Why a col­lec­tive dia­logue on race re­mains im­pos­si­ble

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by An­dray Domise

L , a friend of mine, a per­sonal trainer whose suc­cess on In­sta­gram has landed him mag­a­zine cov­er­age, stopped by a juice bar in a leafy mid­town Toronto neigh­bour­hood. An ar­dent ve­gan, he’d gone there be­fore to sam­ple its wide se­lec­tion of cold-pressed, or­ganic juices. When he stepped through the doors, though, the woman who worked there greeted him with “Uber Eats?” My friend doesn’t be­lieve she was in­ten­tional in her racism; he didn’t take his story to so­cial me­dia or de­mand an apol­ogy from the shop’s man­age­ment. But he did men­tion his ex­pe­ri­ence where he knew he would be un­der­stood: his Black so­cial cir­cles. Within our com­mu­ni­ties, there’s an un­spo­ken un­der­stand­ing of some­thing at the root of the white imag­i­na­tion: a racial­ized as­sump­tion about Black peo­ple’s in­fe­ri­or­ity. But there’s also an un­der­stand­ing that wad­ing into the grey ar­eas of race and racism can eas­ily harm us. In our po­lar­ized times, speak­ing openly about our own lived re­al­i­ties of­ten trig­gers a back­lash from those who would rather shout us into si­lence than lis­ten. And in the face of white peo­ple’s pro­found de­sire not to be seen as they are, there is no fu­ture for a truly col­lec­tive “dia­logue on race.” We have the dia­logue within Black com­mu­ni­ties, and we of­ten do with other com­mu­ni­ties of colour as well. But when it comes to white folks, the dia­logue is reach­ing a dead end. Con­sider re­cent in­stances when Black peo­ple in pub­lic po­si­tions have called out racism and have them­selves be­come tar­gets for con­dem­na­tion, shift­ing fo­cus away from the be­hav­iour they’ve pointed out. Af­ter host Marci Ien pub­lished an ar­ti­cle in the Globe and Mail about her re­peated tra c stops by Toronto po­lice (a phe­nom­e­non some­times known as “driv­ing while Black”), Sta Su­per­in­ten­dent Mario Di Tom­maso tweeted that Ien’s race “was not vis­i­ble” on a video of one of the stops. Sev­eral high-rank­ing cur­rent and for­mer o cers called Ien’s cred­i­bil­ity into ques­tion; one even brought up a 2005 in­ter­view in which she con­fessed she “likes speed some­times.” For a group of public­ser­vice em­ploy­ees who’ve re­mained mostly quiet about a mem­ber of the force who al­legedly beat a Black youth so se­verely his left eye needed to be re­moved and an­other who al­legedly in­ter­fered with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of that beat­ing, it was odd to see the po­lice sud­denly nd a voice unan­i­mous and strong enough to teach a Black woman a les­son on the pro­pri­ety of pub­licly dis­cussing in­sti­tu­tional racism. This is also a les­son that Con­ser­va­tive MP Maxime Bernier at­tempted to teach two Black MPS, af­ter the 2018 fed­eral bud­get was an­nounced. Im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter Ahmed Hussen said the bud­get (which in­cludes $19 mil­lion in fund­ing to sup­port pro­grams for Black youth) was his­toric for “racial­ized Cana­di­ans,” to which Bernier replied, “I thought the ul­ti­mate goal of ght­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion was to cre­ate a colour-blind so­ci­ety....what’s the pur­pose of this aw­ful jar­gon?” A Lib­eral par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary, Celina Cae­sarCha­vannes, chimed in, cir­cu­lat­ing an ar­ti­cle ex­plain­ing the soft big­otry of the “colour-blind” ideal, and fur­ther sug­gested Bernier check his priv­i­lege and “be quiet.” Bernier re­jected her sub­se­quent apol­ogy for her tone and sent an email blast to sup­port­ers, say­ing that grant­ing “di er­ent rights and priv­i­leges to di er­ent groups” would only serve to “balka­nize so­ci­ety.” Two prom­i­nent Black Cana­di­ans, who have had far more lived ex­pe­ri­ence than Bernier with the ugly re­al­i­ties of racism, needed to be taught a pub­lic les­son. It’s in these quo­tid­ian events, when racial­ized peo­ple who speak up about racism will most of­ten be pun­ished for point­ing it out while the orig­i­nal in­frac­tion goes un­re­solved, that the “dia­logue” on race with white peo­ple ter­mi­nates. Be­cause en­gag­ing in that con­ver­sa­tion too of­ten de­mands we be­lieve that racism is present in a neo-nazi rally but ab­sent when a white mem­ber of Par­lia­ment lec­tures two Black mem­bers on the lin­guis­tics of race. And it’s why my friend didn’t re­spond to the in­dig­nity of be­ing treated as the help when he went to the juice bar but then told his Black friends about it. The risk of trig­ger­ing white racial anx­i­ety—the kind that’s likely to see him pun­ished for speak­ing up—can be hardly worth the e ort. Un­til white folks are pre­pared to sit in the un­com­fort­able aware­ness of their prej­u­dices, noth­ing will change. The dia­logue is hap­pen­ing, but its fu­ture can­not de­pend on those who aren’t ready or will­ing to par­tic­i­pate.

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