I live in Canada. We don’t have racism here. Or do we? I can’t tell. I’m white.
They say ignorance is bliss. And generally “they” are right. But what if I’m ignorant and you’re not? It’s not so blissful anymore.
Not too long ago, I sat in a room with several other men and women, waiting for a meeting to begin. Idle chit-chat circulated and the mood was light. But in an everyday exchange, the mood shifted as one comment surfaced for all to hear. It was an ugly comment, a racial slur, meant as a joke, but without regard for it’s recipient. A degrading generalization based on mistaken preconceptions, said by someone who probably had no idea what message she was sending.
But the person to whom it was directed knew that message well. I’m sure she has heard it many times, in many places, and from many people. She deflected it well and let the moment pass.
But that ignorance, left unchecked, can leave unintended wounds. It can offend, oppress, and discourage.
My little girl has a Disney comforter on her bed, with the images of three beautiful princesses on it. Cinderella, Tiana and Belle, adorned in gowns worthy of Buckingham Palace itself, smile graciously with the unwavering poise of true royalty.
As she looked at them one night before bed, she realized something incredibly important, something that hadn’t really occurred to her before.
“Mommy!”, she said. “They’re all different colours!”.
“That’s right!”, I said, gearing up for my “Skin Colour: Different, or Really All The Same?” lecture, and glancing at my built-in object lesson, my freckles, when all of a sudden she cut me off.
“Look, Mommy! Purple, green and pink! All different colours!”
” … um, yeah … you’re right. Their … dresses … are all different colours” I said slowly, finally coming to the realization that she hadn’t actually noticed that one princess had much darker skin than the other two.
There is a narrow window of time in a person’s life, in which one is fully cognizant of the reality of other people, other ways of doing things, and of differences between people and, at the same time, that person is so totally okay with all of those things that the idea that one of those differences might be a reason to treat someone differently never even crosses the mind. It isn’t until society starts to act on a person that they begin to see differences in the first place. Until then, they simply see variation, beauty in the mosaic of the human race.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to reach that place again? A place of innocence rather than ignorance, and appreciation of variation rather than degradation based on differences.
And wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where a person’s heritage and cultural background is a source of pride, rather than the butt of jokes or of stereotypes?
I pride myself on being an optimist, but in this case I’ll have to settle for being a realist. We’ll never see that type of world on this side of Heaven. In the meantime, as Christians it’s so important that we look at our own ignorance as a potential stumbling block to others.
I came across this short film the other day, based on the true story of a woman and her daughter experiencing racially-based harassment on a public bus in Winnipeg. It’s a bit reminiscent of Rosa Parks, but unlike Rosa’s infamous bus ride in 1955, this one took place about two decades ago right here in Canada.
So I guess there is racism in Canada after all.
I would love to be able to say this film depicts the only occurrence of it, or the worst, but as we all know, that wouldn’t be true. That would just be plain ignorant.