On Doing Better

Book cover of The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole

There are many ways to support Black Lives Matter. My way, right now, is to use my social media feeds and to purchase books written by black authors.

The Mayor of Washington, DC used her power to support the movement in an awesome way. As the US President dog-whistled white supremacists with inane words, Muriel Bowser made a statement that even he couldn’t miss.

Giant yellow letters reading BLACK LIVES MATTER painted on the street leading to the White House.
This is the street leading to the White House.

I consider myself fairly evolved. Pretty woke. But I’m recognizing the work I still need to do. I’m currently reading The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole and I’m noticing and analyzing my reaction to it.

Cole takes the year 2017, month by month, and documents black Canadians’ struggle for racial equality. He reminds us of incidents we’d forgotten and tells us about others we never knew. I found myself bristling at his descriptions of this “white supremacist” country, which is what we non-racists tend to do. (I couldn’t tell you what a racist would do, besides not bother to read this excellent book.) It’s a reflex that happens without thinking. My brain would create a justification or different perspective on various things and I’d have to stop myself and think, “This is his story. HIS truth. Just accept it and learn.”

This is one of the things we’re finally driving into our consciousnesses. We’ve imposed our own realities onto others whose lives are very different. It’s what I’m doing my best to stop, on a personal level. It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, but neither is anything else worth doing. Discomfort leads to growth.

cartoon wherein one character holds up a sign that reads Black Lives Matter and the other tells him, all lives matter. The first character explains that it's like saying "save the rainforest". You don't respond by saying, "save all forests". All forests have value but one needs our focus right now.

My biggest takeaway so far from reading, listening and learning is about something I’ve done unintentionally that’s hurtful to my black friends. By responding to racist incidents with, “I can’t BELIEVE this is still happening”, I’m telling black people, “I don’t see you. I don’t get it and I don’t believe it unless it’s right in my face”. Expressing surprise over racist acts is a denial of the reality for people who see it, feel it, endure it every day. It’s white privilege illuminated.

This is similar to comparing Canada’s racism problem favourably to the situation in the U.S. When we say, it’s not like it is in the States, or, it’s not as bad here, we’re also denying the reality of it for so many Canadians.

I didn’t know. Now I do and I’ll do better.

I’m about one-third of the way into Desmond’s book and I’m so glad I chose it. It’s not as if this is the first book I’ve read about racism, or by a black Canadian, or that made me feel uncomfortable about my own reactions. But there’s much more to The Skin We’re In than a documentation of incidents of racism. Learning about the way Desmond Cole was treated by The Toronto Star alone is worth the cover price. (He used to be a columnist at the paper.)

I’ll continue to read, seek out documentaries, and follow along on social media with my mouth shut and my heart open. I’ll try as hard as I can not to impose my own biases on the stories I’m told. I promise to learn, be a better advocate, and a part of the solution. Black Lives Matter. What are you going to do?

5 thoughts on “On Doing Better”

  1. What am I going to do?

    Well ever since the loss of my sight, skin colour has never made any difference to me over the years. But what I’ve learned over that same time is that “the most prevalent and pervasive form of systemic discrimination is one of perception”, I’m going to listen, observe and watch as we make the same mistakes again. Calling on governments to eliminate racism will achieve nothing. Oh sure we can review and more effectively educate and train law enforcement personnel, but this issue and others like it are an attitudinal problem within society and the diversity of our cultural beliefs which have to change and only society itself can do that.

    If you simply set out to eliminate racism, then your merely addressing a symptom for without addressing the underlying problem of discrimination your efforts will likely be in vein, for discrimination is colour blind.

  2. But Allan, the underlying issues are being addressed. Job one is to convince those who are skeptical that Canada has systemic racism that it actually exists. This is how change can happen. You need society on board with recognizing the need for change. It’s one step at a time. The system wasn’t formed overnight and it won’t get dismantled overnight.

    1. But Lisa, the underlying issues aren’t being addressed for there not even understood.

      Racism is a symptom founded in discrimination. The issues being associated with racism are the same issues being encountered by persons with a disability which is simply a horse of a different colour. Discrimination in all its forms is woven into the very fabric of society and it is based in perception and how we perceive things and the decisions on which they are based.

      Society consistently perceives symptoms as problems and seeks to address them while leaving the true problem alone to manifest a new symptom and that’s what were doing now, again. Address a symptom, you spend a lifetime, address the problem you do it but once!

      The black, Asian and other communities are all equally discriminative towards persons with a disability and I’ve encountered it in the nearly 4 decades since I lost my sight. For at one time I was a privileged white man, now I stand on the other side of the fence.

      Canadian society needs to acknowledge that discrimination in all its forms is prevalent in the very fabric of society and not just racism. For human beings will take the easiest path to appease and find closure without resolution.

  3. I attended the rally on the weekend and listened…really listened. I called people out on their white privilege and was verbally abused. I bought an ebook to educate myself. I recognize my privilege and vow to learn. I made eye contact with one of the marchers as I stood watching with my sign. We locked eyes, she nodded at me, I nodded back. It was a powerful moment that I will never forget. I will never understand, but I will stand beside BIPOC.

    1. Awesome, Leigh. I’m not surprised that you would put effort into this, too. You are damn good people!

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