Online dating and racism

When my wife died, I considered online dating as way of meeting people. Hadiya Roderique’s shares her experience with online dating in Walrus magazine (March, 2017).

    Hadiya Roderique on cover of Walrus magazine

I was searching for a committed relationship with a supportive partner, someone I could love deeply and who shared my values and goals,” she wrote.

There are reasons why our online dating experiences would be different. I am in my mid-seventies and she’s in her mid-thirties. I am retired and Hadiya is a lawyer working on a PhD. I look white and she looks black.

I say “look” because skin colour is a fluke of ancestry. I’m the descendant of Scottish, English, and French ancestors. Hadiya’s father is white and her mother is Caribbean and East Indian.

One thing we both share is a white Canadian culture.

“Certainly, I am black to the white world. And as someone who travels in personal and professional environments that are predominantly white—the legal profession, Ultimate Frisbee, graduate school—the majority of my friends, including my single girlfriends, are white.”

Hadiya liked the online dating site OkCupid. She had a high match with a large number of men but she was troubled by the response she received.

“But almost immediately, I began to notice peculiarities about my experience. Among my single friends, and even in the conversations I overheard between strangers in coffee shops, women using dating sites described being ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘flooded’ with communication. On the day I completed my profile, I received one message; four more appeared over the next two days.”

Friends suggested that maybe the limited response was due to an intimidation factor because she was a lawyer. At this point, Hadiya didn’t think that skin colour was a factor.

“As a Torontonian, I optimistically thought race wouldn’t matter much. One of the defining principles of our culture is, after all, multiculturalism. There is a widespread perception that the tensions and cultural politics of race are milder in Canada than in the US—we represent a “mosaic” rather than a melting pot—with an openness to experiences that all that implies, including interracial dating.”

To test skin colour as a factor, she posted a picture of her white friend Jessica in the same clothes and the same written profile. The “White Hadiya” received nine times the messages as the black Hadiya.

Still unconvinced, Hadiya thought it was because Jessica was more attractive. As a final experiment, Hadiya became white. She had her photo taken in a blond wig and photoshopped her skin to white, her eyes to blue.

Responses were even greater than the White Hadiya. She even heard back from people who had not responded when she sent messages to them as black.

The experience confirmed the disheartening truth about online dating.

“Online dating dehumanizes me and other people of colour. On the other hand, maybe online dating dehumanizes everyone.”

Hadiya gave up online dating and has since found a boyfriend through mutual acquaintances.

I have heard of life-long relationships that developed online. But not for me. Based on Hadiya’s black and white experience, I think that I would be judged by the way I look.

Why you are safe on social media

When Virginia Champoux’s husband received a lung transplant, her social media usage jumped. “Facebook became her daily – often hourly – outlet for sharing the agonizing, surreal, and occasionally funny details of Jay’s struggle to survive,” writes Jonathan Kay in Walrus magazine (June, 2016).

FB privacy

She wrote about her husband’s struggle to live; the psychotic response to his medication; his penchant for ordering odd products online; his fight to digest solid foods. It seems there was nothing she wouldn’t share.

At first glance, Champoux seems to be a poster child for reckless social media. Not so. “I am meticulous in following certain rules. In general, my children are referred to by initials –never their full names. If I post pictures, they are only visible to my friends –never public. And I always ask other parents’ permission if I post a picture of their own children,” said the Montreal native.

More than that, she has carefully made Facebook lists which specify the breadth of her circles. Lists such as “Cancer” (only those who have suffered from it), “work,” “French” (some francophones are offended by her English posts), “close friends,” “B-list,” “D-list,” and the ultra elite “VVIP” list which is limited to the eight most important people in her life.

I was curious about what she shared publically on her Facebook site. So I looked her up (she was the only one listed). Sure enough, there are videos of Jay walking with a tree of IV bags and posts from the day of his death. I felt a bit voyeuristic but I wanted to see if Champoux had changed or deleted any of the posts since being featured in a national magazine. As far as I could tell, they were all there.

Not everyone would be so willing to share the most painful moments of their lives but that’s the point: for some grieving is private matter, for others it’s cathartic.

Privacy means “the right to be left alone.” That right has never been more challenged with the advent of technology and social media where the greatest volume personal thoughts are shared. It’s been a struggle. In 2011, Facebook was accused of deceiving users by leading us to believe that they were protecting our privacy while allowing access to our lives to third-party software developers.

Facebook responded by tightening security to allow as much or as little public access to your posts as you wish. The problem is that most people don’t use the privacy settings that Facebook provides –all the while complaining about loss of privacy.

Social media users have not kept up with the changes. Instead, they worry. According to a poll done in 2015, 64 per cent of Canadians are worried about how corporations treat their personal data. Of that group, only 13 per cent feel they have total control of their information.

Social media corporations respond to complaints because it’s in their best interest, Kay concludes. “The most remarkable aspect of this privacy revolution is that it is being powered primarily not by new laws, but by corporations acting in their own economic self-interest.”

Canada’s bloodless coup

Canada’s current government has been altered to the extent that parliamentarians from a few decades ago would barely recognize it. While it’s not the sudden nonviolent revolution seen in other countries, the transformation is significant.

parliament

It didn’t start with the Harper Government but it has become more entrenched under his rule. I don’t use the term “rule” lightly; there is no other way to describe the way Canada has changed from a parliamentary democracy to the reign of the prime minister.

It takes a keen observer to notice the glacial change. Robert Fulford, columnist and senior fellow at Massey College, was around when things were different. He writes about those years in Walrus magazine, Ministers of Nothing, How Pierre Trudeau killed the cabinet.

The way that government used to function is represented by the government of Lester B. Pearson in the 1960s. Pearson’s cabinet ministers actually controlled their portfolios and publicly expressed views from the left to the right end of the political spectrum. In light of today’s muzzled ministers, it looked unruly.

Ministers would regularly meet with reporters to lay bare the antagonisms within government. It would take a special person to herd the cats of cabinet but Pearson was that kind of prime minister. As a mediator in international disputes and winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, he understood the power of persuasion and compromise.

Fulford recalls interviewing Pearson in 1963. “These cabinet skirmishes involved anxiety and risk for the participants. But overall, the freewheeling system usually worked as Pearson intended.” Pearson honed his skills while serving as a minister under Prime Minster Louis St. Laurent. “St. Laurent, [Pearson] said, had acted very much like a ‘chairman of the board,’ giving his ministers enough freedom to bring their own experience and instincts to their portfolios.”

It’s a lesson that one of Pearson’s cabinet ministers, Pierre Trudeau, failed to learn. Like Prime Minister Harper, Trudeau saw the freedom of ministers as a barrier to control of government. “He saw no reason for ministers to establish their independence by leaking dissenting opinions to favoured journalists and constituents back home. Such freedom, which Pearson had put up with, didn’t strike Trudeau as democracy in action. It seemed more like chaos.”

As prime minister, Trudeau consolidated power over cabinet. In order to do so, he needed to form an agency to control government, and so the Prime Minister’s Office was created.

In hindsight, the subversion of government is astonishing. Canada was turned upside down. It used to be that elected members of parliament to carried our interests to government. Some of those would form cabinet and in turn would advise the prime minister.

Pierre Trudeau viewed MPs otherwise: “When they are 50 yards from Parliament Hill, they are no longer honourable members, they are just nobodies.”

Now the prime minster rules through an unelected agency, the PMO. This creeping coup happened because, unlike the U.S., there are no Canadian checks and balances to limit the power of our prime minster.

As I argued in an earlier column, the power of the PM exceeds that of the U.S. president. In short, the prime minister rules because he or she can.

Update on the Iraqi quagmire.

It’s time for the tredecennial review of the quagmire in Iraq. In my 2002 column, I cautioned:

“If Iraq were completely destroyed, it will break in three: a Shiite protectorate of Iran in the South, a Kurdish state in the north and a small Sunni state in the middle. That would completely destabilize the whole region, inflaming more conflict.”

SALADIN, IRAQ - AUGUST 31:  A Shiite militian flashes victory sign after Iraqi forces have entered the northern town of Amirli which had been under the siege of Islamic State militants for over two months in Saladin ,Iraq on August 31, 2014. Supported by Kurdish forces and Shiite militias, the Iraqi army launched an offensive shortly after the U.S. carried out airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) positions near the town, and dropped aid for the nearly 20,000 Shiite Turkmen trapped in Amirli. The government forces and Kurdish peshmerga forces have been fighting against the militant group to block their advance. (Stringer - Anadolu Agency)

(Stringer – Anadolu Agency)

Parts of that warning turned out to be true. Conflict has generated more conflict. The Kurds represent a coherent entity in the North, if not a Kurdish state. There is no Sunni state in the middle of Iraq but Anbar province is controlled by Sunni leaders of Saddam Hussein’s former party. Shiites are not just in the South. With the help of the U.S., they control government.

Whereas Canada declined involvement in the earlier invasion, now we are willing participants in the bombing of Iraq. The Harper government apparently believes that, while massive bombing didn’t fix the problem in the first place, a few more should do the trick.

Another difference is that the Prime Minster’s office sees the invasion as public relations opportunity. When Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the PMO issued a video reminiscent of U.S. President Bush’s macho response to the attacks of September 9, 2001. Reporter Patrick Graham describes the chest-thumping by the PMO:

“Three months after Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack [on Cirillo], the PMO put out a jingoistic video  –a montage of the cenotaph and the gunfight on Parliament Hill that included a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot punching the air; presumably after a successful mission. The takeaway: Avenge Corporal Cirillo. Bomb ISIS (Walrus magazine, June, 2015).”

Canada’s bravado avoids a vexing question. How were millions of Iraqis overcome by a few thousand ISIS fighters?

“As Canada continues –indeed escalates –its war with ISIS, politicians and policy-makers need to grapple with that question in a serious way,” says Graham. “But based on it public pronouncements thus far, there is little evidence that government’s analysis has gone beyond patriotic slogans and images of pumped-up fighter pilots.”

The Shiite-Sunni conflict has extended fourteen centuries. Relations were calm until Hussein came to power in the 1970s when he banned Shiite ceremonies and ruthlessly put down a Shiite uprising.

The opportunity for revenge came when a Shiite was installed as head of the Iraqi government. With Prime Minister Maliki in control of the army, Sunnis were arrested under the country’s anti-terrorism laws. Sunni tribal leaders, who had joined the U.S. fight against al Qaeda, were cut off from positions of power.

No wonder that many Sunnis have welcomed ISIS over a Shiite army. “From a Sunni point of view, the U.S. occupation simply was replaced with an occupation run by Tehran’s proxy armies [the Shiites].”

The undisciplined and corrupt Shiite army simply folded in the face of a small, determined, ISIS force. Army morale had been undermined by incompetent officers who were more interested in extortion than building confidence within the rank and file.

It will be interesting to see whether Canada’s new government will carry on with war as a public relations exercise or take a more nuanced approach. I’ll let you know in 13 years.