By June Ip, guest blogger
It is hard not to be triggered as one watches the events unfolding in the United States following the unjust death of George Floyd. Canada is far from being a haven for minorities.
Growing up as a child of immigrant Chinese parents, I endured a lot of racially motivated bullying – so much so that the switchboard operators at my mom’s work knew where to transfer the call when a sobbing incoherent little girl would call asking for “mom.” As an adult, in a more diverse Canada than when I was a child, I still experience microaggressions and insensitivities that remind me that I’m a visible minority, even though I have the privilege of speaking English without an accent and largely follow white Canadian behavioural norms.
In the end, my personal experiences are still examples of moderate racism, even if they have personally affected me a great deal. Given the spectrum of possible racist behaviours, how does one judge what an appropriate response is when faced with a racist scenario?
Maybe it’s my age or maybe it’s my rage, but my opinion at this point is that silence is no longer an option, regardless of where on the spectrum a scenario may lie. Racism is the root of some of the most atrocious episodes in history: the trans-Atlantic slave trade, World War 2, South African Apartheid, the Bosnian War, our own shameful residential schools, and systemic police brutality. These episodes in our history do not necessarily start out as controversies – at least not to the average person. Instead, banal behaviours are normalized in some way, whether through policy or social contract, and tensions are left to build up over time and eventually boil over into all-out conflict. This is why even seemingly minor incidents of racism need to be challenged.
Over the years, I have been in situations where I held back the urge to explicitly name ignorant or outright malicious behaviour in an effort to “not rock the boat.” What I have only learned to do recently – after nearly half-a-lifetime of enduring this treatment – is to speak up, but to do so in such a way that creates the opportunity for conversation and learning.
“I will respond to that comment when it’s more appropriate for me to do so, but in the meantime… [and then move on with the topic at hand]” is often enough to
(a) Have the other person reflect on what they have said;
(b) Signal to others that you were hurt by the comment but wish to move on (and sometimes it encourages others to offer their moral support);
(c) Remove the opportunity for the perpetrator to justify or dismiss their comments publicly; and,
(d) Gives you an opportunity to contact the perpetrator at a later time to address your concerns privately.
Often, the perpetrator is unaware that what they’ve said is hurtful and becomes apologetic when they find out the reason for your reaction. But also be prepared for the comment to be completely dismissed as an overreaction. In this case, it’s important to just accept that you cannot change everyone or their views, and the hope is that by speaking up, you will contribute to a future change in that person or someone else in the room.
In addition to speaking out against racism in all of its forms, we must also remember to listen. If those with power had listened to the decades of Black and Indigenous voices that have named the abuse of power by the police, we likely would not be where we are now with the continued violence against racialized people. We have allowed the excuse of ignorance to be used too often and for too long, when these voices have been calling for change this whole time.
Stripped back to its most fundamental elements, we must remember that a “lack of voice” is the core reason we continue to see discrimination and injustice every day – it’s important to both be a voice against discrimination and injustice, and to listen to the voices that are trying to share with us their lived experiences of discrimination and oppression.
Therefore, in the following weeks, months, and years, I challenge you as I challenge myself to speak up against the injustices that we witness or experience, no matter how small. And equally important is to learn from the diverse media, books, podcasts, movies, and art from marginalized and underrepresented communities so we can continue to learn from perspectives unlike our own.
June Ip (she/her) is a marketing executive and educator with a background in political economy and social justice. Born to immigrant Chinese parents in Toronto, June's lived experiences have inspired her to advocate for and amplify the voices of racialized women in the city. She resides in the King West area of the city with her husband and dog, and can often be found eating sushi and/or noodles.
Image by @TheEastLondonPhotographer