Whoa! Before you ask wtf do I know about racism? True enough…as a white woman, I have never had the first-hand experience of being racially discriminated against. That does not mean I have not witnessed it.
My first experience with racism happened when I was in about grade two, and I wouldn’t recognize it as racial experience until I was a few years older. For the life of me I can’t remember if it was an adult or some older kids who taught me the rhyme. It was the rhyme you say when your picking someone to be It in a game of Tag. (Side thought….do kids still play this game? I can’t remember the last time I saw a group of kids play Tag..) Anyway…. the rhyme was eenie meenie minie mo. I didn’t really understand the rhyme other than it rhymed and ended with, my mother said to pick the very best one and you are not it. It was either my Brownie leader or a teacher who overheard me saying it and told me that the proper verse was eenie meenie minie mo, catch a tiger by the toe.
That made sense to me…I knew what a tiger was, I had no idea what a (n word) was. Regardless of me not knowing what the n word represented, it was the early seventies and ashamedly the language was still prevalent among adults in my life. I learned or figured out the connection between the word and black people at some point shortly after that incident. More years would have to pass before I learned that the use of that particular word was derogatory and racist.
Fast forward to grade 6 or 7 science class when we learned about skin pigments. How some people whose families had come from other parts of the world had different skin pigments. This was hereditary and had no effect on the physicality or mental capacity of any any human. As humans, we were pretty much all the same biologically with only minor differences in the way we look based on the characteristics of our parents. It was also around the same time that in learning about Roman and Greek mythology, I had started to question what I had been told about God. I started to question a lot of things my parents had told me…please note, I did not have the kind of parents at the time who took time to teach me anything. I was told things without explanation and expected to believe them because “I told you so”.
So, as you can imagine, I was starting to doubt just how knowledgeable my parents really were. And though I already had very little respect for my mother (that’s a whole other story and too long to get into right now), I had never been ashamed of her until my next personal experience in racism happened.
I had a friend in school, her name was Rita. She was beautiful and funny and so nice. She never picked on other kids in school and didn’t belong to any groups that did. She lived just down the same block across the street from me. She hadn’t always been my friend. I hung out with a group of group of girls that she had not been a part of. That is, until I had been tossed to curb by them for liking the same boy as one of the other girls. The other girl was Vickie and even though we had been best friends, she turned ugly on me…calling me names or pretending I didn’t exist. Keep in mind we were 11 at the time. I wasn’t stealing her boyfriend, he wasn’t anyone’s boyfriend, he was just a cute boy in class. Besides, at 11, I was so shy I had no game to make moves on him even if I had maliciously intended to take him away from her (which I didn’t).
I digress…let’s get back to Rita. The friendly girl in my class who saw I was being picked on and offered her friendship to me. Now comes the time when I have to mention that Rita was of East Indian descent. On her way to school, she would stop by my house, and then we would walk to school together. We would hang out at recesses and walk home together. My mom would rarely be up in the morning when we left for school. She worked as well, so she was rarely home when we got home. One morning she was up though. Rita picked me up as usual and because my mom was up, she said good morning to my mom. My mom said good morning back and we left happily to go to school. Later that evening my mother informed me that Rita was not welcome at our house. When I asked her why not, she said, “I just can’t stand those white eyes and white teeth saying “good morning Mrs. Tanchyk.” My mom used a sneering voice when she mimicked my friend. I took great offense to this. It was obvious my mother disliked my friend solely based on the color of her skin and from what I had learned in school, this was a wrong and unfair judgement. I called her on it and said if Vickie (who was white and also had white eyes and teeth) had said the same thing, she’d be saying what a polite little girl Vickie was. She wholehearted agreed. That was when I knew my mom, without a doubt, was a racist, that she knew it and was somehow proud of it.
For a short time after that, I would go over to Rita’s house to play as I made up excuses for why we couldn’t play at my house. That is until my mom decided that banning Rita from the house wasn’t enough and she forbade me from seeing Rita outside of school. I never told Rita the reason why we couldn’t play together, only that I wasn’t allowed. I’m sure that probably wasn’t the first time or the last that she was racially discriminated against and my feeble attempts to save her feeling were probably very ineffective.
Fast forward a few more years to a conversation I had with my stepfather. So, I’d known for some time that my mother was a racist but I had never heard my stepfather say anything derogatory toward any class or ethnicity and presumed he did not share my mother’s views. My mom wasn’t home and it was just me and him talking in the kitchen. I honestly can’t remember how the subject came up because I would have been 13 or 14 at the time of this conversation and was not dating. It could have been an episode of the Jeffersons but somehow the subject of inter-racial marriage came up. My stepfather informed me that if I ever married a black man, he would not come to the wedding or have anything to do with me or any children I had. I was confused and horrified. He went on to say that it was because if I did marry a black man, I could have white children who carried the black gene. That the black gene might show up in my granddaughter’s children. She could have a black baby and as such, her white husband would think she cheated on him and hurt her… and then how would I feel? Yes! He was that specific in his reasoning. (It also goes to show you how prevalent domestic violence was at that time too.)
So let’s just break that argument down to see if it makes any sense. If I were to marry a man with black skin, no matter what his character may be, my stepfather would have nothing to do with me because it would be a selfish act on my part, that I would have no regard for my future generations and as such would not be deserving of his love and support. I don’t know what the odds are of having a baby with black skin if your skin is white, your husbands skin is white, your parents were white and your grandfather was black, let’s just presume for the sake of argument that yes, it is possible. Then we have to assume that my granddaughter would marry an abusive asshole (white) who would automatically jump to the conclusion that the kid is not his despite the fact she has a black grandfather and then beat her for it without taking a paternity test if she insists the kid is his! Remember, my stepfather would disown me and disregard my family on the chance that the above may come to pass. And that I would be selfish one. Nah, I don’t buy it. That’s just racism hiding behind the phrase “I’m not a racist, I have legitimate concerns”.
There are so many more instances in my life where I have witnessed racism and still do but this isn’t about me. In short, my personal experience has taught me that racism does exist, and that it can be both outright hate (as with my mother) or disguised as fear (as with my stepfather). We saw both of those different types of racism show themselves violently this year at the hands of police who are sworn to protect and serve (and apparently trained to keep a cool head in tense situations), with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Let me point out that in George Floyd’s case his alleged crime was passing a counterfeit $20 at a convenience store. In Breonna Taylor’s case, it was suspected that she was hiding drugs and money for her ex-boyfriend. Neither one of these alleged crimes should have led to a death sentence.
To try and argue that racism doesn’t exist in our systems, especially our legal systems is futile. To say racism did not play a part in Mr. Floyd’s and Ms. Taylor’s deaths is to ignore the disproportionate amount of Black men and women who are killed or handed harsher sentences for the same crimes as their white counterparts in their legal system. This shit has been going on for centuries and it needs to stop. If you think I’m purporting that we need to get rid of cops, you’re wrong. I just don’t believe that anyone is above the law especially those who are tasked with keeping us under it. Both Mr. Floyd and Ms. Taylor died due to no fault of their own. They deserve justice as does everyone under a fair and equal system. Black lives do matter. Lets make it so.
I’ve used two examples of racism and the ultimate in negative outcomes as a result of it….leading to someone’s untimely demise….from the United States. I’ve used these examples because they were the prominent stories of racism that everyone around the world heard, talked and argued about this year. This does not mean that racism only exists in the United States. It exists everywhere and not only against Black people. In Canada, in my view, it seems most prominent against Indigenous Peoples. And the laughable part is its because of some misinformed belief that Indigenous Peoples get more privileges and handouts than the hard working white folks whose ancestors stole their land. Many aboriginals, like the ancestors of slaves in the United States, live in poverty and crimes against them go under investigated. They too suffer abuse at the hands of police. They too are overly discriminated against in our criminal system. It would be remiss of me to talk about racism without including the injustices that are continually done to the Indigenous Peoples of our country due to ignorance and racism. It too has gone on for far too long and needs to stop. Aboriginal lives matter. Lets make it so.
I could go on with examples of every racially marginalized people in Canada and throughout the world but I think I’ve made my point. My point being that until this paragraph from the Canadian Constitution is accepted as truth by all and applied accordingly…
- 15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
…we still have work to do. Lets make it so.
Until next time, keep yourselves in love,