Madison at the anti-Racism march in Ottawa on June 5, 2020. Photo Credit: Naureen Ahmed
Today was the first time I have fully confronted my privilege as a white woman in Canada.
I am cautious to write about this experience; I am a young white woman who was present at a protest organized for and by Black people in Ottawa. How I saw it, my responsibility was to show up and listen.
I felt anger transforming into power as the speakers called on their fellow Canadians, of all races, to stand together. I will never be able to truly understand this deeply personal fight, but still, I will commit to stand against it. I will take a stand against those in my own community of white privilege who abuse and misuse it. That is our fight.
While I may be able to reflect on the meaning and significance of today’s historic gathering in our nation’s capital, I must also acknowledge that this protest was not meant for me. I am an ally and that is all. I have no business championing another people’s cause. I will not be silent, but I will also not be so loud that I drown out the voices of those who are finally being heard.
As white people, we have constructed and we maintain a system of oppression that directly disenfranchises, marginalizes and most shamefully, dehumanizes people of colour simply because we perceive them as different. We have allowed an interpretation of a social construction of race to corrode our minds and our bodies for far too long. The cost of this ignorance has been immeasurable.
These racist and anti-Black attitudes are not the product of any biological human behaviours; that is an inexcusable and unaccepted dismissal of the truth. They are learned, and they are taught. So too, can they be unlearned and can those who have been misinformed be properly and critically educated by their schools, their governments and perhaps most importantly, their own communities.
June 5th marked a new day in so many ways. It showed the power of the people and now, the people in power must answer. Failure to do so, will not prevent the immense shift of systemic and social change that is upon us. Rather, it will once again position us as the enemies to inevitable progress, who are so clearly in the wrong. Our job now is to listen and to learn. Not from those whom we arbitrarily deem experts due to their professional and academic credentials, but from those who inhabit our collective communities. Our neighbors, our friends, our families, our local actors and activists, and our relationships from across the globe.
These are the relationships that will rebuild our collectivity. These are the conversations that will promote true learning and if we have any hope, bring about some conception of holistic reconciliation. But again, we are not the leaders of this, and we must respect if others are not open to share with us. We do not have a right to other people’s voices, and we will remain the symptom of a vicious problem if we believe and act as though we do. We must read, watch, listen and engage. We must also challenge our friends, family members and neighbors who may not understand the desperate need for dramatic change and paradigm shifts to do the same. This may feel overwhelming. That is the point.
Another critical part of this process is that we must centre the inclusion of Black voices, ideas and strategies which will inform the restructuring and rebuilding of systems that have long been the facilitators of their systemic oppression. Simultaneously, we must model anti-racist attitudes and ideas, a huge component of which is relinquishing our own positions and resources of power and control. A high-profile example of this is the most recent decision of Reddit’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian Sr, who opted to relinquish his seat on the Reddit board and to urge the remaining members to fill his now-vacant position with a Black professional.
History will forever remember what we did and did not do, and we will be rightfully condemned for it. But today, a new order begins, one in which racial equality may not yet be realized, but the fight for it will be won. However, this can only happen if we allow critical voices and narratives of racialized people to be heard. So, as a white woman with an unimaginable level of privilege, I say this to myself and my fellow white people, our voices have been heard long enough. It is now our time to step aside.