Shit People Say To You When You’re White

Last night a group of Canadians were murdered while they prayed.

Today I feel hollowed out.

Maybe I should be angry. Indignant. Outraged. But if I hold on to those, I’ll get caught up in the intoxication those emotions bring. I’ll lose my way. They are feelings best left to those more qualified to wield them.

Canadians are proud of many things, not the least of which is a perceived moral superiority over our friends to the South. We moan in disgust at their racism, their guns, their fear and their seeming inability to make their way gracefully in the world. Overnight I’ve seen Canadians lament how Trump’s poison is seeping into Canada.

This morning on Facebook, the lovely Beverly Bambury — an American transplant and all-around good egg — pointed out the folly of our national delusion. We are equally subject to fear, anger, hatred and indifference.

The example she used was a slap in the face and I suspect registers with other white Canadians: the ridiculous shit that white people will say to you because you’re white.

The student population at our local Junior/Middle School  consists primarily of children of colour. They speak over 50 languages and come from a variety of countries, including a number who fled for their lives from countries currently covered by the US travel ban. We have enrolled children from more than 20 families newly arrived from Syria.

I’ve chaired the Parent Council there for the past five years. I’m overwhelmingly proud of our school and love that our children have had the opportunity to learn in such a diverse and caring environment. I’m grateful that fear of those who are different is incomprehensible to them.

Still, white people say the most ridiculous shit to me.

Some of it can seem innocuous, like referring to a subset of the population by nation of origin. “I think that the Somali moms …” Thing is, if you replaced Somali with white, the tone shifts. Even for me. Like all of us, I still have work to do.

Some of it is truly ridiculous and off-the-wall, like the parent who complained to me that he didn’t like that the kids weren’t allowed to sing O Canada any more. Hey fuckwit, get over yourself and go inside the school. The kids sing O Canada every morning. Or the parent who was upset that the celebration of Christmas had been abandoned in favour of a generic holiday celebration when, in fact, holidays of all faiths are promoted and celebrated. Each of these complaints was couched with the sentiment that “I’m not racist, but …”

PROTIP: If you start a sentence this way, you are about to say something racist.

Lest my dear readers think it is just about race or religion, I’ve seen well-dressed people of colour object to holding meetings in the apartment buildings adjacent to the school. The low income apartment buildings adjacent to the school.

What is it that makes people think it’s OK to say shit like this to me?

Maybe it’s because I am, to all appearances, a middle-aged, middle class cis white man.

Maybe it’s because, at various stages, I’ve sported a shaved head. Or a long ponytail.

Or maybe it’s because we’re assholes.

Maybe we don’t mean to be. Maybe we just can’t see how deep the threads of prejudice run and are afraid to pull on those threads.

Maybe we’re so tired of being shamed that we just don’t care. We’re supposed to teach tolerance (a terrible word that sets the bar far too low), yet all we seem to be able to do is scream and belittle the intolerant.

Whatever the reason, we are the problem and the first thing each of us needs to fix — the only thing we can fix on our own — is ourselves. Like all of us, I still have work to do.

It’s not that complicated, if we look to our children. If we stop looking to so-called leaders for validation of what lurks inside us. If we look to what we wanted to be back when we could be anything.

Children feel the effects of influence and the need to identify, to belong, more acutely than adults and don’t turn anywhere near as readily to prejudice. We need to observe our children, model them, emulate them.

The children are our future and — if we listen — they’ll make for a damned good present too.

I still have work to do.

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