Racism for Beginners

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

In the 21st century it is becoming more and more difficult to validate and label when racial discrimination has taken place.  Why? If we are all in agreement that racism is still a Canadian reality, then what does it look like today? Provided below are three points that will only scratch the surface in explaining how racism operates. Let’s call it, ‘Racism for Beginners’.

1. The role of stereotyping –Though underrated and underestimated, stereotyping is the sharpest weapon used when enacting acts of racial violence in the 21st century. Stereotypes are generalized ideas, messages and communications used to define a particular group. Stereotypes are the soil within which racism has planted its roots. In North America, not only is there a fear of racialized persons, but more so what the racialized body represents. With the help of the media (yes CNN and Worldstarhiphop this includes you), inadequacies in the elementary and high school curricula (especially history texts) and some good old-fashion racist beliefs, the racialized body has developed a particular representation throughout the years. Let’s take the Black body:
Black male = criminal, dropout, waste, destructive, lazy, good-for-nothing, violent
Black female = angry, hypersexual, dependent on social assistance, uneducated
*The author acknowledges the range of genders on the gender spectrum, and that gender is not restricted to a male and female binary. These messages permeate not only our individual consciousness but the very way our institutions operate. Hiring and promotion practices, formal and informal workplace policies, the training of our public servants including teachers, health care providers and police officers are all affected by these messages.

2. Stop looking for the “Whites Only” sign. There’s this thing called microaggression and systemic racism that have ushered in a wave of racism that is damn near impossible to identify, but yet still have the same psychological and physical impacts of ‘old school’ racism. Microaggression is the racism you feel but most times can’t prove. In the workplace it tends to take two forms: 1) A person who undoubtedly has issues working with (or for) a racialized individual – this contempt may take the form of your white colleague being acknowledged while you (the racialized body) are completely ignored even though you are standing right next to them. 2) Microaggression may take the form of individuals being completely (…and I mean completely …) unaware, unconscious and just plain ignorant of how offensive and racist some statements can be. It is even more difficult to identify when the statements take the form of “compliments”. Real life example – During a Black History month event, someone stated how excited they were to see the many contributions persons of African descent have made to societies worldwide. The person “complimented” me by saying, “You people have done so well for yourselves. *slaps forehead*

Why is this important? When microaggression and systemic racism collides  in spaces such as the workplace, in policing practices and the education system, a structural web is created that often leads to:
(a) all-white senior management team – with minimal opportunities for workplace growth for racialized individuals;
(b) inconsistent policing practices – for e.g. some individuals are allowed to have their friends take them home when drunk, while others have their bodies thrown to the ground and taken into the police station for being belligerent;
(c) education without representation – classrooms that are devoid of teachers, administration and textbooks that reflect the diversity of students whom they serve.

3. Not all racialized people understand (or care) about how racism operates in society. Being a Black woman, I think it is important for me to make clear that the Black community is not a homogenous, robotic thinking tribe that can’t “get its act together”. Actually, the Black community is made up of different complexions, histories, ethnicities, economic privileges, sexualities, genders and abilities, so we all come to the proverbial ‘table’ with a different view and understanding of the problem and the solution. To understand how racism operates in the 21st century means seeking information from racialized individuals who study and engage with issues of racism and race relations.

One of the main reasons why issues of  racism are difficult to address is because too many people outside of the racialized communities tend to be the gatekeepers of validating when acts of racial discrimination is taking place. Though we as a Canadian society are willing to have these difficult conversations, we are also very quick to dismiss issues of race by making statements such as:
My father is an immigrant and he had to work very hard to be successful, why can’t you…
Stop playing the race card
(or my favorite) “Don’t compare Canada and the US, we don’t have racism like that here“.- Do these sound familiar? More importantly, have you ever said these or similar statements?

Recently, the topic of racism has been garnering international media attention. It is imperative that we not allow the media to control the narrative and lifespan of such discussions, and continue these conversations in our classrooms and work spaces in efforts to ensure that we are doing our part to eliminate all discriminatory behaviors. Racism is complex. Therefore the discussions that we have about the issue must reflect the complexity of the topic. Racism is alive, it is an act of violence and it must end.

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