Updated: Jan 13, 2021
The world is still so divided. Before sitting down to write this, I read through MLK Jr’s speech from 1963. I also browsed through the Instagram of Candace Owens – known to be a right-winged black woman and proud Trump supporter. Now, I’m not the biggest into politics and I’m also not American, but I am a black woman with an opinion. To give you a little context, I’m a first generation-Canadian with both African and Caribbean heritage. I grew up in a nice suburb in Ottawa where my family was one of the only black families in our community, but we were involved in black events within the city. Growing up, the majority of my friends were (and are still) white, and I didn’t really identify with a lot of the other black kids in my school. My interests revolved around ballet and my siblings played hockey. This was my life and I am very blessed to have parents who worked to provide that life for me. Even with all of this, I still feel such a strong connection to what is going on in the world right now.
As I said, the world is still so divided. Every time I open up my social media, there seems to be another black face going across my feed with “RIP” in the caption, with a story following about police brutality or some white man deciding that they’re allowed to choose someone else’s fate. It breaks my heart that all of this is still happening and both sides of this are still fueled by racial discrimination. This may be an unpopular opinion here, but no one is completely absent of guilt in this. I’ve heard both sides:
A) democrats are working to squash the alt-right white supremacists who are enabling the racists to be more open and vocal
B) conservatives are endorsing the narrative that the democrats are only telling the POC what they want to hear so that they have their support, but ultimately won’t do anything because, if we (the POC) reclaim our voice, we will see them for who they really are – who that is, I couldn’t tell you.
Now, I don’t know who is right in this debate (and I’m not American, so my vote in this matter won’t count anyways), but the way I see it, they both are.
The thing is, we are still living in a world (at least here in North America, I can’t speak for all the other continents) where an individual is still very much categorized by their race, and their race alone. Yes, I am a black woman, but I am also a daughter, a sister, a dancer, and a doctor (almost). There is so much more to me than the colour of my skin, but people are refusing to look past that. I’m supposed to fit into this box because of my cultural background. I never really did and that led to a lot of strife in my teenage years. [STORY TIME: Growing up, I wanted to be a famous dancer in one of the major companies that my dance school always talked about. Now, struggling career choice aside, this was a pipe-dream for me. Maybe I didn’t love it enough to fight for it, but at the time, I didn’t see a point either because my face was not one that I ever saw on any of the posters. I let myself be a victim to the system in place and told myself I needed to pick a different path. Maybe what I should have done was fight to be in there, because I was talented and trained just like my classmates. The problem was, I needed to be better than my classmates in order for those doing the hiring to see past my “obvious flaw” that was my skin tone – in their eyes, I would stick out too much on stage compared to all of the other dancers (don’t tell me I’m wrong, I’ve actually done a few research papers on the topic). I did take a different path and while I am happy with the road I walk, it took some time to get there.]
Today, I wish I could go back and tell 14- year old me to keep training and fighting, because this thinking is wrong. I shouldn’t have limited myself and told myself to be less than I wanted to be because of a system that was stacked against me. If everyone does that, then the system will CONTINUE to be stacked against you (enter “victim culture”). At the same time, it’s not easy. I wish that I had people within the system that were willing to fight for me too. The issue there is: 1) you first need to stand out to show them you are worth fighting for and 2) they might not even notice that there is a problem with the system (that’s where the whole “privilege” argument stems from).
I’m rambling with my story here… the point is: I’m angry with what is happening too. George Floyd should not have died on May 25th, 2020 (may he RIP). He should have been listened to and the other officers should have pushed their colleague off that man’s neck the moment he knelt onto it. The answer to this, however, is not to riot and pillage the streets (ESPECIALLY IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC) but to fight for justice and respect Mr. Floyd’s memory by getting him the justice he deserves. How is raiding a Walmart really helping his family or proving to the system that we are people with lives worth preserving?! I don’t know, maybe someone can tell me.
I don’t want to live in a world where I am worried for my family
I don’t want to live where I’m nervous about my cousin’s school having another school shooting
I don’t want to live where my dad and I get stopped by a police officer because I looked at him as we drove past on the highway
I don’t want to live in a world where I’m scared for my dad’s safety when he questions a traffic ticket down the road from the grocery store
I don’t want to live in a world where my brother and his friend have to change their voice on the phone to sound “less threatening”
I don’t want to live in a world where people think it’s okay to make jokes about my sister being a criminal
I don’t want to live in a world where my mother doesn’t get promoted, instead gets pushed out of her job for speaking up
I don’t want to live in a world where someone can call me a nigger and NO ONE around does anything – not to tell him he is wrong, not to comfort me, nothing at all.
I want to live in a world where it’s okay to talk about race because we embrace and accept all of our differences, but it doesn’t define who we are.
I want to live in a world where people see that I am a woman of value, who happens to be black.
I want to live in a world where I don’t have to worry about finding my skin tone shade when I walk into a store!
I want to live in a world where that ↑ is my biggest concern
I want to live in a world where MLK Jr’s words ring true: a world where people “ will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.
The thing that seems to be getting to me as well is that we aren’t just black and white in the world (in race or in reasoning) but that seems to be the biggest fight in North America, and it has been for decades. As long as we (and I mean the collective ‘we’) keep bringing it up as an issue, it will continue to BE an issue. I don’t know how to solve this either, but maybe someone will read this and figure it out.
I had a debate with a co-worker once about the need for “black-only” spaces (we are both black before everyone gets judgy). We both agreed that they were necessary right now because of the lack of open spaces for POC, but I tried to make the argument to not need them in the future. Here’s the thing: these spaces are promoted to POC, but they are not EXCLUSIVE to POC – they are responses to the companies that DON’T promote to POC (at least the one I know). Right now, in our society, those companies that don’t promote to the POC, they are the big establishments and the money makers – they are on the big markets that speak to the masses and the influencers. My argument is that we need to stop building these side companies and start getting into the big companies where our voices can be heard and normalized. She argued that we aren’t here for them, or to be accepted by them, because we have our own voice. While that is true, we have our own voice, I still believe we need to be accepted by them, or else we will always be seen as “other” or the “alternative”. I am not an “other”. I am not an “alternative”. I am a highly qualified first option and you all deserve to know that. (In the end, we agreed to disagree, so the debate continues…)
Again, I rambled on for quite a bit here, and I’m not sure if I’ve gotten all of my points across, but I know I got a few in there, but here is my final point:
Support my quality, not just my colour
Support my strength and my authenticity. I am capable and don’t need your hand-outs. While I might not support everything that Ms. Owens says, I do like the phase “hand-ups” that she uses – as in support me, but don’t save me. It’s my job to save me, but I know and accept that I can’t do it alone. I need allies – and this can be said for any social justice initiative out there. This may have been different in 1960, but in 2020, it doesn’t help anyone to try and put down the people you are “fighting against” because if you really think about it, you are “fighting” to have the status they have. If you insult them and shame them, they’re not gonna want to share it with you; instead they are going to fight back and protect it with all their might and make sure to put laws in place to make sure you don’t get it – BECAUSE THEY STILL HAVE ALL THE POWER.
Writing this brings me back to Aesop’s fable of “the Sun and the North Wind”. Blowing with all your might is just going to make “the man” hold onto what he has even tighter. Your job is to shine bright, be you, and then they will open up once they see how brilliant you are (but in order for them to see you, you better shine bright RIGHT in their faces).
Anyhow, I’m done. Thanks for listening!
Keep moving and be well
*Edit May 30th, 2020: Everything is still pretty up in arms on social media. I’ve been seeing others’ perspectives for the protesting (not rioting) and I respect the reasonings that I’ve read about. It’s true, peaceful protests have not worked in the past. The system has become so broken that those who are the law makers are not protecting all whom they are meant to serve and protect. To those in the streets, the question that was highlighted to me is “what is the value of keeping to this system”? Maybe what they are working towards is breaking down society so much that it needs to be rebuilt anew; hopefully all together. Maybe we should visit Rwanda… figure out how they did it…