The Apathy Problem

In this week’s column I respond to a couple of appalling events in Nova Scotia last week: a racist mock lynching at a furniture store and a pro-rape chant at a university. Both made national news, and the Saint Mary’s story was picked up internationally.

I wish these were isolated incidents, but they’re not. And as I argue in the column, it’s dangerous to treat them as such. The reason these types of things keep happening is apathy. If you go on Twitter or read the news you’d think everybody in the province (and half of Canada) was outraged, but the sad truth is a lot of people think “eh, what’s the big deal.” Therein lies the problem.

An example: I made the mistake of reading the comments on one of the stories about the racist events at Leon’s. (No one should ever read comments about stories involving race, because they’re universally depressing. But sometimes I can’t help myself.)

One commenter actually argued that there can’t be racism at Leon’s or else the company never would have hired black people in the first place, so obviously the complaints about racism were overblown.

I’m just going to go ahead and assume I don’t have to explain everything that is dreadfully, head-smackingly wrong about that attitude.

The thing is, if enough people choose to be that willfully ignorant, they allow racism to flourish. The more I read about this Leon’s situation, the more it’s apparent that racism has bubbled under the surface there for years. If a few decent people had stood up at some point and said “Hey, knock it off” or gone up the chain until someone responded, maybe the simulated lynching wouldn’t have happened.

The same goes for misogyny. It’s sad that a group of frosh leaders at SMU felt it was OK to sing about sexually assaulting underage girls, but it’s sadder to hear that it’s been happening for years and no one had enough common sense or fortitude to put a stop to it. Sadder still to hear a female university student say on the news that it didn’t really bother her because she’s “not a feminist-type person.”

You don’t need to be an “ist”, a “person with a cause,” to find this stuff offensive and demand a change. That’s apathy in a nutshell: what she’s really saying is “I’m not a person who cares enough to do something about this.”

The creeps will be creeps, but they only get away with being creeps if other people look the other way or pretend that everything’s cool and they didn’t really hear what they just heard. Or it was just a joke, because hanging black people and raping little sisters, ha ha, that’s funny.

It’s so easy to let stuff slide. But that’s why we are where we are. That’s why we have to start by confronting apathy. We can’t change things until enough people decide that yes, we need a change, and yes, I’m willing to put in the effort to make it happen.


One response to “The Apathy Problem

  1. I’ve been so appalled by everything lately that I just want to pull my drapes shut and ignore the outside world… But the authorities would probably come take my kids away and I’ll be another dreadful NS story in the international news! Yikes.

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