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Shit White People Need To Hear About Racism

This is the first new content in a while (2500 words — or ten minutes of your time), so I’m just going to jump right in.

Racism Isn’t A Fucking Unicorn

A lot of white people — no, almost literally every goddamned one of them — think racism is a rare event that almost no one ever sees. An urban legend, if you will. We think it’s the Klu Klux Klan (unless we are full-time students of Ole Miss, in which case we apparently think lighting candles and singing Kumbaya is the antithesis), the neo-Nazi skinheads depicted in American History X (that is unless we used to be one of these people), an amorphous boogeyman no one has ever seen but everyone seems to know about, or for all intents and purposes, we think racism is a fucking unicorn. We think racism is improbable if not outright impossible. We think our “civilization” is “post-racial”. We think if you openly acknowledge race/ethnicity and/or racism in this day and age, you’re being “politically correct” to the point of a fault, to the point of just being intentionally annoying, or because you’re making an active effort to be contrarian and antagonistic to every white person in the room.

As much as it pains me to use “we” instead of “they”, I am a white person. I directly observe all this shit virtually every time I find myself surrounded by other white people, so just take my word for it. We don’t think about the fact that this “civilization” exists on outright stolen land; that it was built on mass graves and intentionally fraudulent treaties that have yet to ever be fulfilled for the first time in this society’s very short history; or that it was constructed through mass slavery fuelled entirely by human trafficking and several concurrent waves of genocides against multiple non-white racial groups (it’s worth noting that we as white people practised all of this on each other for thousands of years first, though, and only when we got real good at it, did it really become everyone else’s problem—primarily because we started to run out of downtrodden white people to be especially heinous to, especially once they started to revolt by burning shit down). White people don’t think about racism as a structural system of inequality that has persisted for centuries in the so-called “Western hemisphere”, and millenia everywhere else. We don’t think about the disproportionate representation of Black people serving life in US prisons and indigenous people serving sentence after sentence in Canadian prisons (the frequent equivalent of a life sentence north of the border), compared to white people who are doing all the same criminal shit every day (or as is more often the case—several magnitudes worse) and getting away with it continuously without ever so much as facing a hearing.

Just look at Toronto mayor Rob Ford for a prominent and very recent example as of this piece of writing. He’s on public record on the national news for buying and smoking crack several times (of all the drugs a high-paid white guy could use, he resorts to the one drug that sends the most impoverished Black people to prison), being shown on film clearly perpetrating an assault on a female co-worker while in office and on duty as mayor, among many other things that confine poor and working class people of colour to prison cells on a daily basis all across the continent. And yet not only has he kept his job, not been arrested or even investigated except by journalists, but he was first in line to become mayor of Toronto for another four years, instead of pleading his case to a judge like any other non-white person in his position would have been doing long before he had the chance to say the word “cunt” in the middle of a mob of reporters while denying that he had ever said such a thing about women he works with daily. Meanwhile, when Senator Brazeau (of Algonquin heritage) was even suspected of the first of many criminal wrong-doings earlier in the same year, he was arrested immediately (and faced a judge, and was arrested again) and was suspended from his job. Of course, these are just two wildly juxtaposed examples of differential individual treatment from the same end of Canada in the same calendar year. To what could I possibly compare Harper’s election fraud?

We Are Nowhere Near Post-Racial

I’m going to rely heavily upon my understanding of issues indigenous peoples of Canada currently face as a collective in order to make this point, but I am acutely aware that I could just as easily rely on the issues Blacks face as a collective (especially in the United States) or on issues faced by collectives of Middle Eastern people fleeing the perpetual militarization and colonization of their homelands by Western military forces (Hello and stay strong, Palestine; and up yours, Israeli military! Hello, illegal wars waged by the US in an ever-increasing list of Middle Eastern countries; and keep on fighting for your sovereignty, citizens of those many impacted countries!) I could focus instead on issues faced by collectives of South Asian migrant citizens anywhere in North America, or on Latin communities (especially “illegal” migrant workers from Mexico), or on issues faced by Asian communities. The point I’m driving at, in case it isn’t already perfectly transparent, is that I’m not just picking cherries. Racial injustice is so pervasive in all of North American society as a whole that the only legitimate cherry-picking that takes place in terms of racism is when white people complain about when they are treated badly by people they think are racist against them. And don’t get me wrong. That shit stings. I’ve written a lot about how much that shit actually stings, because it’s a valid feeling. But I’ve written about it in separate entries on this blog, rather than attempt to dominate conversations about the racism faced by people of colour collectively with how it makes me feel to be treated badly by individual people of colour, because these are two distinct issues.

In that vein, let’s meander right back to how racism is distinguished against people of colour (especially indigenous peoples) in North American society. I have written short and long entries about residential schools and The Indian Act (those are links to the brief entries), and these two pieces alone are adequate to prove to virtually anyone who is engaging sincerely in this subject matter that the Canadian government has a long history of continuously trying to destroy its indigenous population. In fact, if only it were confined to the past tense, then perhaps I would not perceive of this foundational injustice in the pressing terms I presently do. But even as I write this entry, the Canadian government is actively pursuing several concurrent avenues for immediately legally assimilating all indigenous peoples right out of their as-of-yet-unfulfilled and continuously threatened treaty rights. Again.

Just like in 2012 when Stephen Harper announced that he actively sought to abolish the Indian Act without first consulting with the hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples whose every daily movement is prescribed in it. Just like right up until 1996 when the last residential school finally closed its doors. Just like in 1979 when Trudeau tried to pass the White Paper Policy. Just like virtually every time the Indian Act has been amended to further the interests of Canada’s settler population, without the consultation of the indigenous population, who are disproportionately confined even further with every new amendment (which at times has been not merely in the metaphorical sense, but in the literal sense as well — for example, being thrown in prison simply for having tattoos or for participating in traditional ceremony). An emboldened attempt to outright extinguish and/or legally assimilate the entire indigenous population in this country’s borders has been made every single generation since European contact centuries ago, and a concerted effort towards the same end continues to this very moment.

But a lot of white people — no, make that pretty fucking close to every goddamned one of them — think that treaty rights are “special rights” which are completely unwarranted and unfair, because we think we should be entitled to the same “special rights” (however, when any group other than your own fights for or gains rights you already had, these are not “special”). What we don’t see is that the Crown treaties are not “special rights”, but legal contracts that amount to promises with no expiry date that were allegedly made in good faith between indigenous nations and the Queen of England; and that the Canadian government’s constant interference with the fulfilling of those promises (or attempts to render those promises obsolete) is completely illegal, even by our own laws. What we don’t see is the legacy of lateral violence and internalized racism among indigenous peoples in their remote reserves. What we don’t see are the unanswered states of emergency, suicide epidemics, and devastating poverty that directly prevent a lot of indigenous individuals from even accessing all the so-called “special rights” they were promised as a collective. What we don’t see in terms of those so-called “special rights” is what amounts to “too fucking bad for us white people, being born white ‘n shit.” We were born by virtue of birth lottery on the debt-holder end of the Crown treaties, and there’s fuck all we can do to change that except leave the country or change the laws that define legal status for indigenous peoples—and though it’s pretty clear which direction the Canadian government has chosen to encourage, it’s very obviously not clear to nearly anyone living in this country except indigenous peoples that this direction is called genocide.

We are all still steeped up to our proverbial nuts in racially selective laws and racial segregation in Canada. We are nowhere near being a “post-racial” society.

It Is Functionally Impossible To Not Be (Even Just A Little) Racist

If you are living in North America for at least a few years and yet everything I’ve stated in this article up to this point is new information to you, I’ve got some bad news for you: you probably don’t know it yet, but you’re pretty fucking racist. Not racist like the KKK, a neo-Nazi skinhead, a racism boogeyman, or a fucking unicorn (seriously, does anyone ever imagine a unicorn that isn’t automatically white?), because you’re not necessarily being deliberately and consciously racist or intentionally acting out in particularly heinous ways towards people outside of your ethnic or racial group. But lack of intent doesn’t erase or mitigate the cold hard fact that up until reading all of this new information, your entire world has been constructed out of the direct products of the structural racism I’ve merely begun describing in that last section—these direct products of racial inequality are referred to as social privileges (extra emphasis on white privilege and settler privilege). Nor does your sudden new awareness afford you any means or opportunity to remove those social privileges from your life. All you can do is work to minimize how prominently they play a role in your day-to-day life, and that’s a whole other conversation for another blog post.

Until then, back to why you’re pretty fucking racist if you didn’t know shit before reading this blog post about how continuously Canada has attempted wave after wave of genocide and legal assimilation against indigenous peoples and continues to do so (that is, taking place among countless other kinds of individual and structural racisms against virtually every non-white ethnic/racial group across the entire continent as a whole). While this is terrible news to receive, it comes with some other… sort-of…? not-bad news (for you, at least). You are not to blame for being pretty fucking racist without even knowing it. A direct, pervasive, and even invasive side effect of living in a country so steeped in racism is that it is functionally impossible to exist here for any length of time and not be even just a little bit racist. Just as white people such as myself were born by virtue of birth lottery into our individual shares of racial privilege (which may be variably amplified or muffled by other forms of privilege or marginalization such as class or gender, yet never fully muted out), the racisms of individuals around us and of the structures of our societies are what we were born into through no intention or fault of our own. Racism was part of our first breaths. It was part of our childhoods. It was part of our education. And it all continues to be a part of every moment of our lives until the moment we start resisting it.

Just Being Nice To Racially Marginalized People Isn’t Enough

In fact, at this point, I’m just going to come out and say it. If you’ve been paying attention this far to exactly how enormous the magnitude of racism is in North America — let alone in other parts of the globe where North America exports much of its racial violence in labour exploitation and environmental racism (sight unseen by most of North America) — it should be abundantly self-evident by now that just being nice is just being quietly—though brutally—patronizing. It’s flashing a friendly smile at a Polish Jew as she’s being yanked by the arm towards the death camp train by a Nazi officer, while doing nothing to challenge the fate that she has been pushed into by the apathy of everyone around her (which now includes you). It’s telling a man facing a firing squad that you admire his shoes or find his accent soothing. It’s sending an electronic donation off your credit card to a relief fund for an obscure community somewhere on the other side of the planet who you’ve never met, very likely never will, and thus will most likely never be able to tell you exactly what kind or quality of help they actually received after all the elaborate catered dinners, advertising campaigns, celebrity endorsements, carrier fees, and fuel charges were paid for with your donation dollars; all while people living just outside the bounds of your city’s back yard struggle against homelessness, starvation, and contaminated water.

Just being nice isn’t enough and it hasn’t been at virtually any time in North America’s very brief history since European contact 500 years ago (or for that matter, at any time in the history of the European colonization of South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, or the South Pacific Islands). It should probably also be self-evident at this point that continued ignorance in this day and age, especially in North America, is becoming an increasingly active effort of seeking ways to occupy one’s time — perhaps with passive spoon-feeding from mass media, news media, and other intellectually non-threatening pursuits; rather than self-education, community-building based on shared principles of resistance against structures of colonialism, and other activities that challenge us with the prospect of a total paradigm shift but reward us with the very real promise and fulfilment of continual self-growth and autonomy—ultimately for the benefit of many.

3 thoughts on “Shit White People Need To Hear About Racism

  1. Once again you’ve hit the nail on the head. Molding your keen observations into words that should make any professional writer, myself included, take notes. Your ability to vividly express the point of your essays coupled with your ‘I could give a flying fuck what you think’ attitude dripping from every word is what makes me such a huge fan. As a white cis(bisexual, but no one thinks that counts) female, I have learned more from you than I ever thought possible. For that, I thank you.

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