A lot of white people like to think that Canada is a perfect place where nobody cares about race, and everyone is treated equally. I don’t know what fantasy land they’re living in, but that’s empirically wrong – racism still exists, and it affects people so, so often. That colorblind way of thinking is already dangerous: it strips away a very real history of oppression, ignores cultures, enforces a white norm and disconnects people from talking about race. So, it doesn’t help that it’s such an astonishingly common mentality.
A couple of months ago I got into an argument about race with a white woman, and she hit me with the “I don’t care if you’re white, black, green or purple …” cliché. That always bugged me, because I do care about my culture, my history and the colour of my skin. It matters to me, and it should be respected. Anti-blackness in Canada is a lot subtler than it is in the U.S. Here, we’re plagued with microaggressions that stack up and end up doing the same amount of damage to black culture as their more overt counterparts. Nobody has ever walked up to my face and callef me the N-word in Toronto, but I do get followed by store owners who automatically deem me suspicious whenever I walk into a corner store. I get stopped by TTC transit officers because they think I’d be the type to skip paying my fare. People cross the street when they see me walking by myself at night because they’re afraid I’m going to attack them. I fight twice as hard to get recognition and opportunities that people with a lighter skin tone get for free. It’s these things, these annoying and racist things, that happen daily to black people. It gets so tiring. It’s especially tiring having to explain this to people who don’t experience it, because they’ll never fully understand, and realising that is one of the most disheartening things a person of colour can feel.
I was talking to one of my white friends about these racial hurdles, and I could see on his face that he was trying to sympathise, he really was, but sympathy isn’t what I wanted. He was just getting upset at himself, which was frustrating, because I don’t care about his white guilt. The issue wasn’t about him, and he shouldn’t have made it about himself.
If you’ve never experienced a certain prejudice, or you can’t fully empathise with it, just listen. Try to understand. Open your ears, close your mouth and listen. That’s the start of change, and it’s the only way we’re going to get anywhere. Black people have a lot of strong, diverse and important things to add to our society. Take us seriously, listen to our stories and support our content. Hopefully, in the future, the obstacles black people face in order to achieve their goals won’t exist, and we won’t even have to discuss them. But, as of right now, they’re very real, and need to be dealt with.