Testimony has a greater impact if one can see and hear the person testifying. The hearings are an opportunity to heighten public awareness.
The Quebec inquiry on systemic discrimination and racism has yet to begin hearings, but what’s already apparent is that the Couillard government does not want the exercise to be transparent.
When the consultation was announced in July, all Quebecers were urged to participate, with the hearings being touted as an occasion to find tangible and permanent solutions to the issues at hand. Now we learn that Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil and the Quebec Human Rights Commission have indicated that local consultations will be held behind closed doors, hidden from the eyes of the media and the citizenry, away from the public setting that was expected by the public.
According to a spokesperson for Weil, “The people who wish to be heard will be heard.”
But by whom?
Weil herself has proffered the defense that privacy will ensure that those testifying will feel open to relaying their experiences.
No way! Poor say!
Systemic racism concerns the denial of political, economic and social opportunities to individuals on account of their race or ethnic background. Marginalized groups who regularly deal with discrimination, mistreatment and unfair treatment are used to not being heard and, above all, not being taken seriously, and may view testifying behind closed doors as an extension of that attitude.
Let us not forget that there are many who already have little faith in the government and its previous handling of racism and discrimination, and now are called upon to sit behind closed doors to discuss their sufferings and injustices. This is similar to the fox declaring that he is now a vegan so that he can oversee the hen house.
The history of the beleaguered Human Rights Commission, mandated to oversee the hearings but currently embroiled in its own issues, speaks volumes in itself; if it had, over the years, done a better job of carrying out its functions, this public consultation may have not been needed. It seems as plain as falling rain that hearings behind closed doors must be for the benefit of the rights commission, as they are not helpful to the victims.
The decision to hold closed-door hearings may additionally be because the province is unwilling to stir up debate as was evoked by the Bouchard-Taylor hearings on Reasonable Accommodation a decade ago.
Certainly, testimony has a greater impact if one can see and hear the person testifying. For those who do not feel the impact of systemic discrimination and racism, and may not even know it exists, hearing testimony as relayed by media could be educational. It is challenging to see a problem or barrier if it is not within our lived experience, or to comprehend its urgency. The hearings are a good opportunity to heighten public awareness of these issues.
The second phase of the inquiry, open to the public, begins in November and features the testimony of experts and transmission of some of the issues raised by working groups that are to focus on specific areas, like education and employment. Why would only some of the issues be given priority, rather than have them all addressed?
Of further concern is the fact that the government intends to release the findings along with an action plan in the spring, just months shy of the general election scheduled for October 2018. That does not leave much time for implementation of any recommendations.
It is not too late for the government to clean the slate, for at the end of the day the objective is to have a better Quebec, where racism and discrimination would be sent into remission.
The closed doors should be opened wide, so there is nothing to hide.
Also published in the Montreal Gazette, September 19, 2017.
WE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER… LEST OTHERS FORGET
So much of our history is lost to us because we often don’t write the history books, don’t film the documentaries or don’t pass the accounts down from generation to generation.
By Yvonne Sam
The recent article in the Montreal Community Contact, September 7, about the death of Gert Schramm, the Afro-German teenager who survived the Buchenwald Concentration Camp only serves to highlight the fact that while Holocaust survivors continue to be remembered and make front page news, the horrific experiences of Black people in Nazi Germany still continues to be virtually ignored.
Although Hitler’s racial policies toward Jews, Sinti, and Roma, have been well documented researchers have given less attention to actions against Blacks.
There is documented evidence of German genocidal tendencies in Africa. This extended Kristallnacht began with the Herrero massacre, which commenced in 1904 when the Herrero tribe of German South West Africa in a quest to keep their land revolted against their colonial masters.
The rebellion lasted four years and survivors were either imprisoned in concentration camps or made to serve as human guinea pigs, undergoing medical experiments. The policy was a mere foretaste of the eventual fate of Germany’s Black population.
Documented evidence of the Holocaust confirms that Germany’s 24,000 strong Black community was the number one target for Hitler’s sterilization program.
Blacks unwanted on Two Continents
Nazi obsession with eugenics and racial purity increased in 1918 following Germany’s defeat in World War 1. Under the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty, Germany was stripped of her African colonies, forcing her to submit to occupation of the Rhineland, the name used for a loosely defined area of Western Germany along the Rhine River, chiefly its middle section. Deliberate deployment of African troops from the French colonies to police the territory angered the majority of Germans.
To many, this was seen as the final humiliation. Germans complained bitterly in the Rostrum newspapers and propaganda films about African soldiers striking up relationships with their African women. German anger was so intense that 92% of the national electorate cast their vote for Hitler’s Social Democratic Party, and as soon as Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland in 1935 he retaliated against African soldiers living there.
By the end of 1937 at least 400 children of mixed race were forcibly sterilized in the Rhineland area alone. Four hundred others simply disappeared into Hitler’s concentration camps.
Seeking Refuge in Ethnic Shows
In order to spread its gospel of white Aryan supremacy, Nazi propaganda chief, Josef Gobbels, felt that he needed to exploit the most popular medium for entertainment: feature films. Propaganda films such as Kongo Express, and Auntie Wanda from Uganda were made to present Germany as an enlightened benevolent colonial power. Black people survived by working in the film industry. Theodore Michael, one of Germany’s Black character actors of the time, gives a gripping account in a documentary of how he survived by working in the film industry.
In a documentary unavailable in Canada, and somewhat unheard of, Hitler’s Forgotten Victims highlights that between 1935 and 1945 an estimated 200,000 Black troops recruited from African colonies served in the European theater of war.
The horrific treatment described by Gert Schramm is outlined in the documentary that also shows footage of Black soldiers and civilians scraping in heaps of garbage at a POW camp. Often in what was a direct breach of the Geneva Convention, Black prisoners were denied food and were assigned dangerous jobs. The documentary further shows that the Nazis separated the Black inmates of concentration and prisoner-of-war camps.
Remembering the Victims
It is clear that the fate of the Blacks in the Holocaust is not acknowledged on par with the Jewish experience. It has remained unacknowledged by every successive German government since 1939.
There was simply never enough shocking celluloid evidence of Black people being persecuted to compare with the overwhelming archive that supports the Jewish case. This may in part explain why German authorities have consistently refused to acknowledge any compensation claim launched by Black survivors and their families. Furthermore, most German Black people were stripped of their nationality by the Nazis, which made it difficult to claim reparations. Hitler’s Forgotten Victims—was televised in Great Britain in October 1997. The documentary will be shown during the 2018 Black History Month celebrations under the auspices of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. Hear firsthand accounts of what happened to our people during a critical time in Nazi Germany.
Historical topics such as these will never be taught in public schools.