We ended the previous year with a big sigh and dutifully wished each other a better 2021. Life coaches out there will tell you that positive thinking will get things done, yet sometimes it become evident that there’s more to it than just well wishing.
It’s merely been 11 days and we’ve been seeing some wild things unfolding, and it’s far from over.
That’s a mild way to put it. I am referring to the attempted coup south of the border, and for anyone saying well, thank God it’s not happening here… well, by now we know that it is and it’s just as ugly, just at a smaller scale.
I want to bring forth a particular aspect that was referred to repeatedly during the riot and since by regular folks, scholars, politicians and journalists alike: white privilege.
Ibram X. Kendi, bestselling author and director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, put it bluntly, ‘White privilege is on display like never before in the U.S. Capitol. If these people were Black…well, we all know what would be happening right now.’
Now, this is not another apologetic essay on being white, but an invitation to examine our values as individuals, and not just when it comes to skin colour – but let’s pause on that for a bit.
I came across an eye-opening opinion shared on social media by a well-spoken African-American man. He poignantly explained that ‘there are white people, and there are people that just so happen to be white.’ Meaning that the first feel and act entitled, while the latter display humanity and common sense, unhindered by racial bias.
Quite a refreshing way to look at it.
When you ‘happen to be white’, you sift your values through the humanity sieve, and you prevent the chaff (meaning bias and intolerance,) from ending up in what you use to feed yourself. Understanding that bias and intolerance come from a place of deserving just because you were born a certain way, which of course, none of us has any merit for, is what we should all be aiming for.
The very idea that anyone is more deserving through birth alone is both preposterous and damaging to our humanity. And of course, it is real and visible.
I am presently reading a book called ‘Just Mercy – A story of Justice and Redemption’ by Bryan Stevenson, an African American lawyer who has been deeply involved with challenging bias against the poor and people of colour in the United States. I highly recommend it, though not as bedtime reading. It’s sobering but enlightening and hope-giving.
The recent violent events spurred on by years of well-stoked of racism and intolerance in general, the abuse of power supported and supportive of white privilege that we have been witnessing these days happened in Canada too not too long ago and we have yet a long way to go until we see humanity at its best.
There are many stories that outline the work ahead, even if we’re sampling just a few of last year’s infamous ones. You may recall the story of an Indigenous man and his granddaughter who were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account.
Last summer, some wondered whether people in Canada needed to take to the streets in response to the BLM street protests that were taking place in the U.S. and the answer revealed by these stories is a resounding yes. There are many more, including in our Kamloops community, and let’s never forget the stories that do not make the news.
Bias and intolerance have caused enough grief throughout history to fill countless tomes, and many of us refer to a need to remember the lessons along the way, lest we risk seeing history repeating itself.
But unless we examine and challenge our personal values and we push aside the beliefs that we are more deserving than others or that we can somehow measure other people’s worthiness using the very faulty privilege we did nothing to earn but were born into, nothing will change no matter how hard others are fighting to see racial inequality gone.
My late friend Richard Wagamese often spoke about racial inequality, which he experienced not just before he was a celebrated author but during as well. He summed it best with words that reflect not anger, but an open invitation to contemplate our values as humans:
‘When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness.’
Here’s to better days ahead. Wishing for them to happen as such is not enough – we must work at making it happen.