Sunday, June 7, 2020

Watching, listening & learning

I've been debating what (if anything) I should post about the recent events in Minneapolis (a city/area where I have lots of family) and elsewhere in the U.S.  Others -- including Cristy (here and here), Noemi, Jjiraffe, Ana, Sue, and Mrs. Spit -- have already posted about this, far more eloquently & sensitively than I fear I can.  

One point I can add to the conversation:  a lot of Canadians like to think that we're better than the U.S. when it comes to racism. But we really don't have anything to brag about.  We have our own less-than-stellar history, most notably in terms of the indigenous population, but also with black people and other people of colour too. (Read about Viola Desmond, or Africville in Halifax, for starters.) (This piece, from this weekend's Globe & Mail, provides a fascinating perspective from a black woman who has roots in, and has lived in, both Canada & the U.S.)  

We also have our own issues with police (mis)treatment of those groups. (Here's a story about some of the most (in)famous cases in Toronto from the past three decades.) The same week that George Floyd was murdered, a woman named Regis Korchinski-Paquete fell from her 24th-floor apartment balcony while police were inside her family’s unit. Did she fall? Did she jump? Was she pushed? The details are still murky, and under investigation.  

Perhaps some Canadians think we don't have a problem with racism because they live in largely white communities where they don't know any or many people of colour, and where things are slow to change. Our cities these days are very multicultural and multiracial, but when I was growing up in small towns on the Canadian Prairies in the 1960s & 70s, it was very rare to see anything but white people (and in some places, it still is). There might have been one Asian family in town that ran a Chinese restaurant. There were just three black students among the 500 attending my high school (I knew their names, but not much else about them). 

One exception:  What we did have in abundance was indigenous peoples (or their relatives, the Metis). Back then, we called them Indians or natives.  Many lived on reservations, and their kids were bussed to school (often from some distance away). There was a residential school on the very edge of the town where we lived when I was in junior & senior high school.  It closed right around the time we moved there, in the early/mid-1970s, and is now being turned into a museum

I have lots of (other) memories & stories about the way things were then, about how my views were shaped, for better and for worse, and about how things have changed, or not. (I've been thinking a lot about these things over the past two weeks. And sometimes cringing.)  I will say that while I recognize that I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn, I like to think that I've made SOME progress over the years. Partly, I think, because I've spent the past 35 years living in one of the country's/world's most diverse cities;  partly because I spent 28 years working for a diverse, multinational corporation, frequently writing about diversity issues and awareness for the company newsletter and other corporate publications. 

Now that I'm outside of the corporate environment (and especially when I travel back to the largely white small towns where I grew up), I find it's startling to hear some of the racist comments (sometimes veiled, sometimes blatant) made by relatives and others. I am ashamed to admit I have not always called people out on their views. Partly because (as I commented recently on someone's blog), I am probably one of the least confrontational people you will ever meet. Partly because I'm far more articulate on paper/screen than I am verbally, on the spot. I've resolved to try to grow a spine and do better in the future. 

I'm used to being an outsider:  we moved every 3-5 years when I was growing up, so I was always "the new girl" in school;  I was "smart" and bookish in schools where sports & athleticism were the gold standard;  I was & still am one of the few/only non-Italians ("mangiacakes") to marry into my husband's Italian immigrant family. I'm a woman, in a world built by men, to benefit men.  And of course, there's nothing like losing a child, going through infertility and/or being childless to make you aware of your own "otherness" and outsider status in a pronatalist world where parenthood is the norm and it's assumed that everyone who wants a child will have one.  

BUT.  I've never been "othered" because of the colour of my skin. A childless woman of colour will still have to deal with others' perceptions of her race, on top of the same sexism & pronatalism I've had to contend with.  That's sad. And unfair. 

I'm not sure what the solution(s) is/are -- but I'm watching, listening and trying to learn. Trying to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem. I'm sure I'm going to make mistakes (I've probably made some right here).  I'll admit I'm not much for marching and waving signs and chanting slogans, even when there's NOT a pandemic on. But reading and educating ourselves about these issues is an easy first step we can all take -- and so I have bought a few books from some of the recommended reading lists I've seen, and dusted off a few more from my TBR pile (maybe this will be the kick in the butt I need to get reading again...!). I have found a few good social media accounts to follow, recommended by bloggers and Instagrammers I respect. And I am looking at some local organizations that I might want to donate to. 

What gives me hope is that I see others around me thinking and talking and posting about what's been going on, and what they can do to help create lasting & meaningful change. I know "hashtag activism" is cheap, and not everyone will go above and beyond the memes and #blackoutTuesday squares they've posted. But some will, and that's progress. 

I'm also encouraged by the numbers of young people I'm seeing at the protests. A young cousin of mine took it upon herself to stage a one-woman protest, holding up a "Black Lives Matter" sign at a busy intersection in her very white suburb near a large west coast U.S. city this week. She said she had a few people yelling rude things at her, but she got far more friendly waves and "thumbs up" gestures and horns honking in approval.  I'm proud of her. 

I'm also hopeful because a couple of the black activists that I've been following have said that THEY are hopeful, that something seems different to them this time around. Read this Vox interview (or listen to the podcast) with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, for example. 

What do you think?  What (if anything) gives you hope for the future? 

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