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Colour Blindness – a New Racism

20 Nov

This past week I have had the opportunity to reflect (again) on the way we have been taught to not see skin colour – specifically, the way we have been taught to not see non-white skin colour. Somewhere along the line someone decided that this would be a good idea, and would show acceptance. It does not.

Not seeing someone’s colour means you are ignoring an important part of who they are. And, more insidious, it means you also are not really seeing the negative impact of not being White in a world that values Whiteness.

This tendency to really see people goes beyond race to all marginalized groups, but I’m choosing to focus on race because I’m brown, and because people actually say things to me and other racialized people like “I don’t see your colour” or “your colour doesn’t matter to me” or “I don’t even notice you are Black/Brown” – like it’s a good thing.

I’ve been pondering this for quite some time, and I recognize that it’s difficult to see and understand the importance of something we have no concept of personally.

If you are White, you live in a world where YOUR skin colour doesn’t matter. You don’t have to think about it, question if it’s the reason you are experiencing barriers, and more devastating, feel and see the impact of the devaluing of who you are – simply because of the colour of your skin.

So it stands to reason that you will not understand the importance of recognising skin colour in this world. Preferring, instead, to believe that saying it doesn’t matter makes our experience like yours. It does not.

I understand where the impulse comes from – my mother is White and I have heard this phrase from her a few times in my life. I know she loves me, and I know she is trying to say, in a way, that although the world may see me differently and treat me negatively because of my brown skin, she doesn’t stop there and sees me. That’s beautiful. But incomplete. Because my skin colour is an integral part of who I am. And if you’re not seeing it, you’re not seeing all of me.

As parents, colour blindness is even more devastating because we have an added responsibility to help our children navigate the world. And when our children are not White, we have to teach them to navigate a world where racism is alive and well. If you have a brown or Black child and you are not doing this, you are doing them a disservice. You are missing the opportunity to instill a vital skill for them to thrive – and in some cases, to survive.

In the context of child welfare, foster parents and adoptive parents who are White take on Black and brown kids and believe – really believe – that love is enough. Yes, love is SO important. But it is not enough in the world and context we live in today that sees, values, and treats people differently based on the amount of melanin in their skin.

Love is a really great start, but we have to really recognize experiences and lived realities – ours and other people’s – in order to be able to support each other and create change. To do that, we have to really see and acknowledge people for who they are: all of them, because it all matters.

To learn more about this in a parenting context, please listen to my interview with Judy Stigger of Adoption Learning Partners on Transracial adoption (when you get to the page, scroll down to Nov. 20, 2015).

In the context of other relationships, it’s colour blindness is dismissive and we miss so much about each other, as well as opportunities to connect, and to be allies.

And I want to add that what I’m saying here is not to be confused with a belief in how things should be. Skin colour shouldn’t be a predictor or disparity. But saying you don’t see colour in a world that so clearly does, doesn’t change this. Seeing colour and being an ally in outlook, word, and deed is what will help to make the world an equitable place for people of all skin colours. Educate yourself about racism and anti-Black racism. Be an ally. Speak up and stand up. Make a difference because you see colour and the devastating impact of being racialized in a world that values Whiteness.

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

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What does a doctor look like? Anti-Black racism in action.

13 Oct

You have probably already heard or read about Dr. Tamika Cross’ post on Facebook and her experience of anti-Black racism on a Delta Airlines flight.

In case you haven’t, here it is in a nutshell:
A man needed medical attention. She got up to help and was told to sit down. The flight attendants called for a doctor over the intercom, and still she was blocked from helping and asked a series of disrespectful questions that made it clear the crew did not believe she was a doctor. Enter white male who is immediately given access to the ailing passenger. But Dr. Cross was asked to help a few minutes later.

This is about unconscious bias, and the messages we get about who has value, who can be a doctor, what a doctor looks like and sounds like. Those are the messages we receive every day – overtly and covertly – that cause the disrespectful and discriminatory treatment that Dr. Cross received. They are based on anti-Black racism.

It’s also about anti-Black racism – racism directed specifically towards Black people. It’s one of the legacies of slavery and colonization (yes, it’s been a while, and the effects are NOT over).

This is what anti-Black racism look like today folks. It’s not always horrific, or physically violent or even deadly in the moment – but it always reminds us of our place (less than), and the aim is to keep us there. And because of that – and what that means in terms of opportunities, education, health, employment, family, self esteem, etc.  – it is horrific, violent and deadly. Maybe not in the moment, but cumulatively over time.

Racism and anti-Black racism are real. They are alive and well. Sometimes they require that we look closer and examine our actions (and inactions) to recognize how they are baked into the fabric of our societies.

What do you need to learn and know to be able to see this reality if it isn’t yours, in order to help create a change and make our workplaces, communities, schools, health care facilities – the world we live in –  a safer, respectful and more equitable place for people of colour?

See more.

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator and Consultant on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.
www.annemarieshrouder.com

 

 

Thanksgiving…and Atonement

10 Oct

This week there is an interesting convergence of two holidays in Canada. While one is religious and one is not, I’m finding the timing quite meaningful.

Everywhere in Canada (except in the Atlantic provinces) Monday is Thanksgiving, and in the Hebrew calendar, Yom Kippur begins Tuesday night at sundown. Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – is the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar and is a day of introspection and repentance.

While it can be relatively easy to give thanks, recognizing the ways and the people who made it possible for us to have the gifts we enjoy is often not; we may simply not think of it, or it may be uncomfortable. Similarly, reflecting on how we have hurt or wronged someone may not be a popular practice; sometimes because we don’t realize we have done it, often because we don’t want to face it.

The two days next to each other are causing me to think about the often stark contrast in the gifts that we have, and the ways many of our privileges exist because of someone else’s hard work or oppression (the land we live on being one example, the clothing we wear being another possibility).

I’m not Jewish, but I imagine that Yom Kippur can be a heavy day, as well as a day of liberation. Taking time to think about our actions over the past year and how they have hurt or negatively impacted people gives us the opportunity to reflect on the impact of our actions. And then to acknowledge it to ourselves and the person(s) affected. This can possibly lead to dialogue, understanding, forgiveness, stronger relationships and healing – and seeing more: More of the person, more of the situation, more of ourselves.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the Canadian government approached Indigenous Peoples, Black people, and people of colour in this way. Introspection. Awareness. Repentance. Dialogue. Relationship building. And then action; moving forward differently, with inclusion and human dignity in mind.

Imagine the country (the world) that would create?

See more.                                                                                                                                                        Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder                                                                                          Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion  www.annemarieshrouder.com

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The Dangers of Being Colour Blind

20 Sep

Race can be a difficult topic to discuss. (Ha! Did you think this was going to be about your retinas?)

And somewhere along the line some of us were taught that being colour blind was the answer; that not seeing the colour of someone’s skin is a good and respectful thing.

To be more precise, being colour blind means that we don’t see that someone is not white.

Somehow seeing/noticing/saying that someone is Black, brown, a person of colour, African American (or whatever the term is that’s currently in use) has been linked to a negative thing, and the belief that it could make us seem racist. We are simply not supposed to notice when someone isn’t white.

Hmmm…

First of all, we do anyway. So being colour blind isn’t really not seeing, it’s not saying you see it. Second of all, if you don’t see my skin colour, who are you seeing?

Our skin colour is part of who we are; an important identity of many identities. All identities impact our experiences and realities. But because of colonization, racism and systemic racism, skin colour is a particularly pivotal factor in how we move through the world, and how we are treated. And unlike some other identities, we cannot hide the colour of our skin.

When we think being colour blind is a good thing, when “colour doesn’t matter to us” what we are often trying to say is that we are not going to treat people as less than, because of their colour.

That should be an expectation regardless.

But you still need to see me. All of me.

What makes colour blindness dangerous and misguided is this:

When we pretend we don’t see skin colour, what happens is that we fail to see that race matters. It matters because the colour of our skin impacts what we experience (and don’t), how we are seen (and not seen), what we have access to, and the barriers we face. In Canada, in North America, in most parts of the world where the culture is white, brown skin puts us at a disadvantage – and the darker you are, the more discrimination you likely face.

In order to see people, connect with people, work with people and serve people well, we need to see all of who they are. And my skin colour is part of that.

See more.

 

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Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

Talking about Race & Racism

21 Jul

Last week I was part of many conversations about race and racism – in organizations, with the people in my life, in the community.

Race and racism are tricky to talk about. People feel cautious – even afraid – to say the wrong thing, or to be perceived as ignorant (or worse, as racist). The trouble is that this often means that we are not having these important conversations. Because we don’t know how. Remember the “practice makes perfect” your parents likely said to you when you were a kid? Perfection is a lofty goal, but it sure is true that the more you practice, the easier something can become.

The spectre of political correctness is still with us. And while it’s important to think about what we are saying and the impact it might have, it’s also important that we connect with people, ask questions and learn about each other. How else will we learn what their lives are like, what matters to them, what they need, and how we experience things differently – and therefore what needs to change?  Because we can be in the same situation, organization, conversation, community, etc and be having a completely different experience because of race (or any other identity).

Take the recent shootings of two Black men in the USA by police officers for example. Firstly, these deaths were due to (at the very least) systemic racism. They were tragic, heartbreaking, and unnecessary. But if you are a person of colour, there was likely also grief and anger. I heard a lot of “no words” from Black people as we grappled with the reality that we are still not seen as equal, still not living the lives we should be on this continent, still not safe. Same incident, different experience.

When we open ourselves to see more about another person’s reality, it’s because we are beginning to recognize that we move through the world and experience the world differently. That things may be obvious for some and that others may be oblivious to those same details. This is an important first step. But what comes next?

We have to listen. Really listen to what is being shared.

And then we have to use that information and our privilege and commit to creating change by being allies (more on that later). We have talked about it long enough – we need action. Because action, not words, shows us you get it – and change doesn’t happen without it.

See more. 

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

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Black Lives Matter = Opportunity for Growth

7 Jul

Black Lives Matter Toronto halted to Pride Parade on Sunday to make some demands of Pride Toronto.

It’s not the first and won’t be the last of their bold activism. And, as Naila Keleta-Mae writes in her Globe and Mail article, the point is that they make people uncomfortable.

Here’s my perspective about activism and marginalized groups.

In a society where one is marginalized, doing things the way that stays within the comfort zone of those in power often means that we wait, that there is lip service, that there is smoke and mirrors as people in power appear to be hearing. But no one is listening, and change doesn’t come. Simply put, when we play by the rules, we are often left waiting. And with no progress.

So I appreciate Black Lives Matter Toronto’s unapologetic tactics that disregard comfort and the status quo, and that make their presence known. Being seen is a necessary part of the opportunity to create change.

The issues they are raising are not new. And that should be a clue to underscore the above – that without discomfort, without someone being willing to stand up, be loud, be brave, think outside of the box, and not back down – the needle doesn’t move much. There are many great leaders throughout history who have used this approach successfully.

Could Black Lives Matter Toronto have used their honoured group status at Pride differently? Of course.
Would it have been effective? Maybe.
Would it have caused the amount of conversation, debate, and discussion? I doubt it.

Here’s why:
Because again, anything that happens within the comfort of how the system operates can then be swallowed up, massaged and fed back from the system in ways that are comfortable and don’t make waves. This often can create the illusion of change, but not real change.

If we remain in the margins as we fight, the mainstream doesn’t have to see us, and our pain is not seen. If we make the mainstream take notice, we run the risk of invoking anger. Sure, anger can cloud what people see and hear. But it also causes conversation. Visibility is an important part of change. So are real conversation and debate. And for getting at the real issues that a society doesn’t want to recognize, face or talk about. And we have to.

What’s happening in the Toronto LGBTQ and the broader community because of this latest move by Black Lives Matter Toronto, is that the underbelly of racism is coming out.

Racism is alive and well in Canada. Those of us who are people of colour know this to be true. We see it, feel it, hear it. I often experience incredulity from workshop participants (who are white), that racism still exists in this country. It does. Here it is.  And even now, it may be easily dismissed, overlooked and discounted as just anger. But it’s not.

And so now more than ever before, we have the opportunity – and must – delve into conversations that are otherwise often brushed aside, overlooked, silenced. Because Black Lives Matter are shaking things up and exposing the underbelly. Systemic racism is deeply rooted in our society. So deep it can be hard to see unless you are impacted by it – and sometimes elusive even then. Black Lives Matter Toronto is giving our city (and beyond) the opportunity to grow, because the only way we grow is when we are out of our comfort zone.

All lives DO matter.
And because this is true, we need movements like Black Lives Matter to remind of this – because not all lives are treated and seen as though they do.

See more. 

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

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The N Word

9 May

Last week, as you know, Larry Wilmore’s used the ‘N word’ at the White House Correspondents’ dinner. It’s been on my mind.

Personally, I think the use of the ‘N word’ should not be used by anyone who isn’t Black. And then, its use needs to be carefully weighed before proceeding: what’s the context, who is using it, towards whom, and who else is there?

Due to part of its history (the negative part), the ‘N word’ is a reclaimed word. This means that Black culture (specifically African American culture) has taken it, and changed it by dropping the ‘-er’ and replacing it with an ‘-a’, and uses it in a positive way within the group. But like other reclaimed words (queer, for example) not all Black people like it. And you need to read your audience.

The ‘N word’ is racially charged. That is its own reason for exercising caution in any setting. As a biracial woman, I’m not even sure I like to hear it in Black groups. But I don’t think it should be used in a racially mixed group – and definitely not a predominantly white group like the White House Correspondents’ dinner. The crowd was already uncomfortable with the racial references.

Here’s the problem, as I see it: hearing it used may give non-Black people the impression that it’s ok to use it. It’s not. Even in a story recounting how someone else said it, if you’re not Black, it’s definitely not ok to use the ‘N word’. In addition, when used in mixed company, it may (even worse) give people who don’t get the impact of the word, the reality of systemic racism, or the reclamation piece the impression that it’s ok to use it.

Reclaimed words are only to be used by the people they were originally intended to hurt, as a way to take the sting out of hearing it. But even in those groups, there are some that don’t appreciate their use.

Which brings us to age and history: Likely it is people of a certain age that don’t buy in to reclamation of words because they remember all too well the hurt of having that word hurled at them in hatred. The youth of today may not have the same history with the ‘N word’; they hear it in Hip Hop lyrics and as a term of endearment from friends (with the a ending). Similarly, as a member of the LGBTQ communities, I use the word queer (also a reclaimed word). I likewise don’t have a negative history with the word queer, which (like the ‘N word’ for Black people of a certain age) is a word that many older LGBTQ people will not use.

Look, we need solidarity. In a world where racism is systemic, it’s nice to have moments of connection. Larry Wilmore acknowledging that special place in his heart for President Obama felt authentic and heartfelt – and I thought it was great to see in a public space. But his use of the ‘N word’ made my jaw drop, given the company.

On the other hand, I applaud the way he infused some Black culture into a very white space. A little disruptive. A little uncomfortable. And that’s how we learn: by being uncomfortable and examining it; by having conversations out loud and in public that we usually only have in private -so people can engage with the topic, the questions, and the discomfort. Controversy allows us to examine issues, ideas, perspectives, and ultimately to get to know each other better.

And any time we get to have conversations about racism and systemic racism, we move the needle of inclusion a little further. So thank you Larry Wilmore!

See More

Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion
www.annemarieshrouder.com

Sign up for my weekly Inclusion Insights!
Weekly emails to keep diversity and inclusion on your radar.

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