The tragedy that happened in Minneapolis when George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer has sent shockwaves across the globe. These murders of black people at the hands of white police officers, particularly in America, has become a relatively frequent event — Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark, Justin Howell, Jamel Floyd, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and on and on and on… the list of black people murdered by police officers is long. We have a huge racial inequality problem and always have. It’s disturbing and we have to stop just talking about it, and instead, do something about it.
I am a 3rd generation Canadian white male. I have been afforded the luxury of growing up in Vancouver and have realized that I am a privileged member of society. After George Floyd was murdered I asked myself, “what do I need to do to help solve this problem?” Through self-reflection, I realized that I knew virtually nothing about the history of racial inequality of black people in America and Canada. I am well versed in my own background being Jewish and my ancestors going through the horrors of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany but my knowledge of the historical roots of systemic racism against black people in North American was extremely low. This is where I needed to start.
I started talking to many of my black network peers about their own experiences and how they played out in their lives from social, work and economic perspectives. I participated in many virtual events asking questions and listening. I am reading a fantastic book by Canadian author Desmond Cole called “The Skin We’re In“, which has educated me on how racism and racial inequality is alive and well in my own country, particularly as it relates to police brutality against black people.
I have learned so much during the past month about racial inequality that has been embedded in well-entrenched systems in all facets of life. I realized that before I can even help solve racism I needed to educate myself. I shared this with one of my black peers and he said to me, “Jeff, what you are doing right now; educating yourself, opening up your heart and mind, and leveraging your privilege to shine a light on black people with support and empathy, is the starting point to helping to solve this problem”. It was an eye-opening moment for me because while I knew that education and knowledge is the first step to changing anything, I was overwhelmed by my peer’s comment that what I was doing was already helping to solve the problem. I actually paused and then emotion overtook me.
The lesson in all of this is that the first step in eradicating systemic racism is education and knowledge. Ask questions and then listen. You need to understand the history behind racial inequality against black people. Only then can you truly support change and resolution. If you are reading this post and thinking to yourself, “I don’t see a racial problem in North America” I urgently ask you to open up your mind to learning and listening. Racial inequality is real and is an active component of virtually every single system that we participate in our daily lives. Your bias drives how you react and behave in certain situations, and each and every person on the face of this earth is guided by systemic bias.
As I mentioned, I was fortunate that I grew up in Vancouver, and my friends were from various countries around the world. While I viewed everyone as my equal I did not acquire the knowledge and history of my friends’ backgrounds. Here’s an example. I remember when I was in my late teens walking downtown with a few of my friends who were predominantly white and Asian. Walking on the other side of the road towards us was a group of black and Muslim teenagers. I remember a police officer driving past us and then turning on his lights and stopped. My heart skipped a beat because I thought he was getting out to question the group I was in because of where he stopped his car. The officer got out and jaywalked across the street and stopped the group of black and Muslim kids. We stopped to watch as the boys pulled out their IDs and were questioned by the officer. I didn’t hear what he was asking them but the sheer fact that he targeted this group instead of the group I was in bothered me. I remember thinking to myself, “why that group and not mine?” At that point in my life, I didn’t understand the reason why. Today’s version of myself knows why and it is solely about racial inequality. That officer targeted that group because of the colour of their skin, and no other reason.
I’m now 41 years old and I’m learning every day about systemic racism in North America. I know that I am privileged because of my skin colour and gender. My heart has been extremely heavy during the past month as I have opened myself up to learning about systemic racism, particularly against black people. I have watched videos and seen images that have been very disturbing. I could have easily stopped learning but it’s absolutely important that I do this work so that I can be part of the solution instead of remaining ignorant to history and what’s going on around me. I invite you to do the same. Educate yourself, ask questions, listen, empathize, leverage your privilege to uplift others and keep an open mind and heart.
In the spirit of learning, I highly recommend you watch a documentary called, “Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement” directed by Peabody and Laurens Grant.