As a young child, I was by told my mother that skin color didn't matter—everyone's the same. Almost all of the faces I encountered on a daily basis, were white. Two of my mother's friends from her job at the local university were from southeast Asia. They came to our lower-middle-class home, on occasion, for dinner, or a bit of coffee. My memory is terrible. However, I recall them being lovely individuals. It wasn't until I was in grade three that I someone my own age whose skin was a different shade than mine. She was from China. She was in my class. She played flute and, looking back, seemed so nervous of her English, that her voice cracked with emotion every time she spoke. I didn't always understand what she was saying, entirely, but I liked her a lot. Most kids my own age thought I was a little spooky and stayed the hell away from me. She didn't have any shits to give. We remained friends for years before losing touch. I never noticed that most of the other kids didn't want to bother with her, either.
When I entered grade seven, I saw a Black kid for the first time. She was tall, friendly, and a little churchy. Despite my being a troublemaking little shit, we always had a smile for one another and worked on class projects together frequently. Everyone seemed to like her. However, it wasn't uncommon to see her cry in our school's hallways or outside at recess. At an awkward, hormone-filled age, I couldn't find the bravery required to ask a girl, who I very likely had a crush on, why she was upset.
Entering public high school meant entering a wider world. The school had an English as a Second Language program. There were a few kids in the program that hailed from joints like India and Korea, and places in Africa that I couldn't yet find on a map. Most of the program's participants, however, were from eastern Europe. In between periods, the majority of these kids, who, with their parents, had escaped ugly situations in authoritarian states. They kept to themselves, for the most part. They smoked, joked and talked in their home languages, occasionally breaking out an English word. They had their own little world out back of the school. I liked to listen to them talk. It made me feel a little less lonely. I never considered why they didn't hang out and smoke with everyone else on the opposite side of the high school.
It wasn't until went to university that I started to see a wider spectrum of ethnicities, cultures and quietly smoldering racism. I was not what you'd call a 'woke' kid. I didn't hate anyone, except for myself. But, I wasn't tuned into what was going on around me. My compatriots had made the effort to understand more of the world. There were anti-racism groups on campus. Associations that protested in the square outside of city hall, downtown. White people talking about the treatment of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
I should have heard more. I should have listened. I was, however, too wrapped up in making terrible fucking decisions that haunt me to this day.
The privilege of being white, coming from a predominately white community, and having the time and headspace to be fucked up by what I now know to be trauma suffered in my childhood, sheltered me from the pain and suffering of so many people around me.
It's only been a handful of years, thanks to my involvement in the Jewish community and my wife's unblinking view of the wrongs in our nation, that I've come to understand how fucking racist Canada has been and continues to be. We've built on stolen land, worked hard to rob its Indigenous people of their language, culture and lives. Blacks were subjected to violence and slander up here, the same as they have been in the United States. Today, thanks to lies spread about COVID-19, racially motivated assaults against Asians are a thing here—having an excuse has made cowards willing to other folks who have done nothing to them, out of fear, brave. Police violence against minorities? We might not have invented the concept, but we have it going on.
I try to be a good ally now. As I work from home and see so few people on a daily basis, I do not have many opportunities to try very hard. I could do better. I have not.
I can, however, now see my country for what it is: Canada is racist, in its own special way. It is quiet and denying. It often hides in the clothes of the greater good. It has been veiled in Christian Values.
I wish it were not the case. But such wishes change nothing.