This week has been emotionally draining. On Thursday, I began posting my thoughts on Instagram as I continued to watch the video footage, news coverage, and content that people were sharing on social media platforms. I knew immediately that I needed to get my thoughts and feelings out and onto paper but I wanted to do it in a way that reflected me and created something productive that someone reading it could understand. I will also admit that there was fear…..
The fear that I had stemmed from the idea that I didn’t want people I know to read this and judge me from various angles: this is too much emotion for me, this is not enough emotion for me, it didn’t happen to anyone you know personally so why are you so upset?, you haven’t been this vocal in the past so why now? I was worried that people within my own friend’s circle would think that I was just “jumping on the bandwagon” of Black people posting about the horrific murder of George Floyd. I have been vocal about racism and issues that are impacted by race relations for many years but I may have not posted as much on social media as some others or attended rallies or protests, etc. I have always welcomed the opportunity to have conversations and share my lived experiences with others in hopes that they will gain more understanding about what it means to be Black in North America. As a children’s book author, I worried that some may think I shouldn’t be writing about this topic as it is very mature in some aspects. But as a Black woman living in Canada, with 3 Black children that I teach to be empowered in their skin and their varying abilities, I also have to teach them about how their skin may impact how they experience the world as they get older.
When I watched the footage of George Floyd gasping for breath and telling the officers, “I can’t breathe. My stomach hurts”, over and over and I really realized what was happening to him in those moments along with the trauma it was causing for the Black bystanders that were recording the murder and pleading with the officers to get off of him, something in me just went off. The anger, hurt, and disgust I felt during that day caused me to lack focus and took me to a place where I could see something like that happening to people, I love. This week I cried, I prayed, I discussed with others, I cried and I prayed some more. Even if you cannot imagine it happening to you or a family member, the inhumanity of what ex-Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin did has to squeeze your insides and cause some kind of reaction. I think about my father, who is an older adult but sometimes is out on the road late at night, being stopped by the police and what they may or may not assume because of his skin colour. I think of my children’s father who is darker skinned than me and the numerous times he has been pulled over by the police because of the type of car he drives. I think about his heart rate immediately increases, not because he is worried about getting a ticket for something; he is worried that something may go wrong and he won’t make it home. I think about my brother who is 6’1 with locs and the encounters he has had with the police, specifically the time he was riding his bike home from a friend’s house at around 9pm and he was stopped by the police. When he asked why he was being stopped, he was asked several questions and his ID was reviewed. As they were finishing up with him, they stated that he was stopped for riding his bike on the sidewalk. That is was is known in Toronto, Canada as carding.
We live in Toronto, Canada and racism exists. I am tired of Canadians thinking that racism is an American problem. Racism is not a “they” problem it is a “we” problem. Racism in North America takes on many forms whether it is police brutality, white supremacy, micro-aggressions, systemic, veiled, or blatant. Prejudice and bias exist and this all comes from the way that Black people have been treated and oppressed for over four centuries. If you want to understand racism, you have to look at history: slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, poverty, socio-economics are some key points. You cannot look at the current state of Black people and think “what’s their problem? They have jobs, some have really good jobs…they have the same freedoms as me. I don’t understand why they think racism is still such a big deal”. Non-Blacks also may think that racism primarily affects Black men which is not true also. Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Regis Korchinski-Paquet to name a few in recent times are women who were killed interacting with law enforcement. Racism, on some level, on a daily basis is the experience of Black men and women throughout North America. Racism has no geographical or gender preference which is clearly evident. Race and learning about difference begin at a young age.
When I was a young girl in about the third grade, I received the Principals Award for academic achievement and when I went up to accept my award, my best friend at the time who was white stuck her tongue out at me and made a face. Once school was finished and I was waiting for my mom to pick me up, two boys in my class said that the only reason I got the award is because I slept with the principal. Being the only Black kid in the class at that time and hearing this was something that shook me. I had never experience discrimination so directly before this moment and I couldn’t understand why people who knew that I was legitimately smart couldn’t just accept the fact that I earned the award fair and square. To experience prejudice on two levels; gender and race was shocking to me as a 7-year-old. Needless to say, my parents weren’t having it and the matter was dealt with swiftly. Both the boys and their parents were brought in and the boys had to apologize to me. Unfortunately, I don’t think the apologies were very genuine because this wouldn’t be the last time, I had run ins with those children. I sometimes wonder what happened to those kids. Did they continue to look at those who were “other” through a biased lens? Did their prejudices grow as they moved into new spaces throughout life or were, they snuffed out through a willingness to unlearn certain ideologies they picked up from their families and society along the way? I will probably never know the answers to those questions but it scares me to think that the former may be true because that is how Derek Chauvin’s, George Zimmerman’s, Gregory and Travis Michael’s, and William Bryan’s of the world may have started out. To know that there are so many little kids being taught to hate someone for the colour of their skin without getting to know the content of their heart worries me for my children. I worry that no matter how much protesting we do, how much money we donate to fight for change, and how many lives are lost that we may never see racism and oppression end because in each generation there is a new breed of racists being raised and nurtured by the older generations ahead of them. To hear some of the things that come out of a racists mouth baffles my mind while at the same time it doesn’t surprise me.
My daughter, Sheriauna, has been aware of racism for a few years now. She has already had to deal with her own experience of having a child call her the N-word. At the time it happened all she could do was cry, which tells me that although she had never really heard the word used before, she had some idea that it was a bad word that was meant to hurt her and make her feel less than equal. To be honest, I do not even know if that child knew the full weight of what they were saying but the problem lies in the fact that they felt entitled to say it. I have been having conversations about skin colour, Black identity, racism, socio-economic disparity with Sheriauna for several years now and that conversation has varied depending on her age. Now that she is a teenager with her social media accounts, I have less control over what she does and does not see before I have a chance to discuss it with so I am constantly checking in with her. If I see something in the news, I bring it to hear attention so that she has a chance to be aware of it and get the full context before seeing disturbing and traumatizing videos on her social media feeds. This weekend Sheriauna asked me why would God let this happen to George Floyd if He is supposed to protect us. I will be honest, I was at a loss for words because her question was so genuine and so hard. The best thing I could say to her was that sin and intent are a choice and as I have always taught her, our choices have consequences either good or bad. I know that that doesn’t help with the hurt, pain, frustration, and anger that the Black community is facing. It may not even answer her question in a way that fully satisfies her, but I hope that as I educate her and encourage her to embrace her Black culture and all that it encompasses from history to now that she will be a catalyst of change with so many of her Black counterparts that are coming up. I also hope that she is a catalyst of change in her group of friends that have non-Black faces so that they can become real allies and not stand for any systemic injustice or racist behaviour not only towards Sheriauna, but towards ANY Black person and POC.
Many have said that racism is the second pandemic that we are facing right now. The difference between COVID-19 and racism is that there is no vaccine in sight for the latter. The only cure for what is happening to the Black community is for EVERYONE to stand up and be anti-racism. We can no longer sit on the sidelines and say that someone else will march, speak, or fight. We must all do our part in some small way when we see something that is not right. If you are not sure whether or not something is racist or not, listen to your gut and if you’re racism radar is not in check, educate yourself to figure out how you can re-calibrate your radar. My Black brothers and sisters, my Black family, my Black children and I cannot afford to have you remain silent. This is a very heavy topic, but we as a human race cannot afford to not talk to our children about race and racism. If you do not know where to start, visit www.adifferentbooklist.com or www.knowledgebookstore.com if you live in Toronto or the Greater Toronto Area. There are many online resources available and I have posted some books on my Instagram page also. We now need to be colour conscious and understand that we are all the same in our humanity however we still do have unique differences that should be acknowledged, respected, and included. Teaching children that everyone belongs and has the right to occupy space in the world right down to their local community and incorporating literature and visual media where they see Black people and other POC is important. It may not always be easy to find as your local library may not carry a wide selection of diverse books but do the work; seek it out.
I believe now more than ever where we, Black people, used to sit and allow micro-aggressions to roll off our backs, or deal with discrimination in silence because we didn’t want to rock the boat, that will stop; more people will stand up for themselves. There is an uprising and a revolution coming. I pray that productive movement will happen and that no more Black people will lose their lives in vein for this fight. This week has been emotionally draining. I am tired. As you may have all heard, your Black friends, colleagues and family members are tired. But we will keep fighting. We will wake up and continue to work, raise our children, and be the people we are because that is what we have to do to survive and to hopefully thrive. We will find the joy in the midst of the storm. Racism still exists but hope still exists too.