COLUMN: When we hear racist sentiments, we must challenge it

By Nancy Stapleton, a Fall River resident

As a privileged white person, I can choose to turn off the news, stop scrolling through Twitter and pretend that what’s happening in the U.S. doesn’t affect or involve me.

What a privilege to have the option to safely and ignorantly go about my day without giving a second thought to the generations of trauma experienced by black people and indigenous people in North America. It’s not enough for us to ignore this reality and excuse ourselves from getting involved because “we’re not racist.” We’ve been told that to be “not racist” is not good enough. We must be ANTI-racist.

When we see and hear our friends and family and co-workers expressing racist sentiments – even passively – we must challenge it. And we have to be prepared for the backlash we may get – predictably we’ll be told (as I have been) to “keep our opinions north of the border.” My simple reply, “Human rights are borderless,” was met with more anger. Oh well.

I will challenge and speak out about injustice anywhere but I’m not so naive as to think that overt and covert racism is a foreign problem. Canada is a country built on unceded land and systemic racism is rampant here, as well. We’re just more polite about it. Whether it’s the disproportionate representation of indigenous people in our prisons, the lack of proper implementation of the recommendations of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission report, racial profiling and carding by our law enforcement agencies etc. etc. etc. – racism is deeply engrained in Canadian society. And in many of us. We’ve been socialized in and educated by racist institutions and the majority of us have uncomfortable truths to confront.

To my white friends: Stereotyping and cultural appropriation is racist. Denying the effects of HUNDREDS of years of discrimination and trauma is racist. Excusing the racist behaviours of others – regardless of their position in society – is racist.

It’s not always as obvious as racist slurs or the hunting down and murdering of black and indigenous people caught on camera. Racism is woven into the fabric of our day to day. Not challenging racism is racist.

If any of your beliefs or behaviours fall into this, I challenge you to stop and to explore where that comes from and work to change.

To my friends who are black or indigenous or persons of colour: I know it’s not your job to teach me how to do better. It’s not your job to explain systemic racism to me. I’m sorry. I hear you. I promise to speak out, to check my own biases and work to break the systems that perpetuate centuries of abuse, discrimination and trauma.

  • Nancy Stapleton, Fall River resident