When I was scrolling through information on HateFreeYEG, I was reminded of something a professor told the class on my first day of university: there is no such thing as safe spaces in the real world. Denying people a place where they can truly be themselves without facing ridicule or assault? Sounds like a bleak world. Thankfully, my professor was wrong. Safe spaces are not only going to exist but are necessary in our current political climate.
HateFreeYEG is a group of local activists fighting against hate speech (like the painting of swastikas in south Edmonton) and far-right hate groups popping up in the city. One of their focuses is to mark hate-free safe spaces, like restaurants, in Edmonton with a sticker in the window. It’s an attempt to get businesses to take a stand against hate and push the city towards becoming more inclusive.
I think that’s wonderful.
It’s easy to think that racism doesn’t exist in Canada when our neighbour down south is the United States. We’re assaulted each week with news of racially motivated police brutality, President Trump hurling racist rubbish, or videos of immigrants being verbally assaulted for speaking their mother tongue in public. Racism exists here just as much in the United States; the problem is that it’s more downplayed because we believe that we aren’t racist. We stand by the fact that Canada is a multicultural society, that we don’t have police brutality in our country (we do) as proof. This is all done while ignoring our treatment of indigenous peoples, both now and in the past. Racism in Canada is alive and well, whether it’s a white man calling the police on a brown man in a Sobeys, or the fact that Edmonton’s football team is called the Edmonton Eskimos.
Safe spaces are important for marginalized people because they won’t have to fear being attacked or ridiculed in those areas. They’re not a construction of oversensitive millennials that don’t understand how the world works; it’s people carving out a part of this increasingly hate-filled world where they can let their guard down.
Putting a sticker in the window of a business doesn’t seem like doing a lot, but even the smallest things make a difference. It should be straightforward that racism is bad, but somehow that truth has been ignored, being seen more as a suggestion than a rule. A simple sticker can show people of colour that racism within the store will not be tolerated, that it will be dealt with swiftly, and that someone is in their corner. It also shows hate groups like the Soldiers of Odin, that their beliefs aren’t welcomed by that business.
Once enough businesses in Edmonton have that sticker in their windows, then maybe hate groups will realize that they aren’t welcome in our city, and that they shouldn’t be.
HateFreeYEG also talks about fostering solidarity within Edmonton, so that when racism rears its ugly head in day-to-day life, more people will stand up against it. Sometimes it’s easier to duck your head and pretend you didn’t see anything, or just tune out something racist a family member said. But we shouldn’t take the easy path.
Small acts of racism lead to bigger acts of racism, which leads to the creation of groups like the Soldiers of Odin. It’s important that we take a stand against all forms of racism and work towards making Edmonton a city that people of all cultures can call home, can live in without fear.
We should all fight for a hate-free YEG.