The events of what has happened and is happening are still in process for me. This past Thursday (June 4th 2020) was one of the first days I could really think about the magnitude of what has happened. I can’t articulate everything I feel so far, but here is some of what I’ve been thinking about.
Here we go…..I wrote this on June 4th 2020.
We are talking. We are listening. We are speaking.
When you read this, I have directions for you. What!?! You may be saying something like, “We haven’t even gotten past the first paragraph and she is giving us directions?”
Yep. Just trust me on this one. I think it will be worth it.
Step 1. Get your phone timer out…
Step 2. When you read this and have the thought to respond with a “yeah, I hear you but…” Or a “yeah, but what about….” It’s okay….
I think one of the key things here is to just sit with that impulse for a minute. Please try to listen, but if you feel you need to interject, I have a few ideas. Here are a few options: Say nothing while silently nodding; say “Wow, that’s Shit, I’m so sorry”; say “Fucking eh, fuck man, I didn’t know that”; or use a simple gesture to touch your head and then your heart while breathing deeply. Please keep in mind these are optional responses.
Step 3. Let’s say you are finished this reading. (Thank you for reading by the way and good for you for not getting distracted). Take your timer, set it for 5 minutes, and during that time don’t respond with any words. Don’t do anything. After reading don’t do anything. Try to make listening the whole experience of reading this. This is hard. I will also try to listen as the main experience when we are talking about this later. We could even try together.
I am using a question and answer format in the hopes that it is less awkward for both of us. Being awkward is uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is not a good feeling. We all don’t want to feel uncomfortable. We don’t want to think that we are wrong about something. It sucks. It doesn’t make us feel good. I am included in this. I often think I know more than I actually do and I feel like shit afterwards. Captain Obvious over here… Okay let’s get back to this thing. Questions and answers. Rapid Fire. Here we go!
Question 1: Have you ever felt like you were treated differently because of the colour of your skin?
Answer 1: Yes. I do feel like that. I have felt it both as a child and adult. To be specific, there have been multiple times where I was called a nigger. In elementary school other children explicitly said that they couldn't play with me because I was a nigger. I try to forget that this happened. I try not to think about it. I think it is common that Black and Indigenous people to attempt to forget moments like this. Fighting back, or speaking up, can result in what we have seen for decades in both America and Canada. Broadcasting circumstances like the one above tends to ruffle feathers, which again, is uncomfortable for everyone. Complacency is easier. Complacency ensures that no one gets upset besides the person that was originally hurt.
Question 2: This is an American problem. This doesn’t happen here in Canada..…Right???
Answer 2: Wrong… The history of slavery and the taking of Indigenous land is minimally documented and was not in my school’s history curriculum. It was not a part of my Canadian education. I’m sure for many of us we think because we didn’t learn it - it didn’t happen. Well, it happened. When it comes to what I teach - post secondary arts education - Black and Indigenous dance history is only now becoming an important issue. Some universities are concerned about these issues…others are not. That conversation will be one for another time. Anyways, If you need proof please look up the Canadian Rights Museum, or even Google “Canada’s slavery secret.” Sorry to break the bad news in case you thought it didn’t happen here.
Police prejudice is here in Canada as well. If I were to take my experience of living in Eastern Canada and the southern United States, I would say that racism is more internal in Canada and external in the States. For instance, in the middle of an audition for an arts program here in Canada, a white person in a position of power asked me rhetorically, in an apologetic voice, “People like you don’t really last for a long time in the program. Are you sure you want to come here?” In the United States, you don’t go to certain areas of town because you will be in danger - approached, harassed, even shot at - if you have brown or black skin. The severity of these situations is different, but the underlying impulse is the same.
Question 3: Has there ever a been a time when you feared for your life because of a police encounter?
Answer 3: I have not had a significant police encounter in my life yet. Notice I said the word “yet.” It is an unspoken rule that I need to watch what I say and do because it is likely that I will not be treated the same if I were to have an encounter with the police. It is likely that if I feel ill on the street, I would not be treated the same as you or your friend. It is likely that if I was in some kind of verbal or physical dispute on the street, I would not be treated the same as you or your friend.
It happens here people. Sadly this shit isn’t only in our neighbours yard, it is in your backyard as well. So what do we do???
What if we consider this fight against systemic racism as a marathon? What if we believe in this fight for more than a week? What if we commit to being in it for the long haul?
We are going to need community. We are going to need to be together. We will need each other.
Okay……. set your timer……..