I truly struggled in writing this article as I was uncomfortable, unsure of what to say or how to say it.
I put a lot of pressure on myself to say the right things and in all honesty, I worried that as a privileged white woman I might come across as inauthentic or lacking credibility. I thought about not saying anything, but I feel strongly about this issue and felt it is important to say something – even if it is not perfect.
The recent events and demonstrations in Canada, the United States and around the world protesting the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor re-ignited the fight against racism and inequality. In addition, I was shaken and appalled by recent local events which clearly demonstrates that racism continues to exist in our country and our communities. These last few weeks have been hard – hard to watch, hard to listen and hard to comprehend. It made me realize that now is not the time to be silent.
I have seen first-hand the impact that recent events have had on my black friends, co-workers, and family members. I can see that their grief, hurt, pain and anger and I want them to know that I stand with them. The Black community is hurting right now, and we all need to do our part to support them.
In looking inward, I had to acknowledge my ignorance and my failure to look beyond my own life experience. I grew up in a large Irish family in a predominately white community. I have and will never know what it is like to be Black, to be discriminated against because of my skin colour or what it is like to have racist remarks directed at me. I have never really thought about being “white” and I did not feel privileged. I was fortunate to have a caring family, food on the table and a roof over my head – but I honestly never considered myself privileged. I came from a broken home and we did not have a lot of money or live in a big house – which is what I thought privileged meant. After educating myself, I now see how my being white is in fact a privilege. It gives me power I didn’t realize – the power to live my life without looking over my shoulder; to simply assume that if something bad happened, I would be believed, supported and helped; to know that if I am pulled over by the police I have not been singled out because of my race. I have been able to go through life without being discriminated because of the colour of my skin. “White Privilege” is not saying that as a white person my life has not been hard, white privilege is simply saying my skin colour hasn’t been a contributing factor.
With the full recognition of the privilege I as a white person has, I have made a personal and conscious commitment to notice, call out and challenge racism when I hear it, see it or become aware of it. If someone says or does something racist, I will call them out and let them know that their words or actions are offensive, hurtful and unacceptable. I also vow to offer emotional support to the victims of racism by listening, understanding, and caring.
Racism is like a virus, similar to COVID-19 in that while there is an awareness of people who show obvious signs of racial prejudice, there are many who unconsciously spread it asymptomatically without realizing they unconsciously carry harmful beliefs. Over the past couple of weeks, I have participated in some hard conversations with family and friends. It is important to me to talk to and educate my family and friends on racism and to admit and question our respective unconscious biases as they arise. Racism is a problem, it hurts people and although these conversations are difficult, intense, and uncomfortable it is time to listen, learn and to take action. By amplifying the voices of Black people, we can support the struggle against racism.
I sincerely hope that as individuals, as employees and as members of our community and country we can all abandon the prejudices of the past and embrace and accept people based on who they are rather than the colour of their skin. I know that it is easy to feel helpless in the wake of these traumatic events, but if the protests have taught us anything, it is that now is the time to act and leverage the global awakening of the situation and the opportunity for substantive change. This is a call for action for each and every one of us to do better, to speak up and be part of the solution to end racism.