Thursday, March 21, 2013

National Day to eliminate Racism

For those that don't know (I didn't until earlier this week), March 21st, 2013 is the designated date for the elimination of racism.

For people who are regular and active participants in the activism / social justice arena, thinking about racism and white privilege is something that comes up a lot; mostly from people of colour who far too often have to call out their privileged white "allies" who in turn often deny and get defensive when told they have said something insensitive to POC when it comes to. When it comes to unpacking what Peggy McIntosh calls "The Invisible Backpack" of  white privilege (or any other privilege for that matter) if you're a member of the privileged group, this isn't easy at first. For the most part, this is due to denial, misunderstanding and misinterpretation about what's being said. I'll readily admit that admit that I'm one of these white folks who had to do a lot of learning and listening
before I felt comfortable with it. It was the same for all my other privilege cards - male, heterosexual, and cisgender - as well.

But maybe for those of you who don't regularly do such things, maybe today might be a good day for you to try take in a few things about racism. Here's a few tips

1. When someone (especially a person of colour) tells you something you said or did was racist, listen to them. Don't get defensive, deny or get angry. I know this can sometimes be easier said than done. Particularly if you're not used to being confronted. But this is crucial if you want to narrow gaps or build bridges. And don't forget that a sincere apology can go a long way.  I emphasize the word 'sincere' because someone often thinks that intent is all that matters and that if they didn't mean to offend them, then they don't have to apologize. What matters is the effect. Intentions are irrelevant. The same as if you accidentally step on someone's toe. You didn't mean to do it, but that doesn't negate the fact that you still caused that person pain and were responsible for it.

2. This scenario will probably be familiar to many of you; particularly whites. Let's say someone accuses you of being racist and your typical knee jerk reaction is to say "I'm not racist...I have ________ friends!" and you wonder why this doesn't impress them, here's why: statements like these show a lack of understanding how racism works. Racism is a set of ideas about what kind of people POC are. These ideas often operate on a subconscious level

3. When you hear someone else say something racist or offensive and insensitive, call them on it. Let them no, in no ambiguous terms, that you don't agree or appreciate what they just said.

4. Recognize that racism comes in different forms

5. Racism is NOT a feature of human nature. In fact, the whole idea of systemic oppression and inferiority based on a person's skin colour, is a relatively new development in terms of overall human history

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