How to talk about racism

I shouldn’t have to write this article. Then again, a person of colour also shouldn’t have to write this article either. There shouldn’t be a need for this article at all, but as we enter black history month, this needs to be said.

I am, by no means, the most qualified person to be writing this, but my white voice holds an uncomfortable amount of clout when discussing race and racism. Nobody ever discounts my voice as being “overly sensitive” or “angry all the time.” Nobody ever tells me I am “making everything about race.” My only experiences with racism are secondhand, and stem from talking to others who do have firsthand experience. Yet I am the one flooded with compliments whenever I call out racism, not those who have the lived experiences with racism that I do not. This is because I have white privilege. A white-dominated community such as Mount Allison University only amplifies this unfair “get out of jail free card” handed to us at birth.

So what can you do? What do you do with all this privilege?

One of the most powerful ways in which we can work to alleviate the systemic racism  is to first acknowledge it, and then talk about it. There are many ways these conversations can go, but just remember that you will make mistakes. Inadvertently saying offensive things is an inevitable by-product of a lack of exposure and firsthand experience with racism.  This should not deter you from these conversations, as you can learn how not to make the same mistakes next time.

It is easy to freeze up whenever racism is mentioned. People will stutter over using the word “black” as a physical description and wonder if this was the right word to use, or if they were being inadvertently offensive (helpful hint: black is not a racial slur.) Listening is the first key step. If your friend group is lacking in ethnic diversity because this is a small liberal arts school in Eastern Canada, then read up on blog posts, articles and other sources of information written by people of colour. This is the key to gaining at least some perspective.

The members of BSAAT (Black Students for Advocacy, Awareness  and Togetherness) have been working to help the Mt. A community gain some of this perspective. They have done some amazing things over the past few months and deserve recognition. They have created a platform and mechanism for people of all races to talk about issues facing black people today and in the past. They also work to help other ethnic minorities feel more comfortable at Mt. A. BSAAT has pulled together a wide assortment of events for Black History Month and will be hosting film screenings, talks and fundraisers throughout the month. They are always looking for new active members of all races and backgrounds, and it is easy to get involved with the group.

On Feb. 11, BSAAT will be hosting a panel discussion at 6 p.m. in Dunn room 113. The panel will focus on listening to people of colour speak about their lived experiences as people of colour living in white-dominated society. The panel will feature Kim Crosby, a social justice advocate and business consultant based out of Toronto, who will be speaking to her experience as a queer, black woman navigating a white-dominated society. There will also be several Mt. A students of colour, representing varying ethnicities, speaking on the panel about their experiences with racism at Mt. A.

BSAAT has also been working to create larger, systemic change within the university administration and beyond, and were recently interviewed by the CBC to discuss the racist climate at Mt. A.

It is often easier to disengage from conversations about racism because it does not directly impact us. However, staying silent and ignoring the problem do not solve anything. White people need to use their privilege to speak up in support of people colour, without silencing their voices. Go to events, talks and screenings hosted by people of colour. Listen actively and value this learning experience. White people, during black history month, let’s not complain about how there is no white history month. Rather, let’s use it as a springboard to become anti-racism allies. Our privilege should be used in the most productive way possible.

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