Anti-Racism: T'es Capab'

new newsletter. who dis?

Hullo! You know the drill: you can do it. T’es capab’! We can do it. On est capab’! I’m trying out Substack, a new service for newsletters.

It’s still a weird time, a tough time, with difficulties still ahead. So why not write about it? Here are some lilacs with a stoic dog.

In the lottery of life, I was born pink. Actually, kind of beige. Can we agree that I'm white?

I’m lucky. I don't think white is the best skin colour to have, but I've heard the arguments for it all my life. Growing up, it was just an undertone of opinion, since I live in a majority white country. But it’s often explicit and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t say anything.

Here are some things I’ve heard in the last four years:

  • a white friend laughed incredulously that a member of my family "likes black guys."

  • a white friend's dad told him he'd be worried about moving to an Ottawa neighbourhood because "your neighbour might be black."

  • a white man who sold me firewood said that “Custer should have killed all those Indians”.

  • one of my best friends, who is white, regularly uses the n-word as a swear or insult.

Here’s some help:

Here’s a good, rated-R article on why it’s sinister to think that white women and black men together is wrong.

Here’s a good, old article about how white prejudice looks to black people in Canada.

Here’s a good book about how myths about Indigenous people still exist in Canada.

Here’s Dave Chappelle reacting to the death of George Floyd and his country’s insanity. Dave quit Chappelle’s Show for many reasons, but one of them was because of how white audiences laughed so very much at his use of the n-word.

So you know, I should know better. I’m trying. Here are some more flowers and my dog.

I’ve been bullied, hit, and insulted before. So I recognize the same pain in others who don’t look like me, who haven’t been told, explicitly: “no one should be allowed to bully, to hit, to insult you.” They’ve been told: “tough it out.”

That same kind of messaging is the dark side of modern-day capitalism: “You are responsible for your fate. If you aren’t succeeding, well, you’re not working hard enough. Be productive, be polite, and you will get your white picket fence.”

The older I get, the more that smells. And the more I read and watch about the pressure that people of colour have been under for generations… it just reeks.

This isn’t a post about language, but there are problems in how we talk about these things. This isn’t about capitalism or neoliberalism, but these huge pieces of this complex issue.

Canada can’t help compare itself to the United States. It’s part of our heritage. (No joke.) But saying "We are not the worst" is a kind of violence. Best-case scenario, it's ignorant. Worst case, it’s a bad-faith argument. As my godmother, an incredible social worker, says: « la violence c'est la prise de contrôle. »

I was raised with biases that permeate the majority of my culture—from my parents, my friends, my classmates, their parents, their friends, and (loudest of all) from television. It’s fact.

It shouldn’t be a controversial thing to say that we are white, but unfortunately a lot of people I know get hung up on this. Is it jarring, to be told you are a colour? Yes, perhaps a shock? You can get over it: I believe in you. Brown and black and red and yellow people have had to get over it. The alternative is to “ignore race”, which has hurt so many people who don’t deserve to be hurt. Because when we pretend that “we don’t see colour,” which a) is a lie, unless you are colour blind, and b) is a bad excuse to make yourself innocent.

Unless we insist on opting out, which is what privilege looks like. For the uncomfortable and ignorant among us: you aren’t a bad person because you are privileged. But to be a good person you have to care about other people. Acknowledging that you have it easier than others is just a tiny step in the direction of empathy.

And if you are white, you have it easier than others. If you are middle-class. If you are male. You are lucky.

Yeah, it’s one of these kinds of newsletters. But we can do it. Do you want to live in a better society? I do. You know who built society? People. You know who created the economy, wrote the Law, agreed on a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? People. Just men—mainly dudes—okay: only dudes—and women.

Most white people don't think they are the best race or even the smartest race, but unfortunately they think they are the "default" race. I hear this kind of thing regularly: "My friend Ben, my friend John and my black friend Dan." This isn't exactly a dangerous way to talk but it's a sign of a way of thinking. The default is white, which is why we don’t mention it. If you refer a musician to someone, and mention their instrument, genre, and skin colour, is it usually when they are black?

So: I’m acknowledging my privilege here. That’s the least I can do. And this might not be a very satisfactory sign-off, but that’s because this conversation isn’t over.

T’es capab’. Here are two anti-racism resource pages that require our attention:

One is not better than the other.