Racism

I have been meaning to write for a few weeks about this topic ever since the death of Heather Heyer. Alas I have once again found myself with health issues – I have experienced my 1st ever root canal – yippee!!  NOT. Talk about pain!! And then a 3rd cold where I was sick to the point that I paid a visit to emerg since I was having laboured breathing.  I had bronchial spasms although the cause is not clear – do I now have asthma?  I certainly hope not.  I have only once in my life had bronchitis from my memory.  I seem to have gotten this from a trip to Zimbabwe several years ago now.  It wasn’t particularly dry & dusty conditions where I was for 3 weeks but enough I guess to irritate my lungs.

In any event, the topic of racism  or should I say anti-racism is dear to my heart.  As many Canadians of my generation and socio-economic status I grew up in an essentially completely white suburb.  As I was in a program where ½ my classes were in French, the other ½ in English, my French teachers were mainly from Haiti, with one being from Belgium.  I think you can guess who were the Black teachers and who was the white one.

This certainly didn’t make me ‘aware’ of race.  Too young for that and of course too oblivious to being enveloped in the cloak of white privilege (unearned advantage based on race) although I don’t think it was called that back then.  Of course there were race & ethnic divisions in Quebec that I became aware of in my teens and early adulthood– mainly towards the Indigenous Peoples, e.g. the Cree whose territory was being used to build the Hydro Quebec dams, and Jewish people.

I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to partake in a student exchange in my last year of high school where a group of us spent a few weeks in an Inuit community near Hudson’s Bay, Inukjuak, which lay far beyond the tree line.  Needless to say it was a transformative experience.  After that trip I remember meeting up and hanging out with some members of the community as they came to Mtl for medical treatment.  I have to say I don’t recall any education about the genocide of First Nations.  We learned more about their traditional way of life which was still practiced albeit using modern implements, e.g. hunting using skidoos aka snowmobiles and guns. I will never forget being amazed at how we would travel on the snow plains and would never get lost even though for me it was sea of white.

I don’t think my race education expanded much beyond this until I went to Australia after I graduated from uni and began my path of activism learning about environmental, peace and human rights issues.  Learning about the genocide of the Australian Aborigines by the british colonizers was profound.  Isn’t it always the case that when one travels one tends to learn a lot about other countries.  Eventually one’s focus returns to one’s home country to finally learn about the shit that went down thanks to the European colonizers and subsequent settler peoples.  In Oz I was introduced to John Pilger, http://johnpilger.com, one of my journalist and documentary film maker heroes.  He is right up there with Noam Chomsky & Howard Zinn.

I used to be mystified at how Quebecers could be so racist, despite the fact that they feel shit upon by the English Canadians.  A phenomena of humanity I will always find saddening and frustrating is that when we as a group feel wronged we in turn attack those who are not the actual cause of this discrimination like the powerful people/institutions (are we that stupid or too scared?) but instead attack a group that has even less power, you know the scapegoat phenomenon.

My race awakening pertaining to Black folks truly came when I went to Philly to be an intern at a community activist training organization, Training for Change (I highly recommend their trainings, https://www.trainingforchange.org/).  I ended up living in a neighbourhood nestled between the upper middle class ivy league universities (of course mainly white) and the working class & poor neighbourhood (populated by Blacks mainly).  I witnessed a few incidents and heard 1st hand accounts of violence in the neighbourhood in which I lived, acts committed by folks from the poorer neighbourhood.  But I also remember so clearly that I told myself I would not then jump to the conclusion that Black folk, men in particular, were to be feared. As a sociologist I knew there were significant structural factors at play.  I also have happy memories of this time, riding on the public transit system trains being usually the only white person and listening to the folks talk to each other rather loudly and often across other people, laughing and chiding each other in fun, or observing as many folks would be reading their bible.  Of course I felt odd each time but I was simply getting a taste of what it was like as a person of colour to step outside of their home and to have to face every day the dangers of the white world.

In my internship I had the opportunity to partake in many trainings using different modalities of transformational learning to explore the topic of race and racism.  Some of these workshops were multi-ethnic but others were for whites only. In the former case I will never forget that at one point in the workshop we were divided into our own racial groups and had a session to be with our ‘own people’.  We could hear the other people of colour groups laughing.  Our white group was in contrast incredibly somber – the white guilt just oozed out of people and made for unpleasant exchanges as people spoke out from this place with anger and sadness. I have to admit I felt out of sorts since at this time I just couldn’t relate to their experiences being from Canada.  It was such an eye opener.

The issue of race is often played out differently in the north of turtle island – you know the nice, reserved, polite and quiet manner – the legacy of the brit culture.  Don’t be expressive, don’t be loud, don’t engage in conflict.  Alas this type of more subtle racism is often the worst since it is denied.  White privilege is denied.  Going there as they say, exploring one’s racism, is very uncomfortable.  Well for fuck sakes how do you think it feels on a daily basis to fear the racism directed towards you especially when those perpetrating the racism are so oblivious to it.  Get over it and get uncomfortable.

An analogy comes to mind.  So many folks deny that they could commit horrible acts if placed into certain situations, e.g. kill someone who is about to kill a loved one.  As with racism, white folks deny that they engage in it – why they couldn’t possibly be engaging in behaviours that are so disrespectful and demeaning – that are so mean.  Well they do and again and again.  Accept the fact that maybe you aren’t such a nice person after all, but you can become a better person if you uncover your white privilege, and give up your unearned privilege.

“Privilege is saving confederacy statues because they’re ‘historic’ but bulldozing through ancient sacred sites and artifacts for pipelines” unknown source.  This is so true. This equally applies to Canada.  Case in point, the statue of Cornwallis in Halifax.  I have had the privilege of learning about and partaking in sacred ceremonies pertaining to burial sites of the Original Peoples (OP).  Often burial sites were along the shores of the ocean or rivers.  There aren’t any markers but oral histories provide the facts as well as archaeological excavations.  The latter have had to take place, that is if/when the associated OP could pay for this, when property ‘owners’ were wanting to construct say a dock or some other shoreline development.  The hypocrisy for me was so profound.  Most folks would be up in arms if anyone or group of people were to disturb Christian cemeteries.  But there was never an outcry for the burial sites of the OP. So only if bone fragments were found would the development not be allowed to proceed.

I could go on and on about this topic.  I will finish with something that is important to me as someone who according to the dominant colonial state owns property.  When I bought my farm I already knew that I wanted to somehow bequeath it back to the Original Peoples, and failing that, then I wanted to live on the land as caretakers, making sure it would be passed down to others who would also be caretakers.  In my teaching, where I incorporate some component of race/racism, I attempt to get my students to consider the legacy of their families – from where did the legacy begin if their ancestors were part of the settler peoples.  Did they get ‘free’ land? Most would have. And yes some family members may have squandered the family legacy but the fact would remain they were given something that did not belong to them and this helped their family prosper.  This is not to say that I was trying to get my students and their families to give up the land to which they had title.  OP aren’t seeking this.  If my students were more recent immigrants, say since WWI or II, and would be considered white then how has being white helped them to be where they are today. Peggy McIntosh’s white privilege exercise is a fantastic tool to explore this, https://www.csusm.edu/sjs/documents/UnpackingTheKnapsack.pdf.  What is being sought is a recognition, an acknowledgement of how being white has helped them in visible and invisible ways. Then from this place of white privilege become part of the fight against racism.  White people need to get their white brothers and sisters to stop the racism.  It will never end if we expect the people of colour to end it.

On a related matter just wanted to pass along some things to check out: Kudos to: https://www.redneckrevolt.org/, https://sub.media/, and Mark Bray of Dartmouth College and his new book Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook.

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One Response to Racism

  1. Caryn Duncan says:

    Great stuff, Wilma. Thanks for your insight and for sharing the common “wealth.”

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