More Musings on Racism

How is it that many North Americans can listen to the most horrific news, briefly think “what a shame” or “how awful”, then shrug  their shoulders and move on?  Why is it that we can so easily turn an unseeing eye to the atrocities perpetrated by our institutions of power against brown and black folk, both at home and around the world?  And what is it about our pale-coloured skin that makes us believe these same institutions of oppression, persecution, inhumanity and violence won’t be turned against us?  Earlier, I would have  pinned it solely on what I’ve come to see as a deeply imbedded but unacknowledged racism.  Lately I’ve come to realize that, of course, it is far more complicated than this.

So why is it that we remain unmoved by the violence around us?  For the entirety of my adult life I had been aware, on an intellectual level, of the many crises facing humanity: war, violence, oppression, poverty, pollution, environmental degradation – essentially the abuse of all things human and non-human, living and non-living – yet I remained, on the whole, unmoved.  Perhaps the sheer enormity and extent of this abuse is so psychologically crippling as to render one immobile, unable to act?  Perhaps, overwhelmed, there is a forceful, subconscious denial of the connection between our action (or inaction) and such matters.  Could it be the tranquilizing effect of the ‘sanitized’ language of war: “shock and awe”, “collateral damage”,  “healthy day of bombing”, “servicing a target”?  If the language of war was real, a language of hatred and blood, violence and death, pain and despair, would we then be moved?

We North Americans are a distracted and busy bunch of people; disconnected from our own humanity, we pursue hedonism and materialism to the point of self-oblivion.  This frenetic busy-ness, this empty hedonism, I think masks a very deep and unacknowledged pain.  I’ve come to believe that, despite all our privileges, we are a wounded people, disconnected and deeply wounded: disconnected from our life-giving mother, the earth; disconnected from our families, and others; disconnected from our heart, our very selves; disconnected from our deepest knowing.  This disconnect manifests as a terrifying, gaping, internal abyss – an emptiness vast and frightening.   We maintain a frantic pace to our lives so that only on the rare occasion do we catch a glimpse of this terrifying emptiness and a whiff of the scent of our own fear.

I’ve come to believe that only after this psychological, this spiritual hurt has been healed will we be able to feel the pain of the living creatures with whom we share the earth, our mother.   When we are once again able to feel deeply, emotionally, spiritually, we will be wrenched to our very core by the violence perpetrated against brown folks, against the poor, against our children, against the earth itself; we will grieve deeply and, unable to sit by, we will be moved to action.

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Acknowledging My Own Racism

Acknowledging one’s own racism is not something a middle-class, ‘liberal-minded’ person does.  Unless we’re applying the term to someone else, the word makes us feel uncomfortable, so much so that, in an effort to protect the ego, the mind is quick to bury any tentative foray into the consideration of our own racism.

A funny thing happens, though, if one allows oneself to consider how and in what manner one might be racist: once in the spotlight, once acknowledged and under scrutiny, the racism evaporates.   To acknowledge and examine one’s assumptions about a particular ‘race’ or group of people, leads to openness, to exploration, to understanding and new information.  Previously unacknowledged stereotypical thinking vanishes.

Prior to Monday night, I would never have considered applying the word racist to myself; however, this past Monday night, I watched the documentary “Unrepentant” by Kevin Annett and Louie Lawless.  This documentary chronicles Kevin Annett’s on-going attempts to bring to light Canada’s historical and continuing genocidal practices against aboriginal peoples.  In brief: over 50,000 aboriginal children died at the hands of the church and the state in Canada’s residential schools.  More than 50% of the students who attended residential schools died.  These are the official statistics, imagine what the real numbers are.  Stop for a moment and imagine sending your child to a school where they would have a greater than 50% chance of being killed, not to mention enduring physical, sexual and psychological abuse beyond our imagining.  This is not ancient history, the last residential school closed in 1996.  I would have been 26 years old at the time.

After having watched this documentary, after having had my very core shattered by the brutality and horror that aboriginal peoples have endured and continue to endure, I was forced to confront my own racism.  Yes, I had known that native children had been abused at residential schools, but how could I not have known the extent of this holocaust?  How could I have accepted government and church apology for this genocide simply as politics of the day and not delved deeper?  The truth is, I didn’t want to know; I didn’t need to know; it had nothing to do with me.  I now acknowledge this disinterest, this unquestioning acceptance of the official ‘storyline’ as a form of racism.