How often do you think about the colour of your skin?
If you’re white like me and live in Canada, my guess is that your answer is probably rarely. I may think about my whiteness every few weeks or months. If you ask a person of colour this same question you will likely hear they regularly think about their skin colour — perhaps every day. The reason is that they live in a world of ‘white privilege’ and wonder whether the words, actions or decisions by others have anything to do with their skin colour.
- When they apply for a job, was the decision about who was appointed based on the colour of their skin?
- When someone is rude to them, was it because they aren’t white?
- When a person cuts in front of them, was it because they don’t look like most people in their community?
I don’t wonder whether my skin colour is the reason I am stopped at the highway check stop, if someone doesn’t speak to me in the store, or if I am bypassed for service at a coffee bar. There are surely reasons for all of these things happening, but it’s not because I’m white.
Maybe you’re thinking that I’m exaggerating or perhaps even completely wrong. If that’s the case, you’re wrong. Racism exists — it’s in our stores, in our offices and in our schools. People of colour experience it — they also think about it regularly — more than a person who is white.
“OK, so we still have a long ways to go in our society to build equality. I get that. But, that doesn’t make ME a racist. I don’t do anything because of a person’s skin colour. I’m not part of the problem.”
Hmmmm … are you sure?
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This is a difficult topic — both to discuss with you, but also in finding the words to do so. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve deleted whole paragraphs and started again.
- How do I communicate what I really want to say about this topic?
- How do I make it relevant?
- How do I keep it succinct yet powerful?
I’m not sure I’ve got it right, but I’m sharing it now anyways. Racism needs to be acknowledged, understood and challenged.
It’s time to talk!
How about a few examples of racist comments. Racism can be subtle or ‘hit-you-between-the-eyes’ bold:
Minimizing racism by comparing it to other issues:
- “It’s true that maybe they’ve experienced racism, but I’m ________ (fill in the blank with any particular group) and feel like I’ve been discriminated against as well.”
- “These people just need to get over it. I can’t believe they are still talking about this after all these years.”
And some are really ignorant:
- “I feel disrespected as a white person. It’s time for me to stand up for my own rights.”
Racism is a topic that can alienate people — likely because they don’t feel like they are part of the problem, or they feel that racism really isn’t an issue. And, therein lies the big challenge — having people actually acknowledge that racism is real and that they need to play a role in eliminating it.
If you are steadfast in your belief that, “I’m not racist, nor do I do things that could be construed as racist”, then this post isn’t for you, because you’re not ready to be part of the solution — your mind is closed.
But, if you’re open to really exploring it then let’s begin …
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My daughter is studying to become a counsellor. She has an innate ability to connect with others, and in particular with children — I view her as a “child whisperer”. In her studies, they have been discussing microaggressions and she thought it would make a great blog topic. She was right!
Let’s start with a definition:
MICROAGGRESSION – A term used for commonplace daily verbal, behavioural or environmental slights, whether intentional or not, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative attitudes towards stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups.
Remember, they can be intentional or unintentional slights. The important part is that they communicate negativity.
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