Comforting Words: 04/2006

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Black, Female Christ: Why Not?

If you think that I have been spending quite a bit of time writing letters to the Editor of my local newspaper you are right. I have made the decision to 'walk my talk' and do what I can in my chosen corner to make a difference.

Here another letter I wrote today:


As I read Sheila Pratt's "The Use of foreign workers in Ft. McMurray,"(Edmonton Journal, April 16, 2006) it became clear that responsibility is an attitude and approach she is suggesting that the government of Alberta adopts in its planning and leadership. This is pertinent advice and ought also to be adopted by columnists, particularly Lorne Gunter.

Reading his column, "Good money in rewriting Christ story," in the same issue and page of the Edmonton Journal, I wondered whether Mr. Gunter merely referred to a most derogatory statement ‘responsibly’ or simply for the sensation factor.

While it is not my intention to start a theological debate, for Mr. Gunter and the Ottawa Citizen columnist he so proudly quoted to slyly deride and denigrate black women who are lesbians in one fell swoop is irresponsibility at its heights.

Surely, such learned and opinionated men could find metaphors other than “Christ-as-black lesbian,” to make their point without belittling the human dignity of blacks, women and lesbians? Is it so laughable and outrageous to think that a person other than a man, of a darker hue or of the homosexual orientation could be symbolic of the Divine and Sacred?

Many might be tempted to consider Mr. Gunter’s reference a bit of frivolity. However, in light of the reality of racism, domestic violence and bigotry experienced by immigrants, non-whites, abused women and homosexuals, if the intention is to truly grow this province opinion-makers and the leaders should adopt a more responsible attitude.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Economic Apartheid in Canada?

Following is a Letter to the Editor that I wrote this week. As they may never publish it, let me do so myself.


If the reality of underemployment and living in borderline poverty was not so factual, I would laugh each time there is a news report about the labour shortage in Alberta.

A few years ago, on the lure of multiculturalism and a land of opportunities for all, my small family and I migrated to Canada. There were several options open to us but we chose Canada for its promise of inclusiveness, order and need for professionals along with skilled workers.

The web site of Citizenship and Immigration Canada was the main source of information for us as we sought to make a final decision about migrating here. It was there we saw that “skilled workers are people who may become permanent residents because they have the ability to become economically established in Canada.”

As we followed the instructions to check whether our occupations – mine was international relations and communications specialist, with graduate level degree and over ten years experience and my spouse’s broadcast (radio and television) journalist with a bachelor’s degree in English – we passed the self-assessment with flying colours.

Although we had the necessary education, professional qualifications and money to support ourselves for at least the first six months, because we had friends with postgraduate education (finance and medicine) who had returned to Jamaica after unsuccessfully trying to settle here, my spouse and I were prepared to take lower level jobs to get started in our new country.

Imagine my shock after responding to numerous advertisements for jobs as receptionist, administrative assistant or customer service representative and not being invited to an interview. I can still recall the bile that almost choked me as a temporary employment placement agent said that I would need to downgrade my resume to get a job.

Refusing to do that, it took me months before I ‘landed’ a job in a call centre, paying $10.00 per hour. The real shock, however, was my gratitude for this job as we were able to pay our rent and put food on the table. So for over a year, I would put to use the skills and expertise gained making presentations at international conferences and working with heads of government. My spouse was in a similar position, using the voice and English language skills of a Caribbean broadcaster, to do telephone market research at $9.00 per hour.

Almost four years of the mythical ‘Canadian experience’, a Northern Alberta Institute of Technology diploma in Culinary Arts and another Master degree later, we are still straddling the poverty line in the richest province of Canada.

How does one explain that? Never one to draw the race card, I cannot help peeking at it as my thirtieth application in two months goes unacknowledged. Certainly, the majority of the thousands of vacant positions in Alberta are in the oilfields, construction and fast food industries.

However, even in these areas, there are vacancies for people with management, administration, communications, customer service, conflict resolution, and crisis intervention and support/counseling skills. I also see the daily advertisements on the government, universities, not-for-profit and even commercial organizations’ web sites.

With tears in my eyes, today I pulled out all the copies of the postings for which I have applied and laid them next to my resume. Checking off each requirement against my experience and skill-set, the only thing that seemed out of place is the colour of my skin.

Mahatma Gandhi made a very insightful observation about hypocrisy, one that I would slightly amend to read “hypocrisy and distortion are passing currents under the name of [multiculturalism.]”

If they are not part of this system of hypocrisy and distortion, the honest, respectful and justice-loving people of Canada have two choices.

They can demand that politicians and bureaucrats of the Federal and Provincial governments, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Employers Association across this country both follow proper employment practices and honour the human rights of non-white immigrants to gainful and equal employment.

Otherwise, they could ask that the tax dollars stop being wasted on the false promotion, advertising and festivals of the myth that Canada is a multicultural society and a land of real and equal opportunities for all.

Until a choice is made, my advice to non-white professional immigrants would sadly be “Ignore the ads, stay out of Canada and Alberta if you want economic justice and keep your human dignity.”

Claudette Esterine

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Daisies and Sweet-peas Anyone?

Did you know that April is one of the most tragic months of the year?

I thought that March took that place given all the 'tragedies' that I have faced in my life during the third month of the year.

My mother used to say, "March man is no good," and so I would be keen to know whether a potential date was born in March. Later, I would marry and divorce in March. One of my most gut-wrenching and painful days was Sunday, March 26, 2006 - the day my daughter abruptly moved out of our house.

So I was really looking forward to this month's promise of "opening" as that is what etymologists suggest the word April means. Human history, however, reveals that the fourth month has been the time of some of the greatest tragedies. It was in April that:
  • The Bosnian War began (1992)

  • The Rwandan Genocide began (1994)

  • The Armenian Genocide (April 24, 1915)

  • Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated (April 4, 1968)

  • The Oklahoma City Bombing (April 19, 1995)

  • Columbine High School shooting (April 20, 1999)

  • Reading this, I wondered whether I should just "lock shop" for the month of April and wait for May, when spring should have arrived in all its glory. Contemplating that thought it struck me that in order for us to enjoy the May plants and flowers, they must burst through the thawing soil and somewhat arid earth - a process that some of them do not survive but most do with such awesomeness.

    In order words, it is not about the month but the process. For us to grow and fully blossom, sharing our "gloriousness" with the world, there will be pain, tragedy and even death. Like the plants (daisies and sweet-peas come to mind) bursting through the April soil to bloom in May, we cannot escape pain nor, on a more personal level, can I escape the grief I feel as our nest emptied and my daughter is out in the world spreading her wings.

    With the help of my many women-friends, I am embracing April - both the tragedies and the openings. I am taking Golda Meir's advice and "weeping with my whole heart" for the tragedies - personal and on the world stage.

    I do that challenging myself to accept that these painful situations exist, such as children dying of hunger, thousands of women being raped as you read this and my eighteen year old daughter as leaving the 'safety' of my home, and that "life is like a roller coaster, so why not sit up in the front with your hands in the air? "

    During this tragic yet month of "openings," I invite you to take a front seat and get involved in life. There are many activities around the world that you can be a part of and make a difference in someone else's life and your own. For instance, April is:
  • Chocolate Eaters Month
  • Poetry Month
  • Cancer Control Month
  • Child Abuse Prevention Month
  • Sexual Assault Awareness Month
  • International Guitar Month
  • National Humor Month
  • National Smile Month
  • Stress Awareness Month
  • Alcohol Awareness Month
  • Autism Awareness Month

  • Check your community newspapers, bulletin boards or any other source to find out ways you can get out of the house of pain and grieving and be part of the solution. Let's make this a month where we embrace what Emily Dickinson wrote: "Pain — is missed —in Praise."