Matthew Tyhurst writes about the how the testimony of a racialized person his own age helped change the way he looked at the world.

Teenage boy sitting in fall leaves
Credit: Courtesy of Matthew Tyhurst
Published On: March 16, 2023

Growing up in Canada I had the privilege to have many factors outside of my control be handed to me. I was born into a loving caring family, I was born in a hospital that had the capacity to resuscitate me right after I was born, and I had many opportunities that I was grateful to be a part of. I was born into an upper-middle-class family which enabled my mom to stay home and care for my little sister and I. I have many fond memories: trips to the zoo, hockey, and robotics are a few examples.

As a White person, I grew up sheltered from and unaware of racism. The majority of my town’s residents at that time were White, creating a false persona for myself and sheltering me from exposure to different cultures and ethnocultural heritages. As I grew, I have watched my town transform. There are now residents from different backgrounds, and schools now educate students about racism and rights for Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ people.

It was in grade 3 that schools started exposing us to the history of residential schools. I remember learning about them and not thinking much about it at the time. I understood that what the government did with residential schools was wrong, however, I didn't fully grasp the impact that residential schools had on people.

As I grew up more and my maturity developed, so did the education I had on these issues. Starting in grade 6, Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ issues started making their way into the curriculum. I remember first viewing this as a foreign concept, however I eventually came to understand why these issues were important. Black History Month and the Black Lives Matter movement were introduced to me when I was in grades 7 and 8. It was during this time where my passion and interest in civil rights movements and challenging racism began. 

In the summer of grade 9 going into grade 10, I was blessed with the opportunity to take part in The United Church of Canada’s Youth Forum along with a group of youth from across Canada. That experience greatly broadened my perspective and knowledge about racism. Guest speakers, seminars, and discussions really helped fuel my understanding of not about racism, but about the impact it has on people.

After my involvement with the Youth Forum, I was offered the opportunity to continue my work by developing an educational app about racism and geared towards youth. I was provided an interview transcript and a video recording to watch. The interview and recording were with Sarah Yang, a teenager, similar in age to me, whose parents were first-generation immigrants to Canada.

Listening to Sarah, who was close to my age, really made me think. Her story was real and I was deeply moved! Even though our stories, experiences, and upbringings were quite different, I still managed to connect with the stories.

One connection we had was the rise of K-pop (Korean popular music) in schools. While seen as a good way of promoting other cultures, she noticed an important point. While K-pop is promotes a specific culture, it ignores other cultures around Asia, creating a false image of a monolithic Asian culture. After listening to her opinion, I agree. While K-pop has managed to promote Asian cultures to teenagers like myself, it's important to note that there are many other diverse cultures across Asia.

But by far the most important part from the interview was her own connection with racism and more specifically, how she dealt with it. She dealt with racism by making jokes in an effort to “save face” or humiliation. She noted that this only helped in the short term and didn't focus on the underlying and deeper issue.

I cannot imagine having to make fun of my own culture to deal with hurt and racism of other people. People are social creatures; they want to belong. 

When you learn to make fun of your own culture to deal with racism, then the people you are surrounded with are not creating a place of belonging. Even at a personal level, I feel for her. While it is different, in the past I have had experience with bullying and not belonging and I know that not feeling that you belong is a horrible feeling. It can even force you to be a false version of yourself in an effort to belong. By far, her experience with not feeling as though she belonged was what I connected with the most.

I know that my journey with anti-racism exposure and education is far from over. I still have many things to learn and be exposed to. What I have learned and what the United Church has taught me is that it is important to understand everyone's perspective, no matter how different they are from myself. It is particularly important for me to listen and try to understand perspectives from underrepresented cultures and communities. I believe that I can still find my place in making the world a better place and continue to work to challenge racism. I know I have not experienced the racism that  this young woman has gone through. But I also know that my Whiteness has power and privilege giving me the ability as an individual to make a difference to help stop racial discrimination.

—  Matthew Tyhurst is a grade 10 student, passionate about social justice work, debating, and wanting to make the world a better place through volunteering in various local justice initiatives and projects, and helping develop his local United Church's tech team. He participated as a 2022 General Council Youth Forum Representative.

Matthew’s blog post is in engagement with a blog post by Sarah Yang, “NavigatingLife as a Child of Immigrants,” which we invite you to read.

Both Sarah and Matthew are involved with AR4YT,a United Church of Canada anti-racism app geared toward youth, covering topics like the history of racism in Canada, White privilege, and how to get involved in anti-racism work. It is available on Google Play and the App Store.

The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.

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