Amid the tide of whitelash, we remain unmoored

    Feb 23, 2022
    Canada First supporter Tyler Russell is pictured recording police on Metcalfe Street shortly after a 'Freedom Convoy' participant was arrested on Feb. 17.

    OTTAWA—#MakeOttawaBoringAgain is closer to a reality after a weekend of arrests and removals of convoy occupiers. Only, we didn’t win anything. In fact, we lost. 

    We are lost. 

    As the waters recede, what is left is a white supremacist, authoritarian movement that has grown in strength, in support, in finances, and in political influence. For them, this was a win, in which they claimed victory in remaining past the first weekend. In some way, shape, or form, they will be back; this is not the end. The Ottawa Citizen quoted one of the occupiers who confirmed just as much: “‘The game just started,’ said Maninder Singh, a Brampton resident and one of the first two protesters to appear on Monday. ‘That,’ he added, waving to the downtown core, ‘was only a trailer.’” (I wish Canadian news outlets would stop calling them “protesters,” which is another way white supremacy gets a pass by rendering it innocuous through language.)

    If you thought you were going to get toxic positivity to encourage you to marinate yourself in pretense and denial, you’ve clicked the wrong link. 

    If you’ve attended the myriad of Twitter spaces, performed first-level digital reconnaissance on the main figures, or just listened, you would’ve heard people who want to build their own society on land that isn’t theirs (sounds familiar) and with people they deem “worthy,” i.e. Christian and white. The far-right and religious, right-wing Christians have formed an unholy political alliance that marries white supremacy with evangelical Christianity (how else do you think Jesus became white?). In the United States, the real origin of the politically organized religious right was not Roe vs. Wade, it was segregation. As highlighted in Politico’s story about the rise of evangelical Christian political influence in the United States, Paul Weyrich, a religious conservative political influencer and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, famously noted, “‘The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition,’ Weyrich wrote in the mid-1970s. ‘When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.’” The line between that and the convoy that occupied Ottawa is very short, indeed. 

    Race is always a factor. So is gender. And these people are thinking that this is a game, one they play to win. 

    “This is a game of power, pure and simple, and it’s about whether the people who have long held that power will be able to retain it… They are thinking generationally, not in terms of the next election cycle but in terms of the next epoch.” Charles M. Blow, New York Times columnist, wrote about the big picture in terms of Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court. It’s similar language to Singh’s, above, and it’s a similar vision espoused by major figures in the convoy. 

    A little over a year ago I wrote the following: “The same white grievance industrial complex that was erected in America to advance white supremacy is the same one that Conservative MPs have used to build their electoral base of support.” The white grievance industrial complex is one in which white people are the victims of a changing world of people of colour demanding equal rights and equitable treatment. When you’re used to privilege, equity feels like oppression. 

    Welcome to the whitelash. 

    After a global protest movement supporting treating Black lives as though they matter, watching the horrid discoveries of unmarked, shallow graves of Indigenous children, the London attack bathed in Islamophobia, condemnation of the rise of anti-Asian hate, combined with the effects of a global pandemic, Canada was poised for a whitelash. And that’s what this convoy is: the whitelash, sponsored by white supremacy. This nifty little portmanteau describes a backlash that “came to stand for a topsy-turvy rebellion in which white people with relative societal power perceived themselves as victimized by what they described as overly aggressive African Americans demanding equal rights.” This article from the Atlantic mounts an argument that it is the whitelash that holds back progress on anything transformational in society that doesn’t directly benefit them. 

    Whenever Black or Indigenous people make gains towards equality, or even capture the nation’s attention by talking about the oppressive white supremacy that holds back our progress and threatens our lives, “white supremacy mounts a counteroffensive.” The Nation continues to write about the short attention span white liberals have for racial equality, which allows white supremacy to mount a considerable backlash: “It is also clear from history that white anti-racism has always had a dangerously short shelf life.” And these white liberals join in platforming and promoting whiteness as superior with their tacit acceptance of institutional and administrative violence against the marginalized and their casual racism. An example of this casual racism can be seen by columnist Jon Kay, who quote-tweeted an announcement of a federal program for Black potential homeowners: “so how do they decide who gets the money? do they pick, like, the *blackest* applicants?” He then followed up with a since-deleted tweet asking if there is money going towards “plantation” style houses. 

    Many of y’all would’ve laughed. And that makes you the problem. 


    But real talk, I’m shook. And many Ottawans still are, especially since we’ve seemed to trade an occupation for a police state. For Black people in Ottawa, the police continue to harass us and now they have expanded police powers to do so. A tweeter described how a police officer searched her Black, male friend’s vehicle to make sure he wasn’t with the convoy. This was done at a police checkpoint made possible by these expanded powers. 

    The mental health of a city has been irreparably changed. Psychological effects of this occupation could include depression, anxiety, and stress. And this is not including pre-existing mental health conditions. As The Globe and Mail reported, “The protest is ‘compounding the stress. They’ve already been under this chronic stress of trying to live in a pandemic and then having their life disrupted further on top of that is definitely making things a lot worse for them.’” Luckily, what the Battle of Billings Bridge taught us is that we can come together as residents and resist and change the circumstances of our occupation without government oversight. In other words, hopefully, Ottawans learned to become a community. 

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

    The Hill Times