featured Racism

Shauna Swinimer: Nice white people aren’t racist, right?

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – As Canadians, we sat helplessly by and watched the mainstream political ideology change so drastically in the United States. We shook our heads, we made a few light jokes and we found comfort in the fact that we don’t have any of these issues in Canada. Canadians are too polite to get behind such racist ideology, we have “free” health care, and we care for our neighbours. We simply couldn’t be ignorant enough to fall for any of that rhetoric because our public education system is far superior.

Photo Robert Devet

We are Canadian. We have convinced ourselves that we didn’t enslave a single person and produced a Heritage Minute proudly touting ourselves as the Underground Railroad’s ultimate destination. We have a reasonably harmonious relationship with our indigenous peoples, don’t we? Besides, if they could just get over the past, things would be a lot better for them. I mean, Americans even pretend to be Canadian when they travel abroad because we have a reputation for being so kind.

Race makes us uncomfortable. We have used these excuses and opted out of tough discussions for our entire lives. We have gotten away with this because we live in a society where most others look like us, the people teaching us look like us, and the people making the rules look like us. When a person of color musters up the courage to speak to us about issues of race or inequality, we tell them that their experience was just one bad experience. We aren’t all like that, trust me, we are nice people.

This ability to slough off someone’s horrific personal experience stems from our need to mitigate our own uncomfortable feelings. We get defensive; as humans tend to do when they feel attacked. Why should someone pointing out their personal experience with injustice make us feel so attacked? No one called you a racist, a Nazi, or any of those things, they recounted a story from their point of view and you felt a need to passionately explain it away. You used your power as part of the majority voice to silence theirs. Why do you do this? What is inside you that you have yet to face? Are you scared that you might have to give something up?

Why is everything always about race anyway? Well, because for people of color living in this society most everything is about race. If you are part of the majority, you wouldn’t know this, unless you were willing to listen. This unwillingness to listen comes from a lifetime of messaging. We are being conditioned to believe that it is bad to talk about race and good to not see colour. Is this really something we can honestly declare, like with a straight face?

It is harmful and does nothing to address the root cause of racial tensions. You have now missed an opportunity to build a bridge, and worst of all, you have caused further harm to people of color; and therefore, society as a whole. You have missed an opportunity to welcome friendship and compassion into your life. This piece likely won’t change any minds, you know all of this already; and this is a call to action for you to do better.

We are better together and if you open up your heart and your mind, you will see that people who are fighting against their own oppression will fight alongside you too. Oppression is the enemy, and we are used to perpetuate it. So unless you are doing the work to undo what you have been taught, you are part of the problem.

Racism exists in Canada. It is systemic and it is sneaky. Ignoring it in hopes that it will go away should no longer be seen as an acceptable solution. Fear or Friendship, it’s your choice.

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