As thousands of people have hit the streets around the world to protest against racism and inequality, I’ve learned two lessons that I hope will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Shut up, and speak up.
The shut up part comes from the realization that I have no personal experience with racism.
I’m a 43 year old white guy. I can honestly say I’ve not once in all those years been singled out for the colour of my skin. I’ve not been refused service because I’m white. I haven’t lost a job because I’m white or been paid less to do a job because I’m white. I’ve not been pulled over by police because I’m white and I’ve not had to spend a single moment living in fear because I’m white.
For me to offer an opinion on a Black person’s experience is to speak from ignorance and make things worse.
So I shut up.
I am thankful I was raised by a mother and father who viewed everyone the same, regardless of the colour of their skin or their country of origin.
Others haven’t been so fortunate, but as a result of my upbringing I struggle with the statement ‘Black Lives Matter.’
It’s not because I don’t believe it. I certainly do. It’s because I can’t understand why black lives wouldn’t matter. I can’t wrap my head around the idea that a black life would be less important than my life, and it stuns me that we’re here in 2020 fighting the notion that one has more value than another.
Which leads to ‘speak up,’ and the opportunity to learn.
Racism endures because it is passed down from generation to generation. Racist attitudes can be lessened and (hopefully, eventually) eliminated by the same method. Our children are looking to us now for cues. How we act right now and what we say right now informs their views. When my wife and I sit with our two kids at the dinner table and have an open and honest discussion about George Floyd and protests and what it all means, we hope we are teaching them that racism in all its forms is wrong.
We hope they carry that lesson into adulthood, and pass that lesson to their children and grandchildren, and in that very small way, we hope we are helping to end racism.
It is a horrible situation we’re in right now, but imagine millions of similar conversations taking place around the world. What if we take the time right now to talk and teach? What if an entire generation of youth learns right now that what happened to George Floyd is wrong. No qualifiers. Period. End of statement.
What if they learn right now that skin colour and country of origin doesn’t matter, that we are all humans? What if millions of children learn that lesson and grow up to pass it on to their children and grandchildren?
Could millions of ripples turn into a tidal wave of real, lasting change?
The other part of ‘speak up’ is taking it outside of the home and outside of your comfort zone. Talking to your children is one thing, but what do you do when you witness racist attitudes or actions? Do you stay silent or do you pipe up and tell a stranger that what they are doing/saying is unacceptable?
I have laughed off inappropriate jokes, dismissed racist statements and walked away from an uncomfortable situation.
I regret that.
By speaking up in a reasonable and non-confrontational tone, maybe a conversation is sparked. If nothing else, you may get that person thinking about what they’ve said or done, and as they self-reflect maybe they’ll make a change.
It’s entirely possible you’ll accomplish nothing. But as we try to make our world a better place for everyone, isn’t it worth the attempt?
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