Every so often in our lives, something in the universe begins to prepare us for a shift in ideology or understanding. I would identify this phenomenon as a short period of time in which several events, readings or conversations relating to a specific topic land in your lap with great emphasis. Suddenly something you haven't considered before, or haven't considered in a certain way, light up within you. It is the closely-related and closely-timed manner of these moments that can actually shift something within us and bring us into new enlightenment.
Over the past three months I have been aware of a shift in regards to racism. Like many of my generation, I would have indignantly protested if someone hinted that I had any inkling of racist ideas or behaviours. I have been raised in a multicultural setting; I have friends and family members that come from as many varied backgrounds as you can imagine; I have participated in different religious ceremonies. I would have purported to be "colour-blind."
But in pondering and conversing about three specific readings lately, I have found myself shifting.
Small Great Things is a novel about a black experienced nurse told by a young white supremacist couple not to touch their newborn baby. The nurse is then charged with murder when the baby goes into distress and dies and the nurse hesitates to intercede. The protagonist attempts to capture the every day experiences in which white people subconsciously or consciously react to her skin colour.
This interview with Canadian actress Sandra Oh left me speechless about how she found herself brainwashed by the racist undertones of Hollywood. She discusses how when she was sent a script to read, she couldn't figure out which part they wanted her for; it never even occurred to her that the producers would want a person of colour for the lead role of a TV show.
Americanah is a novel about an African woman who comes to America and how she tries to navigate being an immigrant, a person of colour, and a minority in her new homeland. She is astonished at the little things, like finding a place to get her hair braided, that pose an issue.
I know and believe in the tragedy of white privilege. I know that even if I travel halfway across the world to where my skin colour is a minority, I will be looked upon as unique and special. I know that the experience of a black person is not that way. I wonder if, and how, we can combat whatever it is inside of us, or inside the fabric of our society, that has created this great divide and unconscionable standard. My heart breaks when I hear people my age, people in positions of influence and power over future generations, decry the notion of white privilege and the idea that their skin colour might give them an advantage.
I yearn for what to do.
Right now it seems I must just listen as I shift. Keep my eyes and ears and heart open. Continue to look and see what the reality is, to not insist that we have conquered this terrible monster. To acknowledge the experiences of those who go through it, and, whenever I can, allow them to have a platform in this world to tell their stories. Perhaps, the more they do, others around me will find themselves shifting, too.