I was going through YouTube videos of Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip this week. I drank tea and felt the most Canadian. And then I found this video of him accepting an honour at the Assembly of First Nations in 2016. There is Gord and Justin Trudeau, surrounded by First Nations People. They pray a blessing on him and they both turn and follow the elders' lead. The elders give him a Spirit Name and an Eagle Feather.
And then I cried.
I spend hours at my kids' schools with an open heart and clear eyes and I'm watching staff cause real harm to their Black and Brown co-workers and students. I listen as people whine about their workload and having too much on their plate. I watch their defensive posture and the constant reframing of their own victimhood within our "system". These are the same staff that have spent years in racial equity training. Some of them write articles about social justice and educational equity. And. They've stopped listening, stopped examining their own stuff, and use their fragility as defensive armor. They refuse to examine how their systems create barriers and how their weaknesses are as pronounced as the weaknesses they lament in their students. I look in the mirror and interrogate myself.
"Did you help or hurt today?"
"Did you burden someone with your fragility?"
"What price did your children pay for your behaviour?"
And then. I participate in beautiful and healing conversations with women relish in exploring their weaknesses. I am able to have a life giving conversation with an educator who knows they aren't seeing what I am seeing and "can you help me see what I'm missing…?". I am delighted and laugh and thank them for holding space for being wrong.
I was typing away on FB with friends and people that I admire from a distance about the things we lose when we get defensive. The greatest of these is a chance to grow and learn but equally important are relationships, community, and the practical act of living well. My friend said: "I'm often still operating from a grid of "I'm the expert on me" when there are so many people around me who have a very clear picture of how I come across." I think about my children and the laser focus in which they have me figured out. This sends me reeling.
I have been convinced that once we get on a path that centers race, we will stop settling for incremental change. I believe that it doesn't have to be an either/or: that you can hold _____ and center race in the same hand. You can be a person of deep faith and grow in both your faith and understanding that passive resistance is not resistance at all. You can be committed to socialism and grow in both your understanding of class stratification and the way that race is the undercurrent that determines benefit. You can live in a homogenous place and celebrate your culture and still unpack whiteness by teaching your children about the ways that cultures (of all kinds) normalize values.
My children feel like their world would be much easier if I could just ease up on the screen time restrictions during the week.
My dear, sweet child who was our only child when I started writing here, is now one of many. He bears this truth with pride and embarrassment. This family is his greatest teacher and his greatest frustration. I don't know if he understands his proximity to Blackness as a gift. I think he does. I warn him to not use it as shield from doing better than we have done or against pushing people harder than we have pushed.
I need Anti-Racist Heroes to guide him. He will need to pattern his life after greatness, but work hard not to appropriate their message or accept their example wholesale. I watch Gord again– accepting his gift and his name. He is weeping, and the focus is on the people and voices he sought to elevate– not on him. And I cried because this is not how we do things in this country. Gord saw it as a gift. So often the helpers overshadow the people we serve to help. Men center themselves in conversations about women. White women center themselves in conversations for Black Women. CIS Het folks center themselves in conversations for Trans people. In my world, educators center themselves in the conversations about the children they are charged to educate.
If I am angry I wonder why you are not.
If I am fine, I assume we are all fine.
We are not all fine.
I am reading Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. It is for a book group and I have been reading interviews with Mr. Kendi to try and sort out how to go about discussing the first part of the book. He told Christina Greer:
I would tell my 18-year-old self — and I wish I’d written this book for my 18-year-old self — that the only thing wrong with black people is that we think something is wrong with black people. I spent the better part of my early years thinking that the main problem was black people. And then I switched from that to thinking that the main problem was white people. And, eventually, I realized that the main problem was racist people, was people who were executing these policies out of self-interest. That’s what I would have told myself: that there’s nothing wrong with black people and there’s nothing extraordinary — the only thing extraordinary about white people is that they think something is extraordinary about white people.
Gord Downie's Secret Path
"This is the best thing I've ever done… nothing else matters to me"
The findings appeared to be a striking indication of racial discrimination in seemingly benign and mundane interactions. The tendency to ignore emails sent by African-Americans was particularly pronounced in sheriffs’ offices, but it was also evident in school districts and libraries.
In a clever twist, the authors analyzed whether the replies were polite, counting responses that included either the sender’s name or words like “hi,” “Mr.,” “dear,” “good” (which captures “good morning,” “good afternoon” and “have a good day”) or “thank” (which captures both “thanks” and “thank you”). By this measure, those with apparently African-American names received 8 percent fewer polite responses than those with white names.
And since you might have the tissues at the ready anyway… Lost Together by the Blue Rodeo with Gord Downie earlier this year.