Top 10 list: How not to respond to Indigenous experiences of racism in Canada
By Michelle Reid
Someone is always eager to point out that there are "real things to worry about," like radiation or Syria or child poverty. This is a really cool way to say, "I don't care about you or your experience, but I'll mask my indifference by pretending I am fully preoccupied by a more important cause." Did you know it's possible for different awful things to be happening, and that there is not a finite amount of consideration for the awfulness of the world? That you caring about Syria does not preclude you acknowledging that racism is a damaging force in the lives of many, and that other people might want to pay attention to that too? It's true!
"I don't get why this is racist!" you say, as if your similar ignorance about other topics--astrophysics, post-modern literature--are grounds to refute their existence or validity. It might be possible that as a person who does not belong to the cultural or ethnic group in question, you have never noticed certain incidents of racism or the erasure of identity because they just didn't apply to you. Your reality is not everyone's reality. Your reality is not necessarily the best or the most correct. If your reality involves dismissing or ignoring the suffering and dehumanization of others, well, it's definitely not the best or most correct.
Everyone would prefer to think of themselves as not-racist. "I’m not racist," everyone insists, before detailing their racist position. But generally, insisting that you are not racist while trying to defend ideas that others have identified as racist is a losing battle. The fact is, Canada was founded on racism; it was so racist it was actually a role model to other racist regimes. It’s likely that growing up here has resulted in internalizing some racist beliefs. It happens! If you’re called out for them, don’t trip over yourself to explain how you cannot possibly be racist because in your heart you know your intent was pure. Ask yourself: is it possible that living in a country that treats First Nations like a plague to be eradicated may be why you are so ready to dismiss their voices and claims, to assume that they are exaggerating or flat-out lying about their experiences? Is it possible that you might be wrong?