I know it has been quite some time since I have written. I have been holding off on writing about this because I wanted to hold space for Black voices during this time of protest and action. Black Lives Matter protests have recently gained major momentum across countries around the world that are outraged at the continuous violence enacted towards Black people by the state, and the continued lack of consequences for those who perpetrate these violent actions. With all of these situations occurring, I believe it is important to not stay silent, and wanted to address it further in writing. It has been on my mind and the minds of I am sure millions of people around the world for weeks. For those of you that follow my Instagram and my personal Facebook, I have been sharing many resources over the past couple of weeks. Today, I am hoping to talk a bit more about the movement, examine my own positionality in relation to it, discuss White privilege a bit more, and provide further resources.
The Black Lives Matter Movement & Canada
It is important to acknowledge that the Black Lives Matter movement has existed for many years. Recently, it has increased momentum due to the continuous suffering of Black people at the hands of police. The US has been the epicentre of many of these deaths, and the protests that have occurred because of them. Much of the media has also focused on what has been happening in the US. However, this is not only a problem that the US faces. Many nations around the world are facing similar problems and protesting as well, including Canada.
Many people tend to think Canada is a place immune of these injustices. We must all remember that, to begin with, Canada was created by stealing the land of Indigenous peoples and enacting genocide on an entire peoples, much of which is still occurring today. Canada is a colonial nation that was created by White men to continue to benefit White men, a system built to support White success, wealth and power. Simultaneously, this system was also built on the oppression of anyone who was not White. This legacy continues today and can be seen in the actions of institutions, including the police.
– one third of victims shot by the RCMP between 2007 and 2017 were Indigenous
-the Black community makes up 3.4% of Canada’s population and 9% of police fatalities
-Black people in Toronto are 20 times more likely to be shot dead by the police
And let’s not forget the recent incidents that have occurred: the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto and the recent deaths of multiple Indigenous people across the country, all of which have involved the RCMP.
It is not a coincidence that these deaths are enacted on certain peoples of our population. It is systemic racism, built into our systems and institutions. The consequences are very real and cannot be denied, in the same way that we cannot deny the existence of systemic racism within these institutions. Continuing with the story of Canada being a “nice” and “polite” country isn’t going to get us anywhere. As @decolonizemyself on Instagram shared, “Canadian politeness is often used to absolve themselves from acknowledging their complicity in structural or systemic racism, as if racism only exists as a malicious attitude of discrimination.” Racism does exist in Canada as it is built into the fabric of our nation, through systems and institutions. Recognizing systemic racism and White supremacy in these institutions is the first step. From there, it is on all of us to recognize our own complicity within these systems.
White privilege is something I didn’t really dive into until I was in university. Typing that sentence in and of itself, and not even being aware that I had White privilege, is a privilege on its own. Upon diving into this subject and social justice further in university, I had a lot of learning and un-learning to do. I still have a long ways to go, but I think one of the most important parts of this process is recognizing your own privilege and how that makes you complicit in certain systems and institutions.
Perhaps the most simple way to understand White privilege is this: being White doesn’t mean you do not have struggles, it just means your skin will not be one of those struggles. White is so often defined as the “normal” and the “default”, that anything outside of it is seen as other. Again, being seen as “normal” is a privilege, that many of us may not even recognize, because it has been ingrained in us for so many years. This is where un-learning comes in. Though some people may be resistant to recognizing their own privilege, it is necessary to sit with it and learn from it. @dakribrown has a great graphic on Instagram about White privilege and some of the common reflexes people exhibiting privilege may say, and some ways to lean into it instead.
Another defense that many White people bring up in a way to perhaps defend their privilege is colour-blindness. Colour-blindness involves saying you do not see colour, that everyone is the same, we are all one human race, all lives matter, etc. Saying you don’t see colour is dangerous because it means you are not recognizing your White privilege and all of the advantages it provides, while simultaneously minimizing the struggles of People of Colour who do have more to overcome than white people. @ohhappydani on Instagram has a good graphic about these dynamics.
Now as the BLM movement has gained increased momentum, many people who may not have recognized their White privilege or complicity in the past are beginning to dive in to doing so. It can be an unsettling journey, and it should be. I will discuss further resources at the end of this article for those of you looking to educate yourselves further and take action.
One of the ways I have tried to recognize my White privilege is by looking back and looking at where I am currently at in life, and how that has been impacted by my privilege. I wrote about this a bit more in one of my latest Instagram posts. Growing up as a white person in Canada, I hold an immense amount of privilege. This privilege has made it easier for me to access countless opportunities, such as attending university, graduating from university, securing job positions, traveling, and more. These are very big parts of my life and I know a big portion of why they have been in my life is due to White privilege. That doesn’t mean I didn’t work my ass off to get these things – it means that it was just that little bit easier to get them because of the colour of my skin.
I recognize that I do not have to face the same barriers that People of Colour do. I do not have to worry about the threat of violence in my everyday life as People of Colour do. It is madness that something as simple of the colour of your skin and your background can be a defining component of so many aspects of your life, but it’s true. It is important that I recognize my own positionality within this, and how I take part in many systems, such as education, job positions, and mobility that all are built on White supremacy and systemic racism. It is a lot to undo the systems that have been built this way for so many years, but it is necessary to do so. I am hopeful that as more people become a part of this conversation and look inwards to find their own complicity, that we can continue to move forward for a more equal future.
I am still learning and continuing to check my own privilege as well. There is a great resource from @zero.waste.collective on Instagram about checking yourself, talking about racism with other White people, acting with urgency, rejecting White privilege, and honoring the feelings of Black people. I will also share more resources at the end of this article for those in a similar position.
Through reading many of the posts and comments that have been circulating online, it appears that many people who are being confronted with the realities of systemic racism are resistant to it. I think one of the reasons White privilege may be hard for some people to grasp is because they think it means their life isn’t hard or they haven’t faced struggles. As mentioned previously, that isn’t necessarily the case; White privilege simply means your skin is not one of those struggles. This is where a concept I think many people are lacking comes in: intersectionality.
Intersectionality is a vital concept to the social justice world. Kimberle Crenshaw coined this term many years ago and has written extensively about it, and I would highly recommend reading her work for further information. Intersectionality examines the intersecting aspects of identity that make up one’s privilege. These aspects can include race, sexuality, socioeconomic background, gender, education, ability, and many more. Intersectionality is so important because it acknowledges someone may be privileged in one aspect, and not in another. For example, a White person who is in a lower class may have privilege because of their race but lack privilege because of their socioeconomic status. Conversely, a Black person who is in a higher class may be lacking privilege due to their race but have privilege due to their socioeconomic status.
This concept is SO important and I think is getting forgotten in many of the current discussions about race and racism, particularly in relation to White privilege. Intersectionality and privilege go hand in hand, and reveal that you can hold privilege in one aspect, but not in another. Right now, the discussions are focused on the aspect of race and who holds privilege in that regard. In that aspect, regardless of the other aspects of one’s identity that may or may not privilege them, being a White person will always give you privilege due to the colour of one’s skin. This is an important realization to make that I believe many White people in particular are lacking at the moment. I would really encourage you to read Kimberle Crenshaw’s work, as she is much more proficient at explaining intersectionality than I am and it is vital to understand this concept!
What does activism look like? It can take many different forms. @lizzobeeating shared a great post on Instagram about how activism has many lanes, and all lanes are important. Whether you are protesting, sharing resources via social media, doing the work in private – all is necessary and vital to move forward.
However, I would like to take a moment to talk a bit more about social media activism and the dangers of performative allyship. Many people are sharing statements of support, which could particularity be seen with the recent #blackouttuesday posts, where many people expressed solidarity by posting a black tile to their Instagram feed. Though it is helpful to express this solidarity through social media, if your solidarity stops at posting that black tile or a couple of stories on Instagram showing your support, then you are not doing much to support the movement at all. What you are actually doing is performative allyship.
Performative allyship is dangerous because it gives the illusion that you are in solidarity with the movement, without you actually doing any of the work behind the scenes to understand the importance of the movement and your own complicity within these systems. Regardless of what you post online, you have to do the work outside of that as well. @femalecollective shared a great post about this in more detail on Instagram.
Black lives matter today and everyday, regardless of whether or not it’s “trending”. This is not simply a moment in time, it is a consistent movement calling on us all to do better. Showing up as an ally is a lifelong commitment and does not happen overnight, and it is necessary to do the work to be better.
Why Does This Feel “Political”?
This is a question I have been asking myself as of late. I have seen some posts swirling around as well, where some people may use the excuse “I’m not political” in order to not get involved and say something. It got me thinking to why we see the defending of basic human rights as something political.
I do it as well. I think to myself, I am making a political statement by saying this. I am taking a political stance by writing this. But what about it is political? Saying all people are deserving of the same very basic human rights, and Black people and other BIPOC individuals are consistently being denied that – is that political? Because it seems to me like a basic statement about equality and human rights. That shouldn’t be something that needs to be “political.” So why is it that I, and others as well perhaps, feel this way?
Are we that far from reaching equal human rights for everyone that pushing for it feels political? I don’t know the answers to these questions. It is something I am beginning to interrogate myself as to why I am feeling and thinking this way. I am going to continue working through it, and invite you to leave comments about where you may be at in relation to these questions as well.
To sum up, the BLM movement has gained increased traction recently and is pushing many people to step up to the plate in ways they may not have before. Whatever your activism looks like, saying something is better than saying nothing – but we all have more work to do.
For White people who are in a similar boat as myself, it is difficult to unlearn White supremacy and will very likely make you feel uncomfortable as hell, but that’s a good thing and that doesn’t mean you should stop. I hope you feel uncomfortable and sad and angry. And I hope you turn those emotions into action and push yourself to do more, learn more and be better – and this is as much a reminder to myself as to anyone else.
Here is a list of resources below that will hopefully be helpful to those at any point on their journey, including the resources I have already mentioned throughout this post.
@rachel.cargle is another great resource full of information, make sure to give her a follow!
Discussions of intersectionality by Kimberly Crenshaw:
I would highly recommend diving into the resources that are available on Instagram, there are a ton of people sharing information right now that can be very beneficial for your own growth and learning, as well as taking action through signing petitions, donating, and protesting if you are able to.
I may not have all of the answers and say the right things, and these are just my thoughts on the current situation. I welcome any further discussion on this topic, please leave a comment if you are able to. I am hopeful that the more people join this conversation, the more we can move forward to create a more equal future.