For a long time, I thought I understood racism based on the definition, “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” (Oxford online dictionary). But now as an adult, I have to ask, do I really know racism, if I see it face to face? How can I tell? Can you? When I watched Malcolm X movie for the first time in my grade 12 religion class, I saw what racism could do to people, to a nation. The divisiveness of it, and how it created such practices as John Crow laws, and the offensive apartheid regime in South Africa. But, when I left the protective embraces of my school, and stepped into a world of big bad wolves, I don’t see these flagrant acts of prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism. Instead, what I see are very polite people who are going about their daily lives, too busy, too focused, too apathetic to concern themselves about me. In other words, everyone is out there, trying to get what’s their’s, “by any means necessary” (to steal Malcolm X’s words). So, how do I spy with my little eye, a racist in all its disguise?
How can I tell that one believes that he/she is superior? This is the premise of racism, right? For one thing, I cannot read minds. So if I enter a room with an all white interview panel, and a month later, I am informed, I didn’t get the job, is that because of racism? In an isolated situation, we can never know. I am unable to tell whether the simple act of not picking me for the job was discrimination, or straight up, I wasn’t the best candidate. But here is a real incident that happened to me in 2014. I was one of approximately 20 students in a Public Administration program at Seneca College. The program had an internship component, which was why I chose to take this graduate certificate program in the first place. Four months into the eight-month program, seven students were selected for the internship. All seven were white. Is that a coincidence? What was their selection criteria based on? Grades? We were not given an explanation. The rest of us who were not selected were part of the great Canadian non white diversity. And we did nothing about it. Why? The students expressed their concerns to me, that they were shocked, and disappointed, but on the other hand felt afraid that if we were to do something about it, we would be punished (i.e. getting a bad grade).
Check out Deandra’s blog: This is a Phase
Upon doing some research, I find that we condone racism in one of two ways. Either we do nothing when it happens, or we benefit from someone else’s demise, then lap up the blood from the corners of our mouths. It’s a wolves world and we are in it for ourselves. But, there comes a time, when each of us have to stop and think. Stop being naive, stop acting in apathy, and definitely stop benefitting from someone’s loss. It’s time for me to wake up, and realize that racism doesn’t come with a label. It comes with a subtle feeling that something isn’t right.
Recently, I went grocery shopping at my local Food Basics. As I was pushing my cart, I saw an older white staff standing in front of one of the aisle with his coffee in hand. Having been to this food basics many times, these people are aways working, so it confused me as to why he was standing so stiffly. I looked down the bottom of the aisle, and there it was. The staff’s target was a black young man, early twenties, searching for something on a top shelf. Was that what I thought it was? Even as I made my way to the cashier I wondered. I felt something was wrong because I had spot racism. It can’t always be determined with those big words, but it can be with your gut.
When we spot it, we must decide what to do about it. In Food basics, I did what many Canadians would do. We acknowledge it, but we do nothing. I was not the one being a racist, and I was not the one experiencing it. But, I was a witness. So what is my role? It’s important to think about it in terms of what the bible says,
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
In other words, be brave for our friends, for our co-workers, for our neighbours. Why? Because God said so. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
We may never truly know on the onset when we are experiencing racism, or when we see it being done to someone we know. But, rather than labelling it immediately, listen to your gut. Trust it. What you do after, is your decision. Ultimately, we all have a role to play when it comes to racism in our society, and playing a blind eye, or feeling sorry for ourselves, is not a role. We must act.