Hiding No More
What a week….
I’m exhausted. I’ve been waiting for my whole life for white people to acknowledge in a full, real, way that racism exists, that systemic racism is a cancer and that changing this starts with each and every person. And sadly, George Floyd’s murder being played over and over and over again on television was the last straw.
I started sharing a little more of my story, on Facebook, because I knew that I could finally be seen and heard. I've copied it below, so you can read it here.
Here's a little background on me:
I grew up, in an all-white community. The only black people were my family members. We moved from England to Canada when I was 7. My parents were hoping to provide more opportunities for me and my sister, because they were limited due to racism in England. Yes, my life in Canada started with the hope that there was no racism here.
Unfortunately, there is. It's subtle and polite and it exists.
I watched my father struggle to find work in Canada. I saw his internalized rage when he was told over the phone that he had a job and when he arrived to meet the hiring party, he was told the job was filled.
I watched my dad work and go to school throughout my whole childhood, trying to follow the rules of this society….doing what he thought he needed to do, to find work that he thought he’d be qualified for. My parents wanted to make sure their daughters were university educated, all so we could have a better life. We were told “You have to be better, because you’re black.” I resented that, but I knew it was true.
And then there were the nuns. I remember as a child, nuns – who were strangers, coming up to me on the street and patting my hair. They thought they had a right to enter my personal space and touch my hair. I cannot count the number of times in my life that someone has put their hands in my hair, and then asked…Can I touch it?
Or my old favorite – every summer, as someone puts out their arm…Now I’m almost as tanned as you! I’ve mastered the art of fake laughing.
And when I met my friend’s parents as a young child when we moved to Montreal, the first thing they would ask was “What does your father do?” All so they could classify what echelon we were on in society. My parents told me not to answer that question. Do you see the irony? My father was systemically excluded from jobs with pay and status and we were judged by what he did. Lose, lose. That’s how systemic racism affected my life.
My sister and I went to an excellent school, where we thrived. I’ve had a pretty charmed life, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve ever felt the freedom to just be me or that I've been able to avoid racist behaviour towards me. I’ve always been cautious, observed and tried to hide.
When I posted on Facebook this week, a little vignette of my life experiences, it was because I’m hiding no more.
I felt the need to share. White people have told me that it’s helped them to see my perspective on life. I’m glad it helped, but my point was not to educate. I’ve been doing that for my ENTIRE life. Educating, being the role model, helping people to see that black people are smart and funny and loving and human.
And I’m really tired of educating. I just wanted to stop hiding. That's it!
And I’m tired of being the ONE black person that white people know. (If I’m not, then kudos to you!)
Why is it, that my son who is 25, born and raised in Canada, gets asked in small town northern Quebec – where he has lived for practically his entire life “So where are you from? I mean originally?” Why do people still ask me that? All. The. Time.
Anti-racism is a movement that must be led by white people. Black people have been screaming into the night and marching for decades.
And I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that this is the erupting volcano, that sweeps away what no longer fits.
But here’s the warning….after the volcano, the hard work of unraveling deeply engrained social programing around race begins. And that's hard and painful and deep.
Get ready. I hope we get there, but forgive me if I can’t get too excited at this moment. I'm emotionally exhausted.
Here's the post that I shared a post on Facebook this week, after George Floyd's murder, about how I feel about racism, systemic racism and how it’s affected me. I usually keep my pain to myself. But it felt like it was time to share...just a little.
I was born in England and we moved to Canada when I was seven. Racism is everywhere. At 5 years old, in England, my sister and I were chased home from school by girls calling us “blackie”. I didn’t understand what was going on. Those little girls had already been told they were better than us...because that’s what systemic racism is.
When I was 14 years old, now living in Canada, with my first summer job as a day camp counsellor, I was walking with a group of 5 year olds, taking them for ice cream. The police drove by, rolled down their window and wolf whistled at me. I was horrified, scared, incredulous. I didn’t tell anyone about that incident. Do you think I felt safe? Ever?
For me, racism keeps me silent. I try to hide. I go numb. I try to be invisible. I have kept so many incidents inside, tried so hard to have nothing affect me - but the result is that you haven’t heard my voice.
I’ve had a pretty blessed life AND I’ve dealt with racism and systemic racism for all my life. It’s real. It exists. Everywhere.
I’m so proud of all the young people demonstrating that KNOW that their voices need to be heard. I still hope....
When I saw the killing on television over and over and over again...I felt every pain I’ve ever suffered as a result of being black and growing up where systemic racism was the silent partner.
It’s real. It’s true. And now white people see it too.
I’m pretty sure that’s why all my work is about helping people to stop hiding, to use their voice, to make the difference they came here to make....because that heals me and it heals you too.
The picture is me and my sister in England, about the age that we were chased home from school.
I still hope....
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