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My Canadian Racist and White Privilege Education

Having racist thoughts or feelings does not make you a racist. Unless we are unwilling to examine and learn from them and take action. 

The ideal audience for this article is white privilege people including my own family and friends. It is to reflect my own and my ancestors’ cause in the matter of racism, and colonialism. It is my own attempt at truth and reconciliation. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. ~Martin Luther King

Does Having Racist Thoughts and Feelings Make You A Racist?

Definition of racism

1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2a: a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles

b: a political or social system founded on racism

3: racial prejudice or discrimination

White Privilege and Racism the Formative Years

I grew up in the homogenous white Southern Ontario border town of Sarnia; about a one-hour drive north of Detroit Michigan. Racial diversity within the city was limited to a handful of families from a population of about 35,000.

The largest racial minority was a few thousand members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community located to the south of the city limits. There were very few social interactions between whites and the Indigenous peoples of Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

My family and I connected with Aamjiwnaang and other nearby First Nation communities, Walpole Island called Bkejwanong, and Kettle Point and Stoney Creek First Nation Communities through minor hockey.

The Black population of Sarnia consisted of the family who had fruit vegetable wholesale businesses and served the ships that docked at the port. And there were 3 adopted Black children of a white couple. Then there was John and Marian Foster who were born in Southern Ontario. The Foster’s had two daughters. John (Jack) Foster was one of father’s best friends and there were both WW2 veterans served in the Canadian Reserve Army post-war.

The Asian community consisted of a family that owned the local Chinese restaurant. There was also a South Asian doctor and high school teacher and their families.

There was a small Jewish community that included a widow and her 3 boys, one which was my friend.

It was in Sarnia that I got my early lessons in racism. It began with subtle and overt messages by the adults that reinforced negative beliefs of diverse people in my hometown. There were jokes about minorities, hateful and racist words were repeated by myself and childhood friends, my parents, siblings, and others in our communities. Most of the time racist jokes and words were never spoken in the open but behind the backs of racialized people in our town.

As children, we repeated racist rhymes in our childhood games and made derogatory remarks even when some of the diverse people were present. We were in our racist and white privilege formative years and never fathomed the long term negative impact on Indigenous and other racialized people.

When I became an adult, Black people in Canada would say that behind the back that “Canadian” racism hurt and cut deeper than any overt racism they experienced. The reason being that the racist jokes and comments would often come from their “friends” or family, or their own.

Today I look back and try to imagine what it must have been like to the marginalised people and families who lived in my childhood community and had to “breathe racism from birth and beyond.”

My Family the Earliest of Colonist 

Colonization Defined – the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area.

My ancestors on my mother’s side came to Turtle Island (North America) in 1630 or earlier. He was either born on ship or born in Massachusetts upon his arrival.  They fought in the War of Independence and later turned their loyalty from Americans to the British when free land was offered in Canada for “Empire Loyalists.” They occupied land in Ottawa Valley and historically given credit for the white settlement of the Ottawa and the Outaouais regions, eventually became wealthy and part pre-confederation government.

It is certainly interesting to know that my ancestors were part of the earliest theft and occupation of First Nation land in both the United States and Canada.

It takes a highly selective misreading of the evidence to claim that colonialism was anything other than a humanitarian disaster for most of the colonized.

Canada’s Ongoing Special Burden:

In Canada, we have a special burden from racism going back 400 years and the arrival of our first white European ancestors and the destructive effects of colonization. We still have ongoing racism in the mistreatment of Indigenous people. We make racism okay and avoid the guilt and shame of our white ancestors by denying their full humanity. The Indigenous elders, their families, and their families still suffer the impact of emotional, sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuses from the church and government-led residential school system.

Most recently in Canada, there was the release of a government report that investigated the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. I encourage all to read as it lays out the ongoing impact of centuries of systemic racism and the recommended solutions.

The Final of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls  https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/

They were of course not Christians and had pagan religious beliefs. They were “just savages” as they were portrayed in the movies we watched as kids growing up. 

US Civil Rights Movement 1960’s to Present

The intensity of my racist education occurred during the civil rights movement in the US. Each night on the evening news we watched the inhuman treatment of Black people by police and national guard forces. The news coverage was heavily biased and tilted away from peaceful protests and the non-violent messages of Martin Luther King to the ‘angry black man in the streets.

In the early days following the horrible cell phone recorded 8 min and 46 sec murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. The press coverage was the 1960’s all over again.

The focus pivoted away from the tragic loss of a Black man, racism, and police brutality to a small group of Black people rioting and looting in Minneapolis and throughout the US. As it was in the ’60s this reporting gave us white people they cover, they needed to avoid the feeling of guilt and shame over the mistreatment of the entire race of people.

‘SNL’ alum Jay Pharoah says LAPD drew guns, knelt on his neck, and handcuffed him during a jog. https://bit.ly/2AptHad 

Racism Accountability and Forgiveness

Maybe the question to ask yourself is not whether you’re a racist, but how you benefit from a system that subjugates other people.

My white privilege and benefits of colonialism and systemic racism continue today. I have spent considerable time living and working in other cultures; African, Caribbean, South Asian, and Middle East along with many interactions with Indigenous people and other marginalized people in Canada. Everywhere I travelled in Canada and around the world I came to realize I carried an attitude of superiority that originated from my white colonist ancestors and reinforced in the town I grew up with little people of diversity.

I have benefited in small and significant ways. In small ways: living in West Africa and the Caribbean I would be given preferential treatment at events I attended. And little children who scream out toubab (Mandinka for Whiteman) and run out to greet me as I walk through their neighbourhoods in the town I lived in.  In significant ways, my ancestors took over an occupying Indigenous land.

Racism dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressor. No one wins with that way of being.

Calls to Action

. …abandon once and for all their usually inherent and at times  subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude – Shoghi Effendi 

On the advice of a friend of mine who read an early draft of this article, she told me to do more than ask for forgiveness. She said.

“Racism dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressor. No one wins with that way of being. Talk about what you do to unlearn what you did learn. The having to question yourself and everything – the vigilance needed. “

She gave me a series of questions which I answered below. And she gave me the following advice.

“I think it would best end with a call to action rather than an apology. You can apologize but help others move beyond the fog of racism.”

My call to action is to myself and my white brothers and sisters to perform your own truth and reconciliation of yours and your ancestors about how we unfairly benefit from white privilege, racism, and colonialism.

Then answer the following questions, I have shared my answers: 

What does your commitment look like every day? To be ever mindful of my white privilege and:

How does that feel?

I feel inspired and determined to overcome my feeling of shame and to be a source of healing whenever and wherever I can.

What has changed? 

Deeper understanding of the devastating long-term impact of my and my ancestors’ participation in the matter of prejudice, racism, colonialism. And acceptance that my white privilege is rooted in history and continues today.

How do you challenge yourself? 

Daily prayer and reflection on how to do my part in the realization of the unity of mankind. And find the courage is what it takes to stand up and sit down and listen. And open be willing to participate in difficult conversations.

Where do you find allies and support?”

I find my allies and my support in my Baha’i Faith Community and find like-minded people and organizations to partner with. And to reach out to support others who have been wounded by white privilege, racism, and colonialism.

SAY THEIR NAMES

Huffington Post – June 4th, 2020 

Police Killed a Young Indigenous Woman Chantel Moore, In New Brunswick During Wellness Check. https://bit.ly/37JpHxl

CBC News – June 12th 2020 – “One officer in Nunavut was seen slamming the door of his vehicle into an intoxicated man. https://bit.ly/2YUV5oK

Last night, a video surfaced of RCMP officers punching Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam and putting him in a choke hold outside of a casino.

Global News – June 13th, 2020 Rodney Levi Indigenous man in New Brunswick fatally shot by RCMP was troubled but not violent, says chief. was ‘welcomed guest,’ says N.B. pastor https://bit.ly/37JZkak

Wall Street Journal – June 18th, 2020 –  Atlanta Officer Who Shot Rayshard Brooks Had Multiple Prior Complaints https://on.wsj.com/2YIL9hS

Having racist thoughts or feelings does not make you a racist. Unless we are unwilling to examine and learn from them and take action. 

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Chris Ward
Chris Wardhttps://advantage10.com/
Chris is a Global Citizen and brings empathy, passion, service, and vision for nearly 40-years of global IT leadership to the table. Chris recently un-retired in 2019 from Siemens/Atos and launched a new career as a Serial Entrepreneur. His latest ventures are; Founding Partner at Advantage10 which is a global business education company providing service to entrepreneurs and innovators. Advantage10 simplifies business by applying systems thinking to projects and showing how business can be a place of motivation and healing. Chris is co-owner of Viraone.com, makers of a superfood product. He serves as a Board Advisor on two India-based Digital companies. FutureXReady.com MalgusDigital.com. He divides his “un-tirement time between Jamaica and Canada. He Serves as Volunteer Digital Record Department for the National Baha'i Community of Jamaica And Cayman Islands. “The earth is but one country & mankind are its citizens”. - Bahá’u’lláh

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5 CONVERSATIONS

    • Thanks for your reply. No matter in world I have lived or visited I carried my white privilege with me, and that included 2 years in the Black Muslim country of Gambia. My intention was my version of my and my ancestors truth and reconciliation.

  1. Very well written and thought provoking Chris!

    “Racism dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressor. No one wins with that way of being.“

    I truly don’t consider myself a racist. But I have witnessed it.

    So many times the innocent ears of a child hears those jokes… it kills me to hear people say “ I’m not a racist but here’s a joke…”. What a contradiction! Its not heard of much by me as I brew…maybe I was clear in my response of g
    Disagreement? Maybe because if my multi racial children.. who at the same time are more Canadian than I due to their maternal grandmother’s heritage.? I’m a child of immigrants and grew up with the diversity… I recall not thinking anything different until the adults pointed it out…
    Thank you for this thought provoking article…gets us thinking! And I’m doing what I can and being able to read so much in the subject now really is eye opening.

    • I thank-you for your comment. I was fortunate that a friend of mine who is a Indigenous women who provided editorial input. She brought insite and had me look at where I benefited from white privilege and be less focused on apologizing, on called me to action.

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