Whilst men are linked together, they easily and speedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose it with united strength. Whereas, when they lie dispersed, without concert, order, or discipline, communication is uncertain, counsel difficult, and resistance impracticable. Where men are not acquainted with each other’s principles, nor experienced in each other’s talents, nor at all practised in their mutual habitudes and dispositions by joint efforts in business; no personal confidence, no friendship, no common interest, subsisting among them; it is evidently impossible that they can act a public part with uniformity, perseverance, or efficacy. In a connection, the most inconsiderable man, by adding to the weight of the whole, has his value, and his use; out of [connection], the greatest talents are wholly unserviceable to the public. No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours, are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. -Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents 82-83 (1770) in: Select Works of Edmund Burke, vol. 1, p. 146 (Liberty Fund ed. 1999).
So far, 2020 has been a heavy year. I know that we all feel that collectively. CoVid-19 and the lockdown were just the beginning. On April 6th my mother had a stroke. With no way to fly home I said my last goodbye on April 18th by FaceTime. She died the next day while I sat alone thousands of miles away. Mourning your parent from afar is hard. Being isolated from friends and family as you try to process their passing is harder. But you know what’s been even more difficult? Witnessing the senseless murders of Ahmaud Aubrey and George Floyd. Add to these the killings of Breonna Taylor and Dave McAtee and these are the deaths that make me cry all the time because they were avoidable and unnecessary. My mother was 82 years old, suffering from dementia and a terrible case of osteoporosis. The last time I went home she didn’t know who I was more than 50% of the time. In reality, I mourned losing the woman who was my mother years ago. But these young lives with so much future before them were taken tragically and maddeningly too soon.
Something’s got to change.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”
You may recognize this version of Edmund Burke’s quote better than his full unedited 1770’s epistle in italics at the top. I read his original words today and was struck by their wisdom, words that speak to the need for each of us with a conscience to speak up when others commit acts or use words that are inherently violent because of the results they elicit. In today’s hashtag world, Burke would have been the one to write #silence=violence into his electronic device. I’m writing this today because it’s increasingly obvious that silence is no longer an option and, in the words of Burke, even “the most inconsiderable” person, by “adding their weight to the whole” adds value to a cause. In other words, my silence amid fears that I have nothing to add is equivalent to being complicit with the violence wrought upon Black people and other People of Color the world over. Every single one of us who recognizes that the systems that evolved from racist motivations like the American system of law enforcement/mass incarceration that grew out of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution need to be part of the movement to break them down so they can be rebuilt in a manner designed to elevate people rather than to control or destroy them. This is the path to freedom and peace for all.
No one is free until we are all free.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’m not an American. I’m not Black. But racism has never been a uniquely American phenomenon nor will it be overcome if White people remain silent. I am heartened by the number of White people marching in the protests happening around the world. Perhaps it’s because we’re still in “CoVid Red” status in Baja California Sur, but there haven’t been any physical protests in this region yet. So I’m doing the only thing I know to do from my isolated location on Baja’s East Cape – I’m lending my voice to the cause from where I sit, brokenhearted by the pain I see all over the news, in the hopes that I might contribute in some small way to the extermination of the real pandemic the world has suffered from for far too long, the Racism Pandemic.
I hope that by sharing what is perhaps a bit of a ramble, I might inspire others to do the same, to share their views, to ask for help, to share their knowledge and compassion to those who read our words. And look, I’m the first one to admit, I don’t know much about this topic. I’m a white, blue-eyed and fair-haired Canadian woman who has benefited from white privilege my whole life. If I say something racist, call me out on it. I WANT to learn. I NEED to learn. The discrimination I’ve experienced in life pales by comparison to anything a Black, Brown, Asian, or First Nations Person experiences on a daily basis. When a cop pulls me over, I know that if I smile and talk sweetly or with humor, I can charm the officer into submission because in my experience it has almost always worked.
I grew up in eastern Canada in a village of 500 people and all of them were White. My first exposure to people with skin color unlike my own was almost certainly on television – shows like The Jeffersons, Fast Times, Chico and the Man. CBC’s The Beachcombers introduced me to our First Nations People long before I knew about the atrocities committed by the Residential School System or The Indian Act. The people portrayed in these shows could not have been more different from me, but I still recognized their humanity, the places where our needs and desires intersected. In my grade school, out of the 500 kids, two were Black. I remember wondering what it was like to stand out in such contrast against a vast sea of whiteness.
When I was about ten years old, an East Indian family moved into a house a few blocks away from my own. Their colorful saris stood in stark contrast to the jeans and t-shirts most commonly worn in my town. A few months after their arrival, I noticed they’d moved away.
I asked my father, as we walked by the house, “Why did they come for such a short time?”
His answer contained a rueful note, “I don’t think they felt very welcome here.”
In my memory the conversation halted there, steeping us in an awkward silence that left what is now obvious unsaid. I’ve often wondered if the racism they experienced was overt or the more subtle kind that takes the form of a lack of or too much attention in stores, looks both curious and aggressive, whispers passive-aggressively “intended” to be unheard.
While my family may have been progressive in their selection of TV shows, things weren’t quite so liberal when I fell for a handsome young Black man playing in a basketball tournament at my high school. He and a teammate stayed at our house for the weekend, so when I shared my excitement with my father that Dayan had asked me on a date, I thought he’d be happy such a nice young man was interested in his daughter. Instead he frowned and said, “I guess that’s okay. Dating is okay… just don’t get any ideas about marrying him.”
A sickening feeling I’d never felt before formed in my gut. When my father may a distinction between this young man and every other boy I’d ever fancied, I was shocked. It was the first time I was confronted by my father’s fallibility and the pedestal I’d placed him on shrank in size and stature. I knew what he’d said was wrong, at its core, steeped in ignorance and racism, but this version of my father didn’t compute with the man I knew him to be – kind, fair-minded, generous. His reaction left me confused and filled me with a teenaged indignation that fizzled along with our relationship. I can’t help but wonder – did it die because Montreal was a 45 minute drive away or on a subconscious level did we detect a moral distance too great for a couple of teenagers to traverse?
Despite this experience, the topic of racism and interracial marriage was never discussed in any meaningful way in my family, which is curious considering its make up. When I was ten, my parents took me on vacation to the Bahamas to meet, for the first time, my Great Aunt Queenie and her husband, Edmund. Great Uncle Edmund was a Black Bahamian. To this day I don’t know the story of how my Aunt Queenie, the daughter of Scottish-Irish Canadians met and married my Uncle Edmund. I have only a vague notion that they met when he was in the country as an Ambassador to Canada. Their story just wasn’t discussed and my attempts more recently to uncover it has generated nothing but silence. Maybe nobody knows. But regardless, what can one surmise from that? Why don’t they? Was it such a taboo subject that it was never discussed? For several years I’ve thought about how hard it must have been for my aunt and uncle – a biracial couple who met in the 1940s. It should come as no surprise that they didn’t stay in Canada. What’s surprising is that I didn’t know I had an Aunt Queenie or Uncle Edmund until we made that trip in 1978.
Does Silence = Violence?
It’s been nine days since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Nine days of worldwide protests and riots, nine days of horrifying behavior by police and politicians, and, for me personally, it’s been nine days of deep grief for our humanity and contemplation about where I fit in the ensuing conversation. Sharing posts on social media that say what I cannot because the Black Experience is not my experience has been my only contribution until today when the message from Black leaders everywhere became increasingly clear that indeed SILENCE does equal VIOLENCE, that if we don’t speak up to say we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, we’ll stay stuck where we are. The act of writing this blog is my contribution, my expression of a desire to be part of the solution, to say,
I see you,
I hear you,
I support you.
And perhaps most importantly,
How can I be of service to help you realize our goal?
And, finally I offer the prayer that every single person ever killed in racially-motivated hate, one day be able to rest in peace knowing that George Floyd’s death was the catalyst to true and lasting change.