Today, I attended A Million Hoodies Vancouver (Coast Salish Territories), in solidarity with Trayvon Martin’s family. But I wasn’t just there for Trayvon Martin’s family. I was there for every person of colour I have ever known in my lifetime, and for every person of colour I have yet to meet. I was there for all the missing and murdered women of the DTES, the majority of whom were of aboriginal descent, and for whom justice was deprived for years while police had enough evidence to convict Pickton (and in some cases, is still being deprived, in favour of not publicly releasing details of how horrifically these women died). I was there for the families of former “Indian” Residential School students. I was there for the families of Filipino women who have earned their citizenship in my country by working for slave wages at a job no citizen wants. I was there for the Sikh community, who are currently preparing another candle-lit vigil in memorial of the genocide sanctioned against them by their own government, resulting in an uprising in the streets of Vancouver while the rest of the city averted its eyes and focused on the NHL play-offs instead. I was there for all the families of immigrants from Asian countries, who have faced systemic barriers of injustice, designed and enforced by the government of my own country. I was there for all the families of former internment camp survivors. I was there for all the families of Black Vancouver residents who were required by law to carry identification just to walk in their own neighborhoods. I was there for justice.
I heard the stories and songs and poetry of multiple people, of multiple cultural backgrounds and ethnicities. People spoke of having their language, culture, and family stripped from them. People spoke of what an injustice it is, for anyone to see fighting in the streets and do nothing — or say nothing. People spoke of white children playing on the playground adjacent to where we stood, while an aboriginal man thirsted to death on the very ground where we were all standing together. People spoke of violent crimes committed against people of colour, in our very city, as well as the agonizing three-year-wait until justice was finally served on known White Supremacist perpetrators.
As an aboriginal elder sang, the beat she struck on the raw hide resonated with the beat of my heart. She spoke of how once, the sacred circle represented all of the human race, but colonization has broken it apart and it is now up to us as individuals to gather together — to reunite the parts of the circle. Another aboriginal elder spoke of how the cost of colonization to people of colour is made visible every day, but the cost to white people has yet to be acknowledged by them. Another woman took the microphone and spoke to the tragedy that Trayvon Martin’s death represents — but also how tragic it is that these gatherings only take place over the dead bodies of people of colour, while she struggles to find the magic number that represents the last straw in racist violence. A man who lived in LA during the time that the violence and injustice against Rodney King led to an uprising in the streets loudly declared that the trial was about the cops who beat on him. That the streets were filled by an uprising, but because it was about racial violence, it was called a riot. Another man spoke of the necessity of seeing oneself in every victim, in order to stand up for justice — that this is the only way the tears we shed are real.
There were many speakers with many perspectives — too many speakers and perspectives for me to appropriately summarize here. Speakers whose voices may not have been heard by so many people, if it were not for the senseless murder of Trayvon Martin, and the denial of justice that has resulted from it. What happened to Trayvon Martin would not have happened to a white child — because walking while white is not seen as a crime warranting stalking, badgering, and murdering. But walking while Black isn’t a crime. Wearing a hoodie while being a person of colour isn’t a crime. In the words of one of the speakers, we cannot choose our race, but we can choose to not be racist.
And this is where I begin to add up the cost of racism. It has cost me my entire family because I am the only person in my biological family who chooses not to be racist, and who chooses not to be complicit with racism. It has cost me the multiple languages that my family spoke and refused to pass on to my generation. It has cost me the multiple cultures my family members came from, which have been deprived from me. It cost me the years of my life that I was subjected to incest while medical professionals, teachers, neighborhood families, peers, social workers, and police sat back and did nothing because we were white and therefore incapable of pedophilia. I know that if my family and I weren’t white, we would have been broken by invasive outside forces. I’ve seen it happen.
I am still grieving for this loss, among many more. That grief wells up inside of me and spills into the spaces I share with my allies whenever another racially motivated crime is perpetrated. My tears flow because I want justice, and I want change, and I fear how long and how hard I will have to struggle with my grief before I see it. I hope that some day I will find my tribe — my real family — among allies against racism and other -isms.