Friday, 1 May 2015

I'm a Racist

I’m a racist.

I know that I haven’t written anything in ages (busy church, busy life) and that such a statement is a bit of a harsh way back into conversation with folks… but it needed to be said.

I am a racist.

I don’t want to be.

I don’t mean to be.

But the truth is that  words sound wiser in my ears when they come from a voice that sounds like my Grandfather.  
I listen more closely when the face sharing the message reminds me of my Grandmother.  
I tend towards foods that remind me of my Great Grandmother or the culinary heritage of my ancestors. 
I dance better to the rhythms of my childhood.  
My favourite games are the ones that I played with my parents.
Things that remind me of my childhood make me feel safe and comfortable.  

And all of these things make me tend toward my “Tribe” and similar “Tribes”.   I laugh at Irish jokes because I recognize the references and I will often think that other jokes aren't as funny because I am less familiar with their references and rhythms.   

I understand and support solutions that come from my cultural heritage and sound familiar to me.  I know that the best way to fix something is to find a good clever and strong man who will enforce his will for justice on the bad man.  I've learned that from my cultural reading list that begins with the Odyssey, carries on through our “Victory” in World War II and is found in movies like Dirty Harry and The Avengers.   I've been taught by well-meaning people that I should aspire to being good, clever and strong so that I can apply my solution to people’s problems and in that way, love them and make the world better.

That kind of tribalism makes me a racist and a bigot.

Not because I think that other races, cultures or groups are lesser – but because I simply do not give them equal weight when it comes time to listening, embracing or acting.  “Their” way just seems so backward. I give power and privilege to the familiar... sort of an "old boys network" of procedures and ethics. 

I am a cisgendered, heterosexual, man in his early fifties, descended from Irish and Scottish immigrants,  employed full time, and in a stable domestic relationship.  All of which speaks of privilege. (just to be clear, I also cheer for Toronto Sports teams, so it’s not like I’ve got everything going my way).  There are some in the same or similar cohort who want to deny the privilege that we have – but I suspect that much like climate change, we say we don’t believe it simply because we don’t know how to deal with the implications or how to make things better.  One cannot look at the evidence and rationally deny the existence of Climate Change or Racism.

 Yes, I have heard that “white men” can’t get jobs because they all go to “minorities.  (Please note, those who crow this sentiment and include women in the group “minorities” – women are actually in majority, so you are the minority seeking work.)  I have never experienced my person as a liability in finding employment.  I did lose an election once because, apparently, they were looking for a younger voice. That’s not unfair… that was a preference expressed by an informed majority.

I have the privilege of travelling and I have never been held up by airport officials with the exception of one extra baggage check during which the security officers were polite and apologized for taking up my time.
I have been questioned, detained investigated by police.  They have always taken my word when asked to explain myself, always treated me with polite respect, even when one officer thought that I was trying to be uncooperative. 
When I offer assistance to a stranger in the street, it is nearly always accepted and received with thanks.
When I am confused or lost in public, people are always helpful.

Now, all of this could be because of my striking good looks and obviously winning personality… 
or, more likely, it could be that in Toronto 2015, my cohort is in very good standing.  We are not terrorists, anarchists, bitches, immigrants, freeloader, petty criminals, violent thugs, or stupid outsiders – as least as far as public perception goes.

So, why am I dumping this on you, gentle reader?

For the past week or so, I've been stunned into shocked silence by the Earthquake that has devastated Katmandu and I have been equally stunned and shocked by the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing public demonstrations.  I've sent some money to Nepal to aid in the relief… but I’m not sure what to do for Baltimore.

Except recognize the deep problem and try to at least be less of a contributor. 

What happened in Baltimore and continues to happen in cities and towns across North America is a result of racism. Like Climate Change: I know it, you know it… we just don’t know what to do, so we deny it, or simply shut up.

So, I may not be in time to stop the next black man or child from being assaulted, abused or murdered by the authoritarian system that I support (at least tacitly) – but maybe, I can start to do something that might save the somebody 150 people down the line.  I've
got to start somewhere.

I start by acknowledging that I tend to the familiar and I am most comfortable in my “tribe” – be it defined by race, culture, economics, gender, sexuality, age or something else.  And I commit myself to broadening – to opening up my tribe.  I do that by listening… by following… by praying…
I commit to not so much using my privilege as letting it go.  The world keeps offering me privilege and every time that I fix things “my way”, I get to be the hero and the power and privilege stay with me. Others are invited to look on in gratitude.   I need to let that go and NOT fix everything, but listen to other voices, support solutions that may not make immediate sense to me… I need to hear the voices and respect the opinions of those who are oppressed – rather than comparing their oppression to mine or denying their painful reality.   

And in this, I will begin to open my eyes, my ears and my heart to others.. I will open up my tribe so that one day, I just might recognize everyone as a brother or sister; might agree, disagree, struggle, collaborate in active love, not privileged charity… and maybe, I will recognize that a revolution is possible (as soon as we stop calling them all rioters).
Maybe one day, I will help my government take the needs of First Nations seriously.
Maybe one day, I will help my community be open to immigration.
Maybe one day, I will help my neighbour recognize that brilliant and free people do wear a hijab.
Maybe one day, I will be against violence without having to choose sides. 
Maybe one day, a bad police officer will be arrested immediately and we won't need to consider his or her colour
Maybe one day, I will be informed by the wisdom of elders that weren't at family dinners.
Maybe one day, I will be changed by you...

These thoughts are far from complete… but then, so am I.   But I’m working on it… And for those who might wonder if there’s anything religious in this… it is Jesus, who eats with tax collectors and Samaritans, who reminds me that I need to open up my understanding of tribe and it is a loving God who give me hope that we might all recognize our shared humanity and truly be brothers and sisters to one another. 

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