Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X was released in 1992 when I was just 14 years old. Denzel Washington’s performance was powerful and it struck me. I became very interested in Malcolm X. During a trip to a nearby city I bought one of those X caps. The next week I wore it to school. I was a young white kid in a rural mountain town that was overwhelmingly white. My highschool went from grade 8 to 12. I was in grade 9, and let me tell you, some of the older non-white kids did not appreciate my expression of solidarity. I suffered at their hands. Although I did know that racial hierarchy was wrong, at 14 I did not have the sophistication to know how to navigate it.
From this incident I took the wrong lesson — a lesson that I think many white Canadians learn at a young age — when it comes to race: keep your opinions to yourself.
Canada has over 200 ethnic groups, but is 80% “white.” Canadian policies make it easy to ignore our race problems. The multiculturalism policies enacted since 1971 allow us to hide under a veneer of inclusionism. The truth is since we don’t collect data on race we have no idea how big our race problem is. Canada’s last segregated school was closed in Nova Scotia in 1983! In 2016 we are more integrationist than the United States. Our government has a dedicated foundation to dealing with racism that nobody has heard of, and we have hundreds of years of discriminatory policy towards the indigenous population.
As the majority, white people have a responsibility to stand up. The first step is confronting whiteness.
Whiteness is a North American phenomenon. It is a social construct — a set of norms that include ideologies of class, gender, sexuality and ability. Whiteness is about power, and who should have that power. It is about what the dominant culture deems as “normal.” There are a lot of resources on the topic, and everybody has to find their own path.
My personal journey in confronting my whiteness took many years. After shutting down as a young person, it started again slowly in my mid twenties when I began studying feminism. “Why study feminism?” you ask? Well, for a woman of course. I am married to her now, and have many things to be thankful to her for, but learning feminism was a gift that keeps on giving. It taught me how I can hurt others unintentionally. To use a simple metaphor, it taught me how you can be on a subway, and because it is is crowded, you can stand on someone else’s foot and not even notice. Feminism taught me to recognize oppression and privilege. In fact, understanding gender inequality actually helped me to see economic inequality. It helped me recognize the lie of meritocracy. Years later, as an immigrant and biracial family in Canada, these lessons led me to recognize racial inequality. The entrance was feminism, but via intersectionality, I could journey up the mountain of my privilege, and cringe at the vista of racial hierarchy.
I have not felt white for a long time. Living eight years overseas removed me from Canadian society. I returned with different, more critical eyes. Moreover, I could see more through my immigrant family’s eyes. Working with immigrants, with Syrian refugees, and learning more about Canada’s racist history such as the incarceration of Japanese Canadians during the second World War, helped me peel back our warm, fuzzy, and ultimately obscurant national narrative.
A look at the newspaper will show you why this topic cannot be ignored. #IdleNoMore, #BlackLivesMatter, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and listening to more diverse media like Desmond Cole, Andray Domise, Septembre Anderson has given me more opportunities to confront my whiteness. It has spurred me to read more and write more about microaggressions and casual racism.
It was a long road to get to this level of understanding. And I am just at the beginning! It saddens me to think it took until I was almost 40. Looking around, however, there are many other well-meaning white people who still don’t get it. White people need to learn about the problem and how to recognize it. To paraphrase Andray Domise, white supremacy is a white problem. There are many specific steps we could take. We need to learn to recognize whiteness for what it is. We need to discuss and confront racism as a group. Then maybe we will finally be able to take responsibility for Trump and tell him to sit the fuck down.
At the age of 14, bruised, humiliated and missing a baseball cap, I learned to avoid confronting whiteness altogether. That was wrong. Now, I refuse to reach for whiteness anymore. I reject it. I am off white for good.