It’s hard to talk about race, but we must

This article appeared in the Jun. 9, 2020 copy of the “Marathon Mercury”, it is written as an introductory piece on BLM for folks in our town.

2020 has felt like it has been one tragedy after another. Now, protesters are pouring into the streets from the Yukon to Winnipeg to Montreal to Halifax. The resounding messages are these: Black Lives Matter. Indigenous Lives Matter. We are tired of the killing of Black and Indigenous people. We are tired of tragedy and institutionalized racism. We will accept the status quo no more.

It might seem as if these protests have erupted out of nowhere. Unless we’ve been plugged into the conversation we may not know about the history of slavery in Canada or our current discriminatory laws and practices. We have not owned our history as a nation that practiced slavery for 200 years. (The Canadian Encyclopedia has a great article on Black enslavement in Canada for those who weren’t taught this in school.)

I had the fortune of growing up in Halifax, which has a historic Black community whose roots reach back to African slaves, freemen and Black Loyalists. For as long as there have been White people in Nova Scotia there have also been Black people. Now, I don’t know enough of that history, but I am glad it was a part of my education and that I grew up around Black folks with a strong sense of their identity and place.

Have you seen the protest signs on the news declaring, “It happens here too”? As Canadians, we identify ourselves as being unlike Americans. We don’t have ourselves as having the same problems as our southern neighbours. We sometimes have a smug sense of superiority about our health care, our politicians, and our civility. Yet, racism—both personal and institutional—happens here too. We are not the same, but we have similar histories and similar present realities.

For years headlines in the US have reported the deaths of Black and Brown folks at the hands of police—the death of God’s children at the hands of God’s children. Canada, too, has a problem. Black and Indigenous youth and adults are more likely to die from encounters with the police than White people. The CBC recently published, “Deadly Force, Fatal encounters with police in Canada: 2000-2017” by Jacques Marcoux and Katie Nicholson.  The report shows that our Black and Indigenous neighbours are disproportionately killed by those tasked with serving and protecting.

“For example,” the report says “black people in Toronto made up on average 8.3 per cent of the population during the 17-year window, but represent nearly 37 per cent of the victims. In Winnipeg, Indigenous people represent on average 10.6 per cent of the population, but account for nearly two thirds of victims.”

Two nations who historically denied the dignity of Black, Brown and Indigenous people by law, and enforced that denial with violence, continue to live out those legacies now. We are seeing the same protests, the same struggle over and over again because things have not changed. So, what can we do? My Christianity offers me one of the paths towards change.

Jesus has named the oppressed and called them blessed. My call, as a follower of Jesus’ teachings, is to do the same. Jesus has named the peacemakers and called them blessed. I want, to be among them. Being a peacemaker is not about polite tolerance but doing the hard work of real relationship between enemies. This is a peace that is grounded in justice. By becoming a peacemaker, I live out my part in God’s dream for the world. I can listen to Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples. I can reflect on my privilege as a White woman. I can get to know my neighbours. I can be willing to respectfully engage in conversations about race and injustice. I can educate myself, and work with others to figure out peaceful actions we can take together.

We must talk about race. We cannot allow another year of headlines about the killing of Black or Brown or Indigenous people who were ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’. We cannot allow police wellness checks to end with body bags. God’s children, especially God’s racialized children, cannot continue to bear this brutality. Canadians must act for the values we claim – equality for all, regardless of race. We need to demand changes from our community, from our leaders that reflect that value.

My prayer is that, as Canadians, we know and own our history, be willing to grow beyond it, and transform our world.

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