It’s been about six months since George Floyd was executed on camera and our cultural conversation received an electric jolt. In Canada, since then, we have had our own terrible incidents of police violence against Black and Indigenous people.
I want to check in and take inventory of how our lives have changed. Black and Indigenous readers, has anything changed for you in your personal or professional life? Other readers of colour, how about you? White readers, have you experienced shifts in your personal or professional lives? Have you taken opportunities to further shift your own consciousness or anyone else’s? Have things settled back into “normal”?
My personal life since May
In my own personal life, I am feeling mixed effects of being part of this necessary movement. I have had personal conflicts with white and white-passing family and friends that have resulted in much more fruitful conversations. With some longstanding white friends, I’ve engaged in such radically transformative exchanges that it feels like the bedrock has shifted beneath us and we’ve found ourselves in a new, more open, more responsive and empathetic and true friendship.
Unfortunately, I find some of my friendships shifting for the worse. Some of my white friends are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing; they won’t make themselves vulnerable or open to learning. Our conversations have become very superficial, since I can’t talk about who I am and how world events are affecting me without having them re-centering their own good intentions, saying “not all white people,” talking about how guilty they feel. It just means I am having fewer meetups and much shorter, shallower conversations. It feels like we are moving back into more segregated spaces.
Practicing letting go of relationships where there is not space for my whole self is painful but rewarding, and I’m left with only those friendships in which I don’t have to be fettered or diplomatic in how I describe my own experiences of the world.
What’s happening professionally
Professionally, it’s also a mixed experience. One glance at my schedule since May shows that I’ve been asked to do dozens of events as a panelist, moderator, and speaker on racial justice and anti-Black racism. It’s thrilling to be so open professionally about these issues that have of course been the backdrop of my entire career. White people are listening and engaging in an entirely different way, and Black people are being given more space to speak. It’s so dynamic!
Also, though, I’m starting to see a bit of a shift in white colleagues that isn’t unexpected. White people new to this movement are so full of energy and drive and they’re ready to make change, and they are beginning to get frustrated at a lack of concrete actions and “next steps” to take. I’m trying to gently remind them that the changes we seek may very well not happen in our lifetimes. Being part of a social movement without understanding that will lead to disappointment, burnout, and disengagement—all of which I am beginning to sense in some of my white professional colleagues and in conversation with various groups.
Keeping the movement moving
It’s imperative we keep our momentum. This is a pivotal time when people are, on an unprecedented scale, openly discussing and understanding the horrors of police violence against Black people, the school-to-prison pipeline, the pervasiveness of systemic racism, the daily damage of living in a racist world. In Canada, Settlers seem to be finally reckoning with the sheer scale of violence against Indigenous people, and how the genocide begun centuries ago continues today. How do we make sure this awakening leads to continued, sustained action that brings about real change?
I can’t provide a tidy five-step to-do list. That’s not how social change works. But I can provide a few ideas to keep this social movement relevant and effective and to stop us from feeling hopeless.
My suggestions from an earlier post are still relevant; you can read those here. I would especially urge white readers to go read or re-read that list.
Ideas for Black and Indigenous people
We need to be with other people in our communities (woke ones, who don’t feel like corporate news anchors) to find our strength. That’s how we have kept sane for centuries. We need our get-togethers, our dancing and music and eating together. How do we do this during COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on our bodies and communities? The same way we’re doing everything right now; at a distance, or online. It isn’t the same as our big and intimate gatherings but it will have to do for now.
If you don’t have a community of Black or Indigenous people you feel close to right now, the next best thing can be to sink into Black or Indigenous authors. They can be political and non-fiction writers writing explicitly about racism, or they can just be our voices, our stories, reflecting and imagining our lives and worlds.
Keep up your spiritual practices, take care of your body with rest, nourishing food and movement—I don’t know what I would do without my walks—and do anything else that makes you feel safe and cared for.
Ideas for white people and non-Black, non-Indigenous people of colour
Again, this isn’t comprehensive or tidy, and again, there is a vigorous list of ideas in a post from June.
Assuming you’ve already done some explicitly anti-racist reading (and if you haven’t, see that list for suggestions!), I recommend you take the next step and set yourself a challenge. For the next year, read only Black or Indigenous authors, in every genre. History, poetry, fiction, children’s books, plays, non-fiction, romance, science fiction and fantasy. White voices and perspectives are so centered in our culture that we don’t even think of them as white, and we just think of them as normal, and everything else as Other. Allow Black and Indigenous voices to become just as nuanced, interesting, funny, engaging, and pervasive for you. We know that reading increases empathy, and you can use that powerful knowledge to increase your empathy with Black and Indigenous people simply by allowing Black and Indigenous voices air time.
Remember that you, as many of my white friends are, may be having an existential crisis of sorts, but that you are not worried for your life because you are white. So when you are feeling the stress and anxiety of the white supremacy, make sure you’re sharing that stress and anxiety with other white people and not centering your own feelings in conversation with Black or Indigenous people.
Read the news daily to see what is happening regarding Black and Indigenous issues, and become a letter-writer, a protestor, a donator. Have you let your MP know it’s imperative for the federal government to resolve the violence against Indigenous people in Nova Scotia? Who have you contacted regarding the gaping disparity in the unemployment rate for Black Canadians? Have you offered campaign support to a Black or Indigenous person running for politics at a local level? The time is now! Your energy, experience, and connections could help shift the government’s approach or launch a brand new leader.
A note to Black and Indigenous women
As women in these racialized groups, we are disproportionately affected by the pandemic—it is the great revealer of everything wrong with our society and has also exacerbated those wrongs. I want you to know that I am working on a robust set of resources specifically for people like us, to cope with and thrive during this time and beyond. Please reach out to me if you need some support.
In the meantime, know that I’m here in solidarity with you all.
I would love to hear from all of my readers about how your perspective, conversations, actions, and relationships have shifted since May 25. What’s changed or exacerbated for you? Let me know.