Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, December 16, 2013

How Would It Feel?

I love getting emails and comments from my readers. On occasion, though, I get emails and comments that trouble me deeply. I opened my blog this morning and found one of these comments, left anonymously but not one of the anonymous attacks I have come to expect. Instead it was a message that they asked me to read as they have been reading my posts here and my column in Connect Weekly, and they wanted to share their thoughts on a topic I have touched on in both places. The topic? Racism.

My anonymous commenter wanted to make it clear that they do not believe the vast majority in our community are racist, but they do seem to feel that many have lack of understanding of other cultures - and they made it very clear that some assumptions are being made based on appearances of those around us, and they shared some of those with me today.

How would it feel, they asked, to be asked if the recent taxi cab woes would affect you, and realize you were only being asked this question because the questioner assumed you drove a taxi because of the colour of your skin? And how would it feel to know that in fact you work as a professional with an oil sands company but your race makes people seem to think your only skill must be driving a taxi? And how would it feel to know that in fact many like you, with similar skills and training in your home country, ARE driving taxis here to survive, trying desperately to get the upgrading needed to transfer their skills to this new country?

How would it feel, they asked, to have your wife stand up in a community meeting to express an opinion and later overhear someone say that "immigrants should be quiet until they understand the Canadian way", knowing that your wife, who struggles a bit with English, is fluent in French because she was born and raised in Montreal, and is an educated professional who has chosen to stay home to raise children, and who wears the hijab by choice? And that her family has been in Canada for decades?

How would it feel, they asked, to know that your oldest child has been called abusive names, ones you won't even put into writing because they are so repugnant? Or that your child was told they should "go back to where they are from", knowing that "where they are from" is Fort McMurray, born in the hospital here, and that this is the only home they have ever known?

How would it feel, they asked, to be told you hadn't lived here long enough to hold an opinion, an assumption someone has made not realizing you have been here for over a decade, and proudly declare this your home? And how would it feel to know that while you bring with you years of experience in another country and community, including knowing oppression, poverty, and political strife, that your experience is considered by some to be worthless in any dialogues that may occur in your present community?

These questions stopped me in my tracks, you see. I don't know how it would feel to encounter any of these things, as I have never had to deal with them - but there are those in our community who do. My anonymous commented suggested we have a long, long way to go in achieving true multiculturalism and diversity here. They said it is one thing to be a place where there are people of many colours and religions and colours, but another thing entirely where that is not even a topic of discussion and we are all, quite simply, people.

I share these comments with you today with sadness and regret, because it has confirmed something I have suspected for a long time. We have a long way to go here. I have seen signs of it, glimmerings of racism on social media, and occasionally outright and overt statements of racism that stunned me. I have seen a lack of understanding, and a rush to blame those of other cultures for societal woes and issues, looking at them when perhaps we need to understand we all contribute to both the good, and the bad, in this community. I have seen the face of racism, but never so starkly as I did this morning when someone took the time to send me their thoughts, their experience - and share their pain.

I am grateful they did so, and I present their thoughts to you here today, because this conversation has clearly just begun. Sometimes the conversations that are most painful to have are the ones we most need to hold, and I believe this might just be at the very top of the must-discuss list in our community. Perhaps sharing their words with you might spark you to hold this conversation with others - or with yourself if need be. I know that I hold these words in my heart today, and they tumble around in my head as I try to imagine how it would feel.

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