Black Lives Matter

I was 31 before I learned the truth about Canada and our Indigenous communities, discovering our last residential school had only recently closed in 1996 in Punnichy, Saskatchewan.
Truth be told, I was so sickened by my new found knowledge, and so angry that it was so clearly hidden from us in our history lessons, that I don’t recall what prompted the research in the first place. Maybe a movie, maybe a post on some social media platform, I don’t know. What I do remember is the the photos of sick children standing beside nuns, half starved, heartbroken and lost, their little souls mere shadows of what they once were, and waves of anger, shame, grief, disgust and embarrassment crashed over me like tsunamis.
I remember sitting there at my desk, staring at these photos, reading the stories, searching for something positive, something to show that we learned, that we made a real effort to fix these wrongs.
Instead I found more lies, manipulation, a herding of a culture, shoved into “reserved lands”, with rules and money thrown at them as if they were worth so little they could be bought.

For the first time time in my life, I felt embarrassed to be Canadian.

Being Canadian had always been something I was proud of. I took great pride in hearing the stories of travelers who wore patches of the Canadian flag on their clothes and bags, and were welcomed with extra warmth because they were Canadian.
I took pride in hearing how other countries viewed us as the “peace keepers”, the good guys, the country that was full of “nice, polite people”, with their hockey, toques and Tim Horton’s.
Being Canadian was the best thing.

Being Canadian was “the best thing” because I bought into a false narrative. I was a good student with a love of history, was taught not to question your elders, and to respect your teachers. So I took my history books at face value and questioned nothing.
We were certainly taught about Germany’s short comings and how they were so blind, so ignorant, so egotistical that they attempted to eliminate the Jewish community through genocide.
We were taught about the follies of the USA, and how Canada was the good little brother helping Big brother out of their messes, spreading peace and helping the wounded and sick.
And we were taught decades of Canadian history that excluded the active forms of genocide carrying on within our own borders.

Learning about the residential schools made me feel embarrassed to be Canadian.
But, it should have made me feel embarrassed to be a white woman who grew up with a close indigenous community having no idea what they went through. Were going through. Were still living with every single day.
I was still protecting my fragile white ego with armor that consisted of:
“I’m not racist, I had crushes on the boys from the reserve.”
“I’m not racist, I was friends with the girls from the reserve and invited them to my birthday parties.”
“I’m not racist, I attended their pow wows and was surrounded by their culture growing up”.
Truth is, I knew fuck all about fuck all, and ignorance is bliss.

And then the death of George Floyd happened.

More than I decade ago I stopped watching the news, and I disconnected my cable provider. I was tired of the same old drivel and bullshit. Always negative, always hate filled, always a downer ruining my good vibes. As a result I’ve not heard about many events, many deaths, many “issues” in the world. I only hear of them if and when someone I know, or if and when someone in passing, happens to mention it. Then I go home and look it up to discern the truth for myself – if I felt curious enough about it.
This has, while allowing me the ability to discipher for myself what is real, true and factual, continued to perpetuate my state of ignorance towards many communities here in Canada.

And then the death of George Floyd happened.

Over the course of the past year, my circle of friends has grown. My community has grown and now reaches world wide as I changed my Facebook settings to public and opened myself to connection outside my own little bubble. I wanted to connect with women around the world as I attempted to create a platform for women to share their stories through writing, with the purpose of helping other women feel less alone. It’s open to all women of all cultures and communities, all beliefs and denominations. Yet, most of the women who have shown up, are white.
And it never struck me as odd.

And then the death of George Floyd happened.

With all these incredible women now within my circle, I’ve heard of and seen more stories of injustices in their communities. And while my heart hurt for them, wished better for them, I said nothing. I took note of the issue, vowed I would learn more and educate myself, and added it to a list of “to do” items that were important but always last on the list of priorities.

And then the death of George Floyd happened.

For a week now, I’ve watched the happenings on social media, wanting to turn away and maintain the now glaringly obvious ignorance I carried, but I dared not. I could not.
Speechless, I listened to the videos with tears streaming down my face. Watched as leaders on platforms, white women, come forward and acknowledge their white privilege and apologize for their ignorance. I watched the riots in the streets in the USA, and saw the posts and videos of other communities condemn the rioters for collapsing into chaos instead of peace, claiming they should be more like Martin Luther King and be more dignified. I watched white people of privilege tell Black communities how to feel, how to act, how to respond, and dictate how they think a black leader (MLK) would feel about their behavior.
And I retreated.

I was lost in confusion. Anger. Grief. Embarrassment. Shame. All of those heavy feelings crashing over me again, drowning me.
I needed to take a few days to process these feelings and sort out what were truly mine versus those that I’d just witnessed and absorbed.
I gardened. I meditated. I tried posting online.
I thought. I reflected. I checked in on platforms I knew were seeking out answers and genuine guidance from Black communities.

George Floyd’s death shook me to my core because a man, a white man, deliberately, blatantly and very publicly caused the death of a black man. This wasn’t an accident. It was intentional.
And intentionally killing someone is something I can’t fathom, let alone doing so because of their skin colour.

But it also made me realize, that while I have started to do the work around my ignorance towards our Indigenous communities and how we as Canadians treat them, I’ve not once, not ever, considered, noticed or sought answers on how we as Canadians treat Black communities.
And that makes me sick to my stomach.
To realize I am so grossly apart of the problem here in my own country, brings a level of shame and embarrassment like none other. There are no words to accurately describe the depths of guilt I feel for this.
And saying “I’m sorry”, to me, feels the equivalent of apologizing to a broken piece of pottery. It doesn’t fix it. It’s still broken. I’m still ignorant of the truth – because as I write this, I’d only just come to the realization that I was completely blind to these issues here in Canada.

I noticed but never questioned why my elementary school was comprised of 90% white students, with only (maybe) 10% consisting of other races or cultures, none of which were black.
I noticed but never questioned why the only two black kids attended school for just a couple years and then disappeared.
I noticed but never questioned why that continued into my teen years during high school. Or why it continued into my workplace environment. Orillia was a very white city.
Truth be told, it didn’t really dawn on me just how white our little city was until I moved across the country to Edmonton Alberta in 2006 and found myself surrounded by multiple races and cultures. Albeit still being a very, very white city.

And yet, even then, with the opportunity to get involved, to learn, to immerse myself in the cultures, I’ve done nothing. I’ve not taken advantage of the events and festivals held each year that gives each community a chance to shine and be seen. I just added it to that long list of things “to do” that we’re important but not a priority.

And I realize now, that’s my white privilege.
Because as a white woman, I don’t HAVE to know who my neighbors are or what events are happening in my city because I can show up to any of them without being questioned or even noticed. I have the privilege of blending in, of disappearing into the crowd and slipping away unnoticed if I choose to.
I don’t have to worry about being shot, or attacked while jogging through my neighborhood. I don’t have to worry about being accused of stealing while I’m shopping, simply because of my skin colour.
That long list of things I don’t have have to worry about because I happened to be born white, has been, not only my cloak of invisibility, but my crown of ignorance.

I’ve told myself I was an ally because I made friends with the gay kid in school, had a crush on the boys from the reserve, learned a few pieces of Indigenous and LGBTQ history, and listened to my Muslim friend explain the truths about her religion. I told myself I was an ally because had conversations with a homophobic parent and religious grandparent about the LGBTQ community and reminded them that love is love. I told myself I was an ally because I share what I’ve learned about our treatment of our Indigenous and educate others on just how recent and frequent the genocide occurs. And I told myself I was an ally for calling out my racist aunts emails sent out en-mass in chain letters about the Muslim community. I’ve told myself I was an ally, because I know we all feel pain, we all bleed red, and we all love.
I told myself I was an ally because I took time to listen when the opportunity fell in my lap.

And then then the death of George Floyd happened and I realized that I have grossly fallen short of my responsibilities as an ally.
I’ve perpetuated the cycles in many communities simply by thinking a little knowledge was enough, and not taking the time to go deeper and look below the surfaces of the problem.
I’ve perpetuated the problem by not speaking up more, by not engaging and hiding behind my excuses of being “too introverted” and avoiding the struggle.
I’ve perpetuated the struggles of each community by being one of those who thought “all lives matter” in moments when we should be laser focused on helping the lives that need our attention most in the time they need us most.

Yes, all lives matter. But when there is an attack on our LGBTQ community, LGBTQ lives matter.
When there’s an attack on our Indigenous community, Indigenous lives matter.
Today there is yet another attack on our Black community. Today, Black lives matter.
By saying “all lives matter” we dilute the cause. We white wash it. And we are far too good at that.

Today, I recognize my privilege and the shortcomings I’ve excused through it.
Today, I begin taking the time to learn about Black history and making it a priority.
Today, I apologize for my ignorance, my lack of action and my excuses for not being the ally you deserve.
Today I begin learning how to be anti-racist rather than “not racist”, and understand the difference.

I don’t believe saying sorry is adequate. It fixes nothing. In truth, it only serves to make white people like myself feel better about themselves. Because it lets us feel like we’re taking a step forward, like we are being better, doing better.
And while I am so incredibly sorry for being a part of the problem, and I apologize from the very centre of my being, I do not expect forgiveness until my actions align with those words.

I, and white communities across the globe, have a lot of work to do before we deserve your forgiveness.
Let our actions prove that we are sorry.
Let our actions be our apologies.
Let our actions create a world where Black lives really do matter.

George died because we kept silent.
George died because we didn’t take action.
George died because we stood ignorant when we should have kneeled.

#blacklivesmatter

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