A week ago today I was sitting in a tarp-cave by my tent at a music festival, sipping coffee mid-afternoon, hiding from the sun and early-day partiers. I turned on my phone to get an update about a wildfire approaching the event and then opened my Facebook app. The first post I saw was about the events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. Shocked, I quickly Googled “Charlottesville” to verify that what I had read was really happening—if you’ve been living under a rock with no wifi, read this.
I can’t believe that in 2017 we’re still fighting over this shit. Canada and the United States are stolen countries populated by immigrants, yet we fight about who should have the most power where…based on skin colour. And we fight about whether women should have rights regarding their own reproductive systems, and whether men can marry each other. We launch hate campaigns against kids we don’t like in school or a minority group we perceive to be stealing our jobs.
Why do we feel so entitled and what does this all boil down to and how do we solve this?
That’s what was on my mind at 1 a.m. last Saturday as I was trying to enjoy myself at this music festival, feeling stupid for being there while people were fighting Nazism in the streets. I was surrounded by people from many ethnic backgrounds with a full spectrum of sexual preferences, getting along and enjoying each other’s company. Did anyone else read the news that day?
I knew from that moment that it was time to come to terms with my own prejudices, fears, and white privilege-guilt. These excuses for doing nothing are not acceptable. It’s time for everyone to get involved because this does affect all of us and this could get way worse.
My Austrian grandmother told me she had to hide her identity during World War 2 (a war her beloved brother died in). She lived in a very rural area of British Columbia and her family was peaceful but was of a nationality associated with hate, a target because of what the Nazis had started in Europe, in a time before phone service and long before social media.
Hate can be contagious. It can travel internationally. It’s available to pick up on whenever you open your web browser. And it often doesn’t matter who you are as an individual, you’ll be lumped into the group targeted by hate.
Ending our personal prejudices starts with ending our tendency to generalize
Labels, classifications, stereotypes—these things help us understand our world but when it comes to generalizing groups of people we lose respect and understanding of individuality. We dehumanize The Other. Social psychologists have researched this effect, which they call the “outgroup homogeneity effect“. Think about stereotypes you attach to groups you’re not a part of. I was recently reading an article about a new social housing project in my city and the comments written largely associated homeless people with dirty needles and petty theft. Not every homeless person is an addict or a thief, though.
You may think you’re not prejudiced. Often, a crisis is when prejudice surfaces. Think about how wary people were of Arabs or anyone with brown skin after 9/11. How do you relate to First Nations residents in your community? How do you feel about that group of nerds in your workplace or those hipsters who think they’re too cool for school?
People are complicated and each person belongs to many groups. We all come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences. We have to stop lumping people together if we want to become more compassionate.
Am I saying we should be more understanding of white supremacists? Not in the sense that we should be complacent and allow hate crime to happen, but let’s figure out why there are so many people that believe in this ideology and address it.
Overcoming white privilege guilt
This post was really hard for me to write because I feel bad that I have unearned rights because of my race (or perceived race) and that I often take my privilege for granted while there are people struggling for basic rights and understanding. I feel bad that I can’t truly understand someone else’s experience—so who am I to say anything about it?
As Brené Brown says, you can’t take your lens to the world off but you can believe people’s stories as they tell them to you. Instead of taking on someone’s experience and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you just listen. She calls it perspective-taking.
Feeling guilty about who you are won’t solve anything, it just perpetuates shame and non-action. What we can do is be empathic, stop walking away from tough conversations, embrace who we are, and work together towards equality. I also believe we can use our privilege to influence others of privilege to do the same.
Are you afraid of speaking out? Me too
We all want to be accepted and to feel like we belong. Speaking out against injustice means you’ll separate yourself from people around you. You’ll see people roll their eyes. Your friends will try using humour to change the subject. People will tell you to be quiet or apologize on your behalf.
I’ve been punished emotionally by speaking out when I was being treated unfairly or when I aired concerns about social issues. I’ve been ignored when communicating about something uncomfortable. Apathy is easier than giving a shit when you’re privileged.
I’ve also experienced connection when speaking out. We can make it easier for people to have tough conversations by being open and available to each other when they come up. When the Jian Ghomeshi scandal aired, it became an inroad to talk to friends about sexual abuse (and I learned about my female friends’ experiences with sexual abuse, uncomfortably close calls, objectification, and sexism). Find creative ways to start uncomfortable conversations and be brave about sharing your experiences. This is how we can find real acceptance.
Finding love in the dark
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Understanding, acceptance, empathy, compassion, love—this is what we need to cultivate right now. We have to become more aware of how we perceive the world, how we interact with one another, and how we feel when our hackles rise. If something is wrong, don’t assume someone else will take care of it.
I think the most important thing we can do is to not battle hate with hate. As Brené Brown says in the video above, hold people accountable for their actions. Shaming, hate-speech, violence, and eye-for-an-eye retaliation won’t solve our problems, they’ll continue to divide us. We need to be cautious about getting caught up in group-think and the media and what politicians and celebrities say.
Last Saturday, I felt completely overwhelmed, by anger and frustration, by my perceived helplessness, by my ignorance. But we’re all responsible for fixing this. Here are some ways to get started:
- If you have a platform, use it. I really admire Natalie MacNeil’s recent blog post. If you’re an artist or musician or performer, share your message. Last Saturday, I was inspired by a DJ set of all things—at the end of his set, the DJ shared how he felt about hate crime and love and compassion. As an audience member, I felt heard and even hopeful. You have exceptional power as an artist.
- Go through Ericka Hines ever-growing list of what you can do about racism.
- Support equality as a business owner. Instagram is working on a machine learning project to decrease hate speech on their platform. Spotify’s removing hate music from their platform. Starbucks publicly announced they would hire refugees.
- Read “Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
- Join a protest in your community and let your elected officials know what you think about these issues. Facebook events searches and local human rights non-profits are great resources to learn about local events.
- Host an event. I was really inspired by a friend of mine who held an impromptu dinner, where she invited anyone to come and enjoy food, conversation, and connection following the events in Virginia. Add a purpose to your barbecue and raise money for charities. Bring people together.
- Get out into your community. Volunteer, attend cultural events, get outside of your bubble and make new friends.
- Report hate speech and hate crime. Every social media platform I use has a “report this post” function. Contact your local police if you experience and see hate crime. If you know someone who is saying racist things, call them out on it (preferably not by shaming them, but by educating them).
- Engage. Hugs, high fives, inspirational messages (once I came across beautiful messages like “your ideas are amazing” and “we are all equal” in chalk all the way down a bike path), love notes, public art, smiling at strangers, acknowledging, talking to people in lineups, phone calls, thank-yous…etc.
If you have more ideas, please share them in the comments!