In the 1940s, the one-room school I attended had 25-30 students made up of white European descent. The one exception was two sisters with darker skin and tightly curled blond hair—a gift from their great-grandmother, who was part African-American. They were good friends and rather romanticized for the distinction in their genetic makeup.
My teacher from 6th-to-8th grade passionately advocated for the original inhabitants of the land where we lived. With a great deal of pride, she taught that Canada had been a welcoming home for
or escaped slaves from the south. She and my parents taught me all people are made in God’s image. Origin, skin color, and religion make no difference; we are all part of God’s family.
I was well into my forties when my complacency was shattered. A member of my writers’ group presented an article for critique. Her family descended from slaves who fled to Canada to find refuge. I was interested to hear her story.
My heart felt warm as I began reading her account. Imagine my devastation when I learned that the slaves’ welcome was not what I had imagined. They were relegated to certain areas and not assimilated into the rest of society. Even in the 1950s, their descendants were not allowed to eat inside the town restaurants; they could buy meals there, but they had to eat outside. The author’s father was one of the brave souls who stood for their rights in the 1950s, contributing to the successful enforcement of the new law that made such discrimination illegal in Canada. As a result, his family was threatened to the extent that he moved his wife and children to Toronto to avoid harm. I was horrified to learn that this was going on near where I live and so recently. I cried as my whole being ached with the revelation.
At our next meeting, I started my critique with a tearful apology for being part of a society that caused her pain, yet I was naïve enough to think that such prejudice no longer existed..
Again, since George Floyd’s death, I’ve heard too many stories of professionals being assumed to be service workers because of their skin color. I’ve heard about the trauma people of colour suffer as they are followed under the assumption that they may be a thief and living in fear of how they will be treated if stopped by police. I’ve learned that because of the color of their skin, black and indigenous parents have to teach their children to be doubly respectful of law enforcement. I’ve learned that entire populations never really feel safe—even in Canada. This knowledge grieves and saddens me.
Yes, living with COVID-19 is a real threat, but the pandemic of racism has taken precedence for me. The need for a more equal society weighs heavier on my heart. I pray that I can be part of the change. How can I move from being not racist to being actively non-racist?