How Can I Say I’m Not a Racist?

I want to start by saying that I am humbled to even be able to share this piece.

 I know so little, and have hesitated to write out of fear of offending someone. If you are a person of colour, and I do offend, please accept my apology in advance. I cannot know how hard it is for my African American friends to lose yet another brother. At the same time, it is not acceptable for me to silently stand by and watch others suffer. 

How can I say I’m not a racist? 

I go out of my way to be kind to people of all different shapes and sizes, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income level or the many ways that we humans perceive others to be “different.” In fact, I appreciate and enjoy diversity, and enjoy learning about the experiences and backgrounds of all people. Philosophically, I believe that we are all one, and that if I hurt you, I hurt myself.  To the degree that I treat you with love and respect, I receive love and respect.

But that is not enough! I am embarrassed to admit that I have never actually sacrificed anything in the area of racism. 

I have not taken a risk to stand up for someone who has been hurt by racism; not contributed money to an anti-racism group, nor campaigned for racial justice.

Sure, I enjoy friendships with people of diverse backgrounds. 

I feel blessed to be able to stop and talk with all people when I go for my daily walks. I have tried to educate myself by reading books, blogs and watching movies so I might understand. My grandchildren have Aboriginal and Asian ancestry. But, that does not mean that I know anything about anyone else’s personal experience when it comes to racial discrimination. 

I need to highlight that last sentence. I cannot know what it feels like to grow up in different coloured skin.

 I don’t understand what racial discrimination feels like. I have not had to live with fear every day of my life. I can only imagine what it is like to know that I and my loved ones could be killed because of our ethnicity. 

I wish I could say that it doesn’t exist in Canada

Saying that it doesn’t makes me part of the problem. It means that I can relax in my comfortable whiteness and do nothing to change the status quo. 

I have just googled “Racism in Canada” for the first time. I should have done that long ago.

I challenge you to take a look of what life in Canada means for a person of colour. Racism is in our DNA, and unless we acknowledge it, it will stay there, just under the surface, where we are comfortably unaware of its impact.

One of the things that I teach in my courses and workshops is how to surface our hidden mistaken beliefs

Rooting them out, and challenging them is the beginning of change. Racism is surely one of them on a national level! I am part of the problem unless I am actively working to change the way that we deal with racism in our country. This quote from Scott Woods says it much better than I can: 

The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. 

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.” 

Our country was “established” as a racist country the minute that the first white explorers “discovered” Canada.

How can you discover something that is already populated? Hmmm, there’s a little piece of my white privilege ignorance. Canada wasn’t discovered, it was plundered. And I have to own that my ancestors were the culprits. 

Race wasn’t even a word until the white explorers in the 1600’s conquered Indigenous societies around the world in the race for riches.  

This came as Europe raped and pillaged distant lands in order to add to their own wealth. In order to do this, the Europeans had to see the Indigenous people as less than, other, a lesser race. This is our heritage as people of privilege. 

When my province of B.C. entered the Confederation of Canada in 1872, many people of colour, including First Nations people were denied the vote.  

In 1876, Residential schools were established by the government by a move called “The Indian Act.” This was a blatant effort to rob Indigenous people of their heritage; their language, spiritual practices and family ties. In the present time, Canadian aboriginal people are still healing from the generational wounds inflicted by the residential schools. While some meagre financial reparations have been made, so much more needs to be done to repair and restore a proud heritage. 

In 1939, thousands of Jewish refugees were denied entry into Canada.

 They were sent back to Europe, and ¾ of them died at the hands of the Nazis. During the same time period, thousands of Japanese people who lived near the coast lost everything they owned. They were forcefully removed from their homes and imprisoned in camps in the interior of BC. In 1988, the Canadian government apologized, and made financial reparations, but again, how do you make up for imposing such trauma on a people?

In 2001, Bill C-36 was passed, which formalized racial profiling at Canadian borders.

 In 2012, Bill C-38 allowed the Federal Government to encroach on First Nation’s land and violate air, water and land rights. 

Yes, we have had incidents of POC (people of colour) being unfairly detained and shot by the police in Canada.

While less frequent than our neighbours to the south, we too, have blood on our hands. 

This is only a partial list. That some of these actions have taken place in my lifetime without me taking action is evidence of my lack of care for my brothers and sisters of different ethnicities.

I publicly apologize for my complicity. Staying silent is no longer an option. Staying ignorant is not acceptable. Staying comfortable in my whiteness is just plain selfish and lazy. We need to make noise, and lots of it in order to make it unsafe for the bullies of the world to continue. 

I am publicly declaring my commitment to do things differently.

To stay informed. To actively campaign for racial and religious equality. To get involved with a group that supports equality for all people. To support these groups with my money and my time.  To continue to educate myself. To speak out long and loud until we have societal and systemic change. 

If you are wondering, like I was, how to help, here are a few suggestions that I have gleaned from others this week:

  1. Ask yourself if you would help someone who was being attacked verbally or physically by someone else? Would you have the courage to speak out, or remain silent out of fear?
  2. Read, listen, study, learn. I have listed some resources at the bottom of this article. 
  3. Have the difficult conversations. Let your white friends and relatives know that you will not tolerate any kind of discriminatory talk or action. 
  4. Reach out to friends of colour. Let them know that you care about what is going on. 
  5. Share posts, blogs, and books that have impacted you.
  6. Get involved with groups that are trying to bring about change in your community and country.  Put your money and time where your mouth is. 
  7. Stop saying that we are not all in this together! While I am able to enjoy my time of COVID isolation in a comfortable home, with good food being brought to me by loving friends, many are hungry, homeless and living in substandard housing. My lived experience has been one of privilege my entire life, while others have suffered.
  8. Be willing to do the hard thing. To speak out, stand up, put time and money into effecting change.
  9. Share this blog and other pieces. Encourage others to do the same. 
  10.  Listen more and talk less.  Unless we have experienced discrimination, we don’t know what it feels like. To think we do is insulting and presumptuous.
  11.  Look at the groups that we are involved with; our churches, our communities, our hobbies and other activities. Are they predominantly white. Get involved with diverse groups. You can find these in your area by googling Meetups (your city) diversity

This is a long, slow process. It takes commitment to turn the tide of generations of racism.

I commit to being part of the change. I commit to trying to understand and love all involved, including the perpetrators. 

How about you?

Please write back and share your thoughts, feelings and ideas. Let’s work together to change racism in our country and around the world We can do this!

Suggested Resources:

Authors and bloggers: 

Scott Wood: https://www.columbusalive.com/news/20200603/other-columbus-anti-racism-work-is-supposed-to-be-hard?fbclid=IwAR3l9-tCFwPNy17ZBAgkRD2yuOd1tlMl-lPEB4eKx7UxaaD-GYgT7gypXWM

Organizations that promote anti-racism 

In Canada:

https://crescendowork.com/workplace-inclusion-blog/2020/5/30/anti-racist-organizations-canada-support-donate

In the U.S.:

http://www.racialequityresourceguide.org/organizations/organizations/sectionFilter/Racial%20Healing

Resources:

This is a comprehensive list of great articles, blogs, books, podcasts and TV programs; 

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/preview?pru=AAABcp-O_tA*KXXLXsZPoSfXnEWyAGyMyg

Books: 

  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine
  • Heavy: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon
  • How to be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi 
  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
  • My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin
  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward
  • he New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Michelle Alexander
  • They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement, by Wesley Lowery
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson

Many more are listed here: https://bookshop.org/lists/antiracist-reading-list

References:

https://bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/SocialJustice/Issues/Antiracism/RacismTimeline.pdf
https://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/m_blog/dont-believe-the-hype-canada-is-not-a-nation-of-cultural-tolerance
https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/pm-trudeau-called-to-go-beyond-pretty-words-on-racism-in-canada-1.4965923
https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/statement-anti-black-racism-canada-time-face-truth

Bctf

https://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/m_blog/dont-believe-the-hype-canada-is-not-a-nation-of-cultural-tolerance
https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/pm-trudeau-called-to-go-beyond-pretty-words-on-racism-in-canada-1.4965923
https://bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/SocialJustice/Issues/Antiracism/RacismTimeline.pdf

(https://nationalpost.com/opinion/vanmala-subramaniam-before-you-declare-canada-is-not-a-racist-country-do-your-homework)

6 thoughts on “How Can I Say I’m Not a Racist?”

  1. Judy Cochrane

    Excellent article. Thank you for reminding me of racism in Canada and giving good ideas on how to help. We are part of the problem unless we do something!

    1. Hi, Judy, thank you for your kind response. Yes, if we want to see change, we all need to be involved. Bullies only get away with being cruel if the rest of us stand by and say nothing. I love you!

  2. Great post Arlene, just loved it.
    I will make a point of looking up some of the books you referenced.
    I am often filled with a sense of gratitude, particularly at my work place, for the many ethnic groups I work with.
    Translink has done a great job creating inclusivity.
    As a transit operator, I have witnessed much on my bus, and unfortunately I can’t tell you how many time’s over 12 years I have witnessed a racial slur, or outright attack.
    Haters seem to gravitate to the confines of a bus, thinking they can take people hostage, while spewing hate.
    More than once, I have pulled over, thrown doors open, and invited someone to step off, because racism while not be tolerated on my bus.
    It has resulted in some tense moments to say the least, even had a punch thrown at me, lol.
    I pray the current unrest will result in a global rejuvenation, and that there will be a sense of unification never seen before.
    Haters will always be amongst us, maybe we can drown them out??
    Love Carey

    1. Carey, I love that you have the courage to challenge those who hate. I know it can’t be easy, and may even get you into trouble with your supervisor. But, we all play a part in making our public spaces safe for all people. I love you!

  3. Laysha Robertson

    Thank you Arlene for your well researched & thoughtful presentation. There is much to ponder about. Am I racist? I didn’t think I was but I will think about it from this article’s perspective.
    I do believe we are all equal human beings.
    Hmmmm!

    1. Hi, Laysha. There is so much that I have learned about speaking out and getting involved. Silence is part of the problem. I desperately want to see change in my lifetime. I am committed to doing my part. I am so glad that you are too. I love you!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *