We must commit to changing our behaviours, to being proactive, and to feeling discomfort.
I am racist. Because of the racial privilege I was born with, I am. I don’t want to be, but when I really look hard at my life experience and my initial, subconscious, reactions to people of a different skin colour than my own, I have to admit that it’s true. Without admitting those realities, how can I, as a White person, truly work towards becoming actively anti-racist?
I am learning how to take ownership of the ways that racism shows up in my life. I didn’t used to think I was racist, or at least I would never have stated it, but I wondered about it. I would notice automatic judgements pop up in my head before I could suppress them. I would see an Indigenous person in my neighbourhood and wonder what they were doing there. Why did I assume they weren’t my neighbour? Or I would notice a Brown- or Black-skinned person as I was pulling up to a stoplight and wonder if I should lock my doors. Why did my mind go there?
I thought I could train my mind not to do that, and I still hope I can, but the thoughts run deep, so it’s hard work! It is hard work that is essential to do. We are all made in God’s image. My brain knows that. I need to work towards becoming anti-racist so that my subconscious will know it, too.
I know that I still have lots to learn about the realities of racism and have many more actions to take to become more intentionally anti-racist. Even as I commit to my own learnings, though, I have also been learning from diverse youth at the regional level of the United Church. I have met wonderful people who have taught me so much.
One of my teachers was a teenage girl, who over the course of several events taught me that when you are one Indigenous kid in a sea of White kids, you may feel that you don’t fit in. This happens even though people may say that they do not see you as different, and even if everyone welcomes you into activities the same way as they would everyone else. It wasn’t an immediate learning, but eventually I understood that to be seen as being “the same” as everyone else felt like not being seen at all. I started wondering whether, at our youth retreats, we would be better to recognize and celebrate that which makes a person different, rather than trying to pretend everyone was the same.
Another great teacher has been an Indigenous colleague who asked me to help her lead a reconciliation camp in my region. She has taught me many things, including helping me learn about my own discomfort. I once needed to get in touch with one of the Indigenous leaders we had invited to help us, and asked her to make the call. She challenged me on this, saying I needed to build relationships with Indigenous Peoples, too. I had initially thought her calling, rather than me, would put the Indigenous person at ease. Later, when I examined my assumptions about this, I realized it was my own discomfort I was subconsciously trying to avoid. I am so glad she pushed me to confront my misguided idea of who I was trying to protect from discomfort.
I am also thankful to have had opportunities to host youth from Oxford House for an afternoon or overnight on their stop-overs to events in Toronto. They are my teachers, too.
Finally, I still think about my ancestors, who in 1812 were among the first White people to arrive in what is now Winnipeg. My people had been oppressed in our homeland, so I wonder how we could stand by and ignore the injustices being done to the Indigenous Peoples—those who we had relied on just to survive our first winters. We cannot wash our hands of the oppression that happened, and is still happening, in this land. Non-Indigenous people like me must acknowledge it, and own it, and find new ways of being and acting in the world. We must commit to changing our behaviours, to being proactive in learnings and work, and to occasionally feel discomfort. While doing this, instead of saying “I am racist,” we might be able to start to say “I am working towards becoming actively anti-racist!”
Consider praying this prayer. What additional prayers around struggle and grace might you offer?
If you are non-Indigenous, like me, you may also find the following helpful:
- Read Indigenous authors. I found it helpful to explore stories set right in my own city! Some told stories of past horrors and some tell of today’s consequences and continuation of those tragedies.
- Engage more Indigenous and racialized leaders. It is important for all participants to recognize and engage with Indigenous and racialized peoples at every level of leadership, to break a cycle of expecting to see mostly White people in the most prominent roles.
- Move beyond what’s comfortable. For me, as a White person, this involved building relationships with Indigenous leaders. I needed to move beyond my initial discomfort with difference. Consider challenging yourself to move beyond any discomfort that you may feel about racial and other differences.
- Examine your own beliefs. What might you be holding in your own subconscious, and what might you need to re-examine in your own life? Consider concrete ways that you can also work to becoming more anti-racist.
What additional actions might you engage with?
Twila MacNair (she/her) is the support staff for Young Adults and Youth in Prairie to Pine Regional Council of The United Church of Canada. She is a member at St. Mary’s Road United Church in Winnipeg, a mother of three, and a host parent for international students. She likes singing, camping, and gardening.