Busy week… I’m just getting around to sharing Monday’s column. This week I talked about the importance of having conversations with your kids about diversity and helping them see from different perspectives.
It’s a topic that’s especially close to home for me. I’m of “mixed race” (there is not yet a good word in the English language to describe multi-racial people that doesn’t sound awkward) and I grew up in a province where race relations have always been complicated, to put it mildly.
The thing that troubles me most about race issues in Canada is that most people are so reluctant to talk about them.
I’ve spent time in Rwanda and South Africa, two countries that have had very bloody and high-profile conflicts over race and differences. Both countries have come a long way, though they both still have a ways to go. But the thing I found refreshing in both places is that they talk about their struggles, because they have to.
There’s no hiding from the fact that people had to carry actual “race cards,” or that one tribe of people tried to wipe another off the face of the earth.
Here in Canada we don’t talk about the fact that we had slavery too, or that we did terrible things to our native people, or that we didn’t treat Asian Canadians very well during the Second World War (or when we were building the railroad, for that matter).
We consider ourselves morally superior to even the United States, though most of the slavery- and segregation-related atrocities that happened there happened here too, just on a different scale.
Instead, we practice what author and scholar George Elliott Clarke described as “polite racism.” Africville’s a prime example: the city leaders of the day justified bulldozing the community by using words like progress and urban renewal, without ever really acknowledging that all the people they were displacing happened to be black.
When Viola Desmond went to court for refusing to leave the whites-only section of a New Glasgow theatre, she was convicted of “tax fraud” for not paying the one-cent difference on a seat in the lower level. Not once in the entire court case did anyone mention that the case had anything to do with the colour of her skin.
This is typically Canadian: we go to great lengths to avoid saying the R-word out loud, and we get offended at those who do.
So let’s talk. Talk to your kids about Viola Desmond, and Carrie Best, and Elijah McCoy. Talk to them about Idle No More and why First Nations people across the country are unhappy. Talk to them about the ugliness of segregation and residential schools, and why we’re still feeling the effects of both today.
If you don’t know what to say, explore it together with your family. Actually acknowledging we have issues is the first step to fixing them.