the victim, Ashleigh Burroughs, acknowledges that Loughner was ill, she seems dismissive of his “demons”, demanding, instead, that he answer the “pesky facts” – as if he hadn’t already tried to answer them, only to come up with nonsense, jumbled facts and recollections of the day that are flat-out untrue.

I am not here to criticize Kelly or Burroughs, and I am certainly not here to diminish what they went through. They’ve seen and experienced things that I hope to never, ever encounter. I am not saying that how they are dealing with this is wrong, or that what they said is wrong. What I’m saying is that the way that we, as a culture, talk about mental illness is fucked up.

The things is, this hits close to home for me, because mental illness is something I’ve struggled with. Still do, in fact.

It’s not something I really talk about, ever. I’m deeply uncomfortable even as I type this out, but I want to share this with you, so that maybe you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

When I was in high school, things were tough. I felt sad and hopeless, frequently without any concrete reason. I cried, often, both at home and in public. I wonder, now, if my social isolation lead to this, or if my isolation was a product of how miserable I was. Chicken or egg, right? Certainly both lead to a sort of vicious circle of being alone, then being sad because I was alone, then having no one want to be around me because I was so annoyingly, unendingly down on myself and finally ending up, once again, alone.

When I was sixteen I told my mother about how I felt, and she took me to see our family doctor. He gave me a prescription for Paxil and referred me to a therapist. I hated therapy and stopped going after a few months; the medication didn’t seem to do much, so my doctor increased it, and then increased it again. I couldn’t sleep at night, and I was exhausted all day, sometimes napping on my desk during class. I couldn’t concentrate, and often left my homework unfinished because I was too tired or unfocussed. My grades started to slip, and my teachers grew frustrated with me. One even recommended that I be removed from the special arts program that I was part of. I went from being an A student to barely pulling Cs and Ds and the grownups in my life tsked, shook their heads and told me that I would have to work harder. I failed grade 11 math the first time, and then, the second time around, desperate to pass, I cheated on a test. I got caught. I was suspended. My doctor increased my medication. I didn’t feel any better.

In university, things were initially easier. I had lots of friends, and I was once more getting As and Bs. I forced myself to complete my assignments, working in the computer labs late into the night. My concentration improved, and I tried to be less of a perfectionist with my work – even if I thought something was badly done or incomplete, I submitted it. I turned in every single  assignment on time. I figured that what I’d been lacking in high school was gritty determination; I decided that I could push my way through anything. I thought that if I didn’t succeed at something, it was because I hadn’t tried hard enough.

Then, in third year, things got tough again. I had to leave school due to my financial situation, which was hopelessly snarled after three years of monetary incompetence and inattention. My mood grew worse and worse, and the university clinic doctor frantically tried medication after medication, hoping something, anything would work. Nothing did. I finally received an official diagnosis from him of dysthymia, a mood disorder marked by chronic depression. I started to feel like the future was endless and blank, and that I had no way of getting myself out of this hole. I talked about suicide. My doctor had me hospitalized.

I have literally never told that to anyone other than my mother and Matt until now.

Things got better after that, although I’m not sure why or how. My hospitalization was nearly ten years ago now and, although there have since been some serious dips in my mood, until I was hit with postpartum depression I’d managed to steer clear of that dark place. I even totally went off any kind of medication for seven years, encouraged by a hospital psychiatrist who told me that I wasn’t really depressed, that there was nothing chemical about it, I just had bad coping skills.

I stopped thinking of myself as someone who was living with depression; I told myself that I was just moody, or easily upset. If I had to put a name to what I was feeling, I called it anxiety, which seemed easier and more socially acceptable. Calling what I felt depression made me feel like I was making excuses for myself, and it made me feel like a freak. I refused to us the term mentally ill to describe myself. I went back to my philosophy of pushing myself hard, and then harder when things were difficult. For a while, it worked.

Then Theo was born, and everything went dark, and I couldn’t get out of it.

As part of the postpartum depression program I participated in at Women’s College Hospital, I had to have a monthly meeting with a psychiatrist. My family doctor had put me on Zoloft just before I joined the Women’s College program, and it was up to this psychiatrist to figure out whether or not I was on the correct medication, and what the right dosage was. I gave her as complete a medical history as I could, and then immediately asked how long I would have to be medicated.

“Well, let’s see,” she said, looking back through her notes. “It looks like you’ve had two, maybe three major depressive episodes in your life. You’ll need to be on the Zoloft for at least a year, but I would recommend that you stay on it for five.”

I was shocked. The medication was supposed to be temporary; I wasn’t sick, just fucked up on hormones. I’d thought that I would only be taking Zoloft for a few months, until this whole postpartum depression thing cleared up. That was how it was supposed to work, right? When I told her that, she just smiled.

“I think your old doctor’s original diagnosis of dysthymia was correct,” she said, “and, based on what you’ve told me, I think it’s likely you also have generalized anxiety disorder. This isn’t going to go away once your hormones settle down.”

So here I am, nearly two years after the birth of my son, still medicated and still struggling with my mood. I’ve more or less come to accept this, though. I am a person who is depressed. I am mentally ill.

This is hard to talk about, and what makes it harder is the way our society views mental illness. In the media it’s portrayed as frightening and dangerous, or else as funny and laughable, but rarely as something normal, rarely as something that so many people live with every day. We throw around words like crazy, insane, or psychotic when we’re talking about people whose actions we disagree with. In spite of strong evidence to the contrary, we view it as something made up, or an excuse not to get work done. We want people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and we don’t believe them when they tell us that they can’t. We marginalize and mock the people who need us the most.

Mental illness is deeply stigmatized in our society, and will continue to be so until we do something about it.

When we believe that Loughner had agency over his own actions, rather than being controlled by a serious illness, we contribute to that stigma. When Mark E. Kelly refers to the world view of a schizophrenic as evil, he contributes to that stigma. Hell, the fact that we even use words like “evil” or “demons” to describe mental illness contributes to that stigma.

The tighter we hold this stigma, the longer we continue to have beliefs about mental illness that are untrue and have no basis in scientific fact, the harder it is to talk about it. And the harder it is to talk about it, the more people will go untreated. And the more people who go untreated, the higher the risk of something like this happening again.

Which is why I’m talking about this now.

Edited to add: I certainly don’t mean to imply that all those who are mentally ill lack agency over their actions, or even that that those who do lack agency do so all of the time. I also don’t mean to say that someone who is gripped by mental illness will suffer from it forever. I don’t really know how to talk about this, and I acknowledge that I am probably missing a lot of information, and communicating badly. I apologize for that, and for any offence that anyone might take from this.