By Dr. Nicolas Bussard and Jordan Wellwood
Special to Black Press
If the word ‘racist’ makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone.
According to Dana Brownlee this is because, “the word ‘racism’ has been so bastardized in our culture that we only recognize it in its most extreme form,” rather than the continuum of thoughts and behaviours that it is. If we are to move past the prejudices that we all have, however, we must first examine and understand this continuum.
One way to begin is by considering that racism isn’t just individual, it’s structural, meaning it’s built into the very systems we inhabit every day. These structures were designed and built by white colonialists, and it would be unreasonable to expect that other groups would feel comfortable within them. That’s why a critical second step is to listen to and believe the experience of racialized individuals in their quest to live and thrive within these systems. This means adding Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) experts to your reading, listening, watching, and friend lists.
As you approach this topic, here are a few things to consider. If you are white, you have benefited from these systems and structures in ways you’ve never had to think about. Try to imagine the internalized worldview of someone who has always received messages that they are less. Consider that the presence of law enforcement doesn’t make everyone feel safer, and there are very compelling reasons for this. Understand that there is a (big) difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation. One is welcome and the other is not. For example, if you weren’t raised using a particular slang or vernacular, it’s probably not appropriate to use it. This may be a moving target and it is best approached with humility.
Involuntary racism is a real thing that takes work to uncover and eliminate from our speech and actions. Though it may be unintentional, it is no less damaging than direct or systemic racism. Involuntary racism can be many, many things, including: dismissing what BIPOC individuals tell you about their experience of racism, making jokes about race (especially when the target is the only non-white person in a group), giving uninformed opinions on behalf of BIPOC, and ‘othering’ them in explicit or subtle ways that engender feelings of being excluded or different. At the same time, claiming colorblindness; “I don’t see race,” discredits the lived experience of any racialized group.
There are many books and other resources that provide guidance on how to become an antiracist. This learning is critical, but it will only go so far. Meaningful policy change is required. Indeed, Ibram Kendi defines an antiracist as, “One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.”
It’s easy to feel defensive when the issue of racism comes up, but ignoring the topic will not help. Racism isn’t a BIPOC issue, it’s everyone’s issue. As Martin Luther King, Jr. explained, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Until there is greater understanding and inclusivity, the world will be imbalanced.
We can only move past racism if everyone does the work, and we are all figuring it out as we go.
In the Comox Valley, you likely have had few opportunities to interact with people of colour, but our community is growing, and as it grows, it will naturally diversify. Applying the golden rule and simply treating others as you would like to be treated will go a long way toward helping BIPOC individuals feel at home here. Comfortable eye contact, a welcoming smile, and an appropriate level of curiosity are all safe bets.
Nicolas Bussard and Jordan Wellwood are each parents to mixed-race children, committed to raising awareness of the issues their children will face as they grow.