Tag Archives: racism

BIPOC, Discrimination, A Great Team and Little Fires

I learned what the term BIPOC means this week.  My son is the host of a weekly radio music show and this Thursday he featured music by black artists and gave specific suggestions from members of the BIPOC community about ways we can support them.

Mural on the wall of one of the schools I visit in my job as an education student mentor

The term BIPOC was new to me so I did a little research. The letters stand for Black, Indigenous People of Color.   According to writer Mahreen Ansari the term is a replacement for the phrase people of colour, which in turn replaced coloured people.  People of colour was a better term than coloured people because the people or human part came first.

Mural of children on Broadway Avenue in Saskatoon

The problem with the term people of colour was that it put all non-white people into one category when often the discrimination they were experiencing was very different and was specific to their particular race. The term Black, Indigenous People of Color is considered more specific but also more inclusive because it brings together people of multiracial backgrounds in a way that doesn’t erase their specific identity. 

The events that have unfolded since the death of George Floyd on May 25th make it clear white people like me have lots to learn when it comes to understanding what it means to be BIPOC in North American society. 

I visited one of the young women from this advisory group in Georgia

This week I have been thinking about a student of mine I visited in Savannah Georgia.  I was holidaying there and got together with a young woman who had been in several of my classes as well as my advisory cohort when I taught in Hong Kong. She was studying art at a college in Savannah.  She told me how challenging it was to adjust to life in the American south because growing up in Hong Kong she had never experienced prejudice and discrimination because of the colour of her skin like she did in Georgia.  It was a rude awakening for her. 

For some reason, a photo of me with my colleagues in the English department of the high school in Hong Kong where I taught has resurfaced on Facebook this past week.  People have been commenting on the photo and reposting it.  It reminded me of how incredibly privileged I was to work with these four strong, intelligent and gifted women.  We all came from different countries, had many different life experiences and were different ages, but we were such a good team and I learned so much from each one of them.   What a perfect way to end my teaching career. 

Dave and I just finished watching the new television series Little Fires Everywhere based on the novel of the same name by Celeste Ng.   I found the story thought-provoking and timely. The setting for the story is an Ohio town called Shaker Heights which prides itself on its racial integration. But as the story progresses we realize that racism is still all too real in the community.  The acting performances of  Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington are masterful. They play two mothers who have made very different choices about how to live their lives and raise their children and the reasons for their choices raise some important moral and ethical questions.  I’d like to read the book now. 

Other posts…………….

A Black and White Religion

Learning a New Word

What’s a Bonus Family?

 

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Filed under Hong Kong, Media

How I Became Aware of Racism

I’ve been thinking about how old I was when I first became aware of the idea of racism.  I grew up in a small Mennonite Canadian town where almost everyone was white.  Take a look at my elementary and junior high school class pictures and that’s clearly evident.

Three things stand out in my mind when I think of racism awareness in my childhood and teen years.  

My Grade Five Class in 1963 with our teacher Mr Klassen. 

In grade five I had a very innovative teacher, Mr Helmut Klassen.  I loved him because we did all sorts of hands-on projects. He taught us how to have a debate. We learned the rules and format of debating, and the best way to prepare and present our case.  

The topic of one of the debates we had in our class was whether black and white people should be treated equally. I argued for the affirmative and the research and planning I did for that debate was probably my first introduction to racism.  I can still see myself up on the stage at the old Southwood School in Steinbach drawing an illustration on a portable chalk blackboard to illustrate one of my points.

Now, of course, the very fact that we had a DEBATE over whether there should be racial equality seems hard to believe. I memorized a poem to recite during that debate called Incident.  It was by a black American writer Countee Cullen and it brought me to tears every time I read it. I can still recite it by heart. You can read it here. 

I will never forget that around the same time I heard an elderly relative of mine use the N-word.  And I remember how horrified I was. I knew enough about racism to be shocked. My mother explained that the woman had grown up in the American south and it was a word she used out of habit. I knew her as the sweetest and kindest of souls but it got me thinking about how even ‘good people’ could be racist and how I might be racist too. Then in high school, I read a book called Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn. It was published the year I was thirteen but I was a bit older when I read it. I don’t remember where I got it. I was a voracious reader growing up in a town without a library so I was always gathering books like a packrat, from a whole variety of sources.  

The novel was the life story of a young man named David, a civil rights activist from Mississippi.  The title alluded to the Biblical hero David who challenged the giant Goliath with only five smooth stones as his weapons. Part of the attraction of the novel for me was David’s turbulent romantic relationship with a white woman named Sara. It faced insurmountable obstacles because of the laws against interracial marriage, but the 900-page saga also introduced me, a sheltered white teenager, to the horrors of the Jim Crow laws, legal discrimination and the legacy of slavery.  

I read and re-read it many times until the book was literally falling apart.  I just looked it up on Good Reads and was surprised how many people said that growing up in the 1960s this book was what shook their world of white privilege.  I haven’t read it in decades and I am sure it would seem dated were I to read it now, and certainly would seem less than authentic because it was penned by a white author, but at the time it was such an eye-opener. 

If you are white and of a generation similar to mine how did you become aware of the idea of racism? 

Other posts……….

Racism- Pure and Simple

A Display of Racist Anger

A Racist Statue

 

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Filed under Books, Education, Politics

A Display of Racist Anger

coffeeI was in a Winnipeg fast-food establishment early Tuesday morning having a coffee when a man strode in through the doors and started yelling and screaming at the young clerk behind the counter. The clerk was Sikh and the angry man was liberally lacing his long and loud tirade not only with the f_____ word, which he used several times in each sentence but also vile racist references.  

The customer was upset because earlier he had used the drive-through of the restaurant to pick up a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee and there had been some syrup on his cup which had gotten onto his hands.  He basically accused the restaurant employees of deliberately putting the syrup on his cup.  

The clerk to his credit remained calm during the man’s foul and racist diatribe and even tried to interject with an apology,  offering to get the man a new cup of coffee and call his manager.   This went on for several minutes.  Part of me felt like I should do something, perhaps get up and defend the clerk, but the angry customer was a very large, very tall man wearing a camouflage type jacket and work boots and frankly, I would have been terrified to get in his way.

 I couldn’t stop thinking about the incident all day.   What makes someone become such an angry person? What had happened or not happened in the life of the irate man to make him so racist, so uncouth, so enraged about something so minor?  If this was the way he reacted to a little syrup on his coffee cup how might he react to members of his family when they did something that irritated him?  I worried he might have a partner or children who had to bear the brunt of his troubled anger. 

And I thought about the young man behind the counter too.  What must it be like to know you are constantly at risk of becoming a target for that kind of racist violent behaviour because of the colour of your skin and the way you choose to outwardly express your religious beliefs? I realized from my privileged position as a white person who belongs to the dominant religious group in Canada I had no way of understanding that. 

In the past Winnipeg has been accused of being the most racist city in Canada.  That has always upset me because I find Winnipeg to be such a friendly place to live and I love its diversity. But that incident on Tuesday exposed me to the kind of racism that does exist in Winnipeg and had me thinking seriously about what I can do about it.  

Other posts……….

Racism Pure and Simple

A Racist Statue

An Important Letter

 

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Racism- Pure and Simple

We were having supper in a small hotel in Portugal and my husband struck up a conversation with the only other diner, a man from Chicago. He was in Portugal looking for a retirement home to buy.  He and his wife had planned to retire in Arizona or Florida but the election of Donald Trump and the fear he might get re-elected in 2020 has them looking elsewhere for a retirement residence.  

Our dinner companion said he wants to throw up every time he sees Donald Trump on television. He called him and I quote “a moron without morals.”  He told us he is particularly sickened by the evangelical Christian support of a man who is the antithesis of everything Christianity should embody.  I asked him why he thought Donald Trump enjoys so much support in the United States. His answer was quick.  “It’s racism. Pure and simple.” He felt Donald Trump made people feel less uncomfortable about their underlying racist tendencies. He was sure Trump was voted in as a backlash against the election of a black president. 

The morning after our conversation with the Chicago businessman I happened to read an article in The Atlantic called The Heavy Burden of Teaching My Son about Racism in America. It was by Jemar Tisby, a PhD history candidate and the president of a group called The Witness. They seek to engage the Christian church in an honest dialogue about racism in America.

 Tisby’s article explained how he, like all diligent black parents, has had to introduce his seven- year old son to the reality of racism in the United States. Black parents must remind their children early and often that people may consider them threatening for no reason. They must tell their kids they will have to work twice as hard as others and won’t get second chances. They have to teach their children that just hanging out with other black kids in too big a group can raise suspicion.

Parents must choose the right way to explain lynching and slavery since they play such an important role in family history. Tisby lives in Mississippi and he says racism is especially prevalent in the American south. He believes in the south for “every adult who is trying to train their children to confront racial intolerance, there is another teaching their children how to perpetuate and preserve it.”

Illustration from a blog post called Youth Perspectives on Racism by Tom Yoder

I had wanted to believe my Chicago acquaintance from the previous evening was exaggerating when he talked about the extent of racism in the United States. Tisby’s article suggested he was not.

 And we Canadians need not grow too smug, We have our own issues of racism to address. 

Other posts……..

I’m So Tired of You America

A Novel So Long It Took Us Through Eight States

Bear Witness

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A Novel So Long It Took Us Through Eight States

small-great-things-hc-400wDave and I have been listening to Jodi Picoult’s novel Small Great Things on our drive back to Manitoba from Arizona.  It is a loooooooooong book!  Nearly sixteen hours of listening.  Jodi always addresses a social issue in her novels  and presents ethical dilemmas for her readers to consider. The issue in Small Great Things is racism and the ethical dilemma is faced by a black labor and delivery nurse named Ruth. She has been told by her supervisor not to touch the baby of a white supremacist couple Britt and Turk Bauer after they complain about having a black woman care for their baby. But the newborn goes into cardiac arrest when Ruth happens to be the only staff person in the nursery. She must decide whether to try to save the baby’s life or follow the orders she has been given not to touch the child. Due to her decision she is fired and charged with murder in the baby’s death. 

Jodi Picoult is known for her meticulous research and this book helps you learn almost too much about how newborns are cared for in hospitals, how court cases are researched, the incredibly scary world of white supremacists in America, and the effects of racism on communities, society and individuals.  Jodi says in an afterword she did not write this book so much to show the burden African-Americans carry because of the color of their skin, but rather to show white Americans how racist they are, even if they think they aren’t. 

I was concerned about how the book would end because Jodi can sometimes give you a surprise ending that is troubling and unsatisfying.  I kept telling Dave what I was worried would happen. This book did not end the way I predicted and left some of my questions unanswered but I was satisfied with it. 

Jodi’s books always have multiple narrators and this story is told by Ruth the nurse, Turk Bauer the white supremacist and Kennedy McQuarrie Ruth’s lawyer. Perhaps because I was listening to it rather than reading it, I sometimes felt that Jodi repeated too many things in her consecutive narratives instead of always moving the story ahead as quickly as she might have.  I did think the novel could have used a good edit and as I listened kept thinking of parts I would have slashed.  

Still this was a good story that kept us engaged as we drove through eight different states. In fact listening to this story set in America while driving through America added to its appeal and made it even more thought-provoking. 

Note: The title comes from a quote by Martin Luther King

 If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way

Other posts……..

Sing You Home- A Book Set to Music

Loving

Fruitvale Station

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Filed under Books