Under the microscope of a white lives matter flyer showing up in a public park, the debate that has since followed is a reminder of the deeply rooted relationship between white supremacy and misogyny. Wilmot Township Councillors Angie Hallman, Cheryl Gordjik and Jennifer Pfenning have been advocating alongside and for Black, Indigenous and racialized residents of their communities.
They have received hate mail, accusations of fabricating “racism in Wilmot” and threats to their well-being. With the obvious centering of white comfort in response to Mayor Les Armstrong posting the racist ‘white lives matter’ video on his Facebook last June, the sexism, misogyny and verbal violence that have become synonymous with Wilmot Township Council meetings should come as a surprise to no one.
Yet, during the Township of Wilmot’s council meeting held on April 26, 2021, not only did misogyny underscore one particular delegation’s presentation, but the abject silence by all male councilors present, coupled with the lack of public accountability by other male leaders (except Royce Bodaly) has left a searing message in our minds: our commitment is to the system not the people. Since last year’s incident response to the white lives matter video posting and calls to end the Prime Minister’s Path, led by its mayor, Wilmot has positioned itself as a sovereign township within the region. Thus, what happens in Wilmot only matters to those who live in Wilmot.
This dismissive narrative is meant to dissuade our focus from the obvious emboldening of gender-based harassment, anti-Black racism, anti-Indigeneity and the weaponizing of religious extremism in the township. By the law that governs our regional council, all cities and townships in Waterloo Region are given voice on the regional council. They each contribute to the decisions that will impact the lives of residents in all of Waterloo Region. When leaders fail to denounce hate; when they fail to actively work towards fostering communities that are unwelcoming to architects of hate, they should be held accountable by the entire region.
It also must be said that if white women can’t count on white men to treat them equitably; to defend them against sexist attacks as they challenge racist rhetoric; what of intersectional marginalized bodies? Speaking out against hate and calling on your colleagues is not a matter of jurisdictions and legislation, but rather human dignity and moral fortitude.
As Waterloo Region continues to be shifted and challenged by the growing presence of non-white, non-Canadian, non-Judeo-Christian identities, it will experience a pushback of white rage. Neutrality and silence are not options in the presence of white rage. Our leaders will be required to act beyond virtue signalling statements and capitalist-driven resource allocation announcements in response to community demands. Our leaders will be continually called to act, and to fill in the hollow spaces of their words.