With the long-drawn debate on the use of Squampton stickers, the medieval witch-hunt (styled these days as liberal and progressive activism) has reached Squamish too.
A few days ago, I asked a vocal resident to write on the issue. She flatly refused, afraid that she would be hounded out of her job if she expressed any view not in line with the dominant woke discourse.
A variety of views on the issue clash on social media, but one thing is clear — anyone will get the impression that old Squamish was casually racist. And woke ideology now wants to reform Squamish by erasing its ‘racist’ past.
But the hard, thick line that divides good and evil in the woke universe is actually faint and broken and not so straight in real life.
That’s what I found in my more than a decade of living and working in Squamish. My own story — and of many other local people of colour I know — defies stereotypes of race relations.
However, I too started with those stereotypes.
When I moved from Toronto to small town BC, first in Parksville and then in Squamish, 11 years ago, I was warned by many that I was making a mistake in going to rural BC. When I was about to move to Squamish, a friend remarked about it being an old, loggers’ town and how confused, insecure, and out of place I would feel in that redneck ghetto.
It was no place to build a future or a life for a person of colour, I was told. My friends suggested I would be far better off to stick to Downtown Toronto or Vancouver if I wanted to feel welcomed and accepted.
But I liked the natural beauty of Squamish and decided to take a chance.
My experience in setting up a newspaper business opened my eyes to the complexity of the human experience and the metropolitan assumptions that I had carried with me.
Those assumptions had started to unravel within weeks of my starting a news blog, as I noticed strangers were willing to share their life stories with me without any regard to the colour of my skin. Against my apprehensions, I was being encouraged by locals to write and report more about not only the civic issues but also their personal lives.
Slowly, other assumptions started to fray.
Conventional wisdom dictated that a person of colour locking horns with the powerful white elite in a small town will never succeed. My experience was the opposite. My aggressive reporting brought praise and encouragement from readers who mostly happened to be white. Far from one seeking patronage of the white elite, I was seen as a loose cannon who didn’t hesitate to publish anything if it was in public interest.
I felt so encouraged that I decided to start a print newspaper. When I would tell people in Toronto how even old residents of Squamish, such as the logging community, supported my work, they would be very surprised. It flew against all the accepted ideas of race relations in small towns.
The recent controversy made me look back at my time in town. I wondered if Squamish was such a casually racist town back then, how could I succeed as a journalist here, especially someone who was so combative?
All this is not to say I did not experience racism here. Or that racism did not or does not exist in our town. Sometimes racism here is quite in your face. But my experience of inclusion far outweighs that of racism.
I had an inkling before I came to Squamish that racism could have its own diversity. In Squamish, I saw it. I faced racism from some who styled themselves as liberal and progressive.
There is no doubt that racism is a lived experience for a large number of people in Squamish, and also in BC, in Canada or, for that matter, in South Asia, where my roots are. Nor is there any doubt that we must be vocal about racism amidst us.
What I want to stress is that my own experience and my interaction with other people of color in Squamish tells me human relations here or anywhere cannot be crammed into theories manufactured in metropolitan centres. But such a view runs the risk of attracting woke ire. Their ideas have come to assume the force of theological certainty.
Woke dogma has harassed people and institutions so much that some of their leading lights are now raising their voices. A recent letter written by 150 prominent writers, academics and journalists (including Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Gloria Steinam) calls out the cancel culture that has now spread to Squamish too.
This is how they describe it: “But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.”
Read the full letter here.
Gagandeep Ghuman is the editor of the Squamish Reporter.