Bits and bobs

Random thoughts about random things by a random person


Becoming more aware – Our sphere of influence

I had intended to write more about this throughout last year. This post is long, I know, but it was either long or not at all, and it’s been “not at all” for months because I couldn’t do short.

Part of why I haven’t written more frequently is because I had the idea that as I did my reading, listening, learning and sitting with everything that I would naturally come to these plateaus of a-ha moments where I would have something specific that I could write about and share with you: “Hey – check out this thing that I just learned!”

But, it hasn’t worked out like that. There were just so many things that astounded me or punched me in the gut that I didn’t know where to go with it.

For example, I was floored…totally floored…to learn that the last federally funded residential school in Canada didn’t close until 1996. 1996!!!!! How is that even possible? Surely people knew. And obviously we didn’t care. So many heartbreaking things.

Anyway, there were so many things that I just got kind of paralyzed with it, I guess. A weird kind of writer’s block where, instead of not having any idea of what to write about, I had too many ideas and didn’t know where to start.

However, that is not to say that I hid my head under the sand with an “Oh well – there’s too much and what difference can one person make, anyway?” attitude.

If we were to all adopt that attitude nothing good would ever get done in this world.

So I kept reading and watching shows and videos, going out of my normal way to expose myself to things that would not have naturally shown up in my daily life, or that Instagram’s, YouTube’s or Google’s algorithms figured that a middle-aged white woman wanted to see. (As an aside – I think we all need to do that – we can’t wait for learning moments to just drop in our laps…we have to seek them out.)

Also I’m a firm believer in the power of making changes in our own individual little corners of the world. Specifically in this case, starting with myself. After all, I’m the only person that I have any real control over so the most sensible place to start is with me.

For myself, the thing I’ve been really working on is becoming more aware of my own unconscious biases. I know some people are struggling with that concept, but while it hasn’t always been easy to uncover what they are, the concept itself was easy for me to grasp and accept.

I mean, we have biases – conscious and unconscious – in probably all areas of our lives. At the most basic, they are like preferences. I grew up on the coast of Newfoundland, for example, with the sound of the ocean lulling me to sleep. To this day, my ideal peaceful moments involve being near the ocean (hence my Irish holiday for my 50th birthday in 2019) or at least near some sort of body of water. Conversely, people I know who grew up in or near the Rockies find the same thing with being near the mountains. Had we each been switched at birth somehow and I grew up in the Rockies and they grew up by the ocean, our preferences would very likely have changed with us.

Ditto with the types of food, music, language, traditions and so on that we all grow up with. Even if you celebrate Christmas, my idea of what an ideal Christmas involves is probably at least slightly different than yours.

If my preferences can be influenced by things I’ve been exposed to, then for me it was easy to extrapolate that idea to the opinions – biases – that I developed throughout my life in relation to people of other cultures and races growing up.

While I think I’m pretty awesome 🙂 I’m not, in fact, anybody special. I’m not the only one who has those preferences or biases. We, all of us, have thoughts and ideas about people based on what we learn as we progress through our lives. Some we learn in school and from our families, some at work, some through people we encounter along the way, and so on. Some we might not even be aware of.

The first important step, I think, is for us to acknowledge that we have those biases.

Part of that is realizing that having them doesn’t make us horrible people.

We ALL have them. It’s how our brains work. We are exposed to something; our brain makes sense of it based on previous knowledge/exposure – ideas are either changed or reinforced; and on we go. I’m not a psychologist so I’m sure I’m oversimplifying that, but you know what I mean. 🙂

It’s easier to combat the biases we are aware of. Not so much, though, with the ones we aren’t aware of.

As a next step, then, we can start to look at those things that we are aware of. There are a LOT of stereotypes about different groups. We can start with them. Think of the stereotypes about different groups of people. Think about a race, culture, group that is different from you, and come up with the things that “everybody knows” about that group.

A “nice” one is that “Everybody knows that Canadians are so polite.” Obviously we aren’t all polite and certainly not al the time. 🙂

Once we’ve done that, we can start to dig a bit deeper to see what unconscious biases we have.

Here are some questions that I’ve been asking myself and that might help you on your journey:

  • What things automatically come to my mind when I think about [X group – any group that is “other” than me]?
  • Where did those ideas come from?
  • Are they true? (Hint: No one thing is true about any complete group of people other than the fact that they are people. Hence the expression: We can’t paint everybody with the same brush.)
  • Do those ideas influence what I do or say or how I feel? (Do I cross the street when I seem someone from that group, for example?)
  • Am I willing to learn different things about that group?
  • Am I willing to try to change any of those ideas, beliefs or actions?

I’ve been doing a lot of this type of reflection the past several months.

And, yeah, it’s a lot of work. And nope, I don’t “have” to do it. Meaning that my life, as a white woman, won’t on the surface be negatively impacted if I don’t.

For example, I’ll still have my job. I had no issues recently renewing my mortgage. On paper, my name would put me as clearly white for many, if not most, people. I’ll go to dinner (once that’s allowed again!) and movies; park my car without someone writing a racial slur on it (which happened to a friend in the past three years here in Ottawa); and shop without someone following me around the store (which happens regularly to a friend of mine). Other than occasional sleights and issues because of misogynism and religious intolerance, my life is pretty comfortable and will stay that way.

So I could close the book now and call it a day.

But even though the surface of my life wouldn’t change if I did that, it would definitely impact me negatively as a person if I didn’t do this exploration.

This time last year, I wouldn’t have even thought to mention about how “white” my name is – and conversely how having a “Black” or “Indigenous” name can put someone’s application for a job or financing into a “Not gonna happen” pile. I was aware of those types of things – far back in my brain somewhere. But now it’s in the forefront and I truly believe that makes me a better person – a better member of my community, hopefully a better friend and also a better ally.

There’s still a lot for me to learn. But what I have learned so far has already helped me have conversations with people who don’t understand what this is all about and why people can’t just “get over it already”. I feel much more confident in my ability to explain things and have discussions that, hopefully, encourage people to think about things even just a little bit differently.

And, again, as I said earlier, I can’t change anybody but me. So this is where I have to start – and where I need to continue working.

I can change myself and at least influence things in my little corner of the world.

There’s a lot of power in that.

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I see colour

I used to think that was a bad thing to say. I’m not sure why – where the idea of not seeing the colour of someone’s skin became a bad thing. Somehow or other it became tied up with the idea of being racist or bigoted and if we wanted to be known as not being either of those two things we had to say “I don’t see colour.”

I’ve never liked that phrase, either, even though I’m sure I’ve said it.

But I didn’t believe it. I knew I saw colour. My eyes see what my eyes see. The same as I see the colour and style of someone’s hair, what type of clothes they are wearing, their jewellery – any number of physical characteristics about a person when I see them.

So it always seemed disingenuous to say it, or to hear it, even though it was what you were supposed to say.

I didn’t like it, then, because it just wasn’t true. Of course I saw the colour of someone’s skin. How ridiculous to say I didn’t.

Really, it’s insulting to all of us. I know I see it. You know I see it. You know I know I see it. But I’m afraid to admit that I see it because that will make me a bad person somehow. Because that’s what I’ve learned:

“If we could all just learn to not see colour, everything would be great.”

As you’ve probably noticed in your own journey, “I don’t see colour” has been a popular topic the past couple of months. I have learned that while it’s almost universally acknowledged that its origins may well have been well-intentioned, there is damage and hurt that occurs when we use it.

My first reaction was relief – I wasn’t a horrible person for not feeling right about saying it.

I then read more about it – to really understand why and how it was hurtful.

I’m so glad I did. As you can imagine, it’s not just about outright lying or denying diversity.

There are loads of negative things that simple, well-meant phrase can bring with it. Here are a just a few of things that I’ve learned that it can do:

  • disrupt conversations about racism
  • inadvertently support systemic racism
  • deny the experiences of those who have experienced the (overt and not-so-overt) impacts of racism, hatred and bigotry
  • make someone feel like you don’t see them

Perhaps the two biggest take-aways for me are first, the idea that if we deny that we even see colour – race – then we (even if unintentionally) deny that racism exists, and then second, that me saying that phrase could make someone seem like I don’t see them. How hurtful! Have you ever felt unseen? It’s an awful feeling. I would never want to make someone feel that way. Even if my intent in saying it is good, if it causes hurt, I need to re-evaluate.

I was going to list a bunch of resources for you to check out, but there really are too many. Just Google “I don’t see colour” (or “color” for our geographic neighbours to the south… 🙂 ) and you will have a plethora of experiences to read from. I promise you will find them valuable and eye-opening.

Also in my readings, I came across the research of Dr. Osagie K. Obasogie on the concept of race and colour blindness that is worth checking out. He talks about it in his book, Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind.

Or, for a shorter read, the Oxford University Press has a great interview with Dr. Obasogie and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. that is super interesting.

Don’t let the “Eyes of the Blind” bit of the title fool you. There is value in it for all of us to reflect on. I highly recommend checking it out. Here’s a quote to whet your appetite:

This research certainly gave me a new appreciation of the extent to which understanding and “seeing” race has very little to do with vision. That is the gist of the book, i.e. the social and institutional practices that we’re constantly engaged in shape the way we look at people and the way that we live our lives—even for people who are blind.

Dr. Osagie K. Obasogie

So, even if we all did somehow stop “seeing” race, there is obviously so much more going on in racism than rods, cones and optic nerves.

Another reason, to me, to take the time to pay a little more attention.

Know better, do better.

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Emmanuel Acho’s “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man”

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, is a safe place to have the uncomfortable conversations about race that many white people have never been able to have.

As you know, I have started a journey to learn more in an effort to be more active in promoting and creating racial equality and justice.

One thing I came across this week was Emmanuel Acho’s new video series, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man”.

If you want to get right to it and skip my comments, you can find the videos in several spots: under @themanacho on Instagram, at Acho’s YouTube channel, and on the website .

At this point there are two videos. The intent is for them to be conversations between Acho and others, but the first video features Acho by himself, explaining the purpose of the series. The second one is a conversation between Acho and Matthew McConaughey.

Both are great. Several different topics are discussed and viewpoints are explained. They are easily accessible and understandable. It all feels very…approachable. I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but that’s how it felt.

This might sound corny, but they also make me feel hope. They make me feel like it’s OK that I’m not perfect and that I don’t have to understand everything right now, I just need to keep at it.

They are pretty short, too, which I think is great because we have time to think about and digest the topics discussed – time to internalize the concepts before moving to the next one. The first one is 9.5 minutes long and the second one is 13 minutes. So, there you go!

Hmmm…I think the way I’m describing them makes them sound more like university lectures or something. That’s not how they are. They are very casual, and comfortable. Matthew McConaughey had notes in his video and that felt a bit weird, but seemed to fit better as the video progressed. And, honestly, I appreciated the info so much that I didn’t really care that he had notes.

One of the things that they talked about, and that I think will be a great tool in conversations I will have about this, is a way to explain how the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter.

The analogy was that right now, as we all know, there is a huge emphasis on COVID-19. We all know about it and we all need to take precautions to get the spread under control and keep each other safe. The current focus on COVID-19 doesn’t mean that there aren’t other diseases and illnesses that are also important. It just means that, right now, this one is a crisis and particular focus on it is required.

It’s the same with Black Lives Matter. It doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter. It just means there is a crisis that we all need to step up for and be part of the resolution.

I have struggled to find a way to explain that concept and this really helped me. It’s not that I didn’t believe the idea of it before. I just struggled to find a way to explain it that is probably easy for most people to understand.

Anyhoooooo…even if that point isn’t an aha moment for you, there will surely be other things that strike you in these or subsequent videos, so I definitely recommend that you check them out!

When we learn better, we do better.

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I can breathe – Action against racism

On my Instagram account, I follow a few friends, but mostly I’m on there to find recipes and ideas for the various crafty/hobby things I’m into. It’s a pretty happy and peaceful and inspiring place to be and I’m pretty protective of that.

In the past few days, several of the people I follow – food bloggers, hand lettering professionals, card makers, etc. – have been posting things that have disrupted this social media utopia that I have worked hard to build.

Rather than the regular recipes or lettering tips that have me drooling or rushing for my brush pens, they have posted their positions on racism, in response to what is going on currently in the US.

I knew that speaking up and speaking out were the right things to do. I had even also thought about posting something. But did I really want to destroy my happy place? Did I want to open myself up to the controversy that would likely come from such a post?

While doing my standard mental prevarication, I noticed that some of the accounts specifically stated that they were voicing their positions because of the large followings they had and they felt a responsibility to not stay silent about it.

Sadly, my next thought was, “Well, I only have 120 or so followers so it doesn’t matter if I voice my position.” Underlying that was the unvoiced (even in my head) thought that I was off the hook. Momentary relief!

Thankfully it didn’t fully quiet my conscience and when one of my favourite quotes popped up today, it called me on the carpet.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to stand by and do nothing.

Edmund Burke

That was a punch to my integrity gut. That quote has been a favourite of mine for a long time. But how important is it to me really if I am willing to be one of those “good” [people] who stand by and do or say nothing?

And yet, there I was, looking for reasons not to speak up. Reasons to let “someone else” do something.

I am ashamed to say it, but there it is. And that’s OK. We have to acknowledge the uncomfortable realities within ourselves in order to really learn, change and move forward.

So here I am.

It doesn’t matter if I have 12 followers, 120 followers, or 120 million followers.

If I really, truly believe that quote, then I have to speak, or accept that I tacitly approve the behaviour that I would like to think that I oppose.

And, really, I’m not doing this for anyone else’s benefit but my own. I need to say something because I need to know that I can have my actions match what I say are my values.

This, then, is my first step – publicly acknowledging that systemic racism does still exist and is very much alive. I live with white privilege and because of that I don’t have to worry about a policeman’s knee on my throat. I can breathe.

I need to figure out now what I can do to change this reality – at least in my own little corner of the world.

I don’t know what all my next steps will be. One thing for sure will be writing more posts about this as I move along in my learning process.

I’ll likely screw up along the way, but I need to not let fear of doing or saying something wrong paralyze me into inaction.

If I come across any resources that I think might be helpful, I’ll be sure to share them.

Till then…Be well and be safe.

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