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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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Some thoughts on the US Election

13 Nov

The US election is devastating for so many reasons – not just the results, but the whole campaign.

Beyond the US president elect, it has shown us the underbelly of what seems like half of American voters: Racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, white supremacy… But Trump didn’t cause this; he merely said out loud what many were thinking and feeling, and gave them permission to say it out loud as well. These sentiments are not new – to the US or any other country. I’m not a history scholar but I know that US history is rife with entrenched and systemic racism and sexism, and many of the other isms have a trajectory that is similar, if not as long. Other countries are not innocent to these same intolerances.

Yes, there have been advancements – some big, some not so big – in human rights, equity, civil rights. But what is clear from this election (and which should be a wake up call globally) is that these advances have not reached everyone’s hearts. We have managed, in some way, and in some places – not all and not always well – to make at least expressing the isms and phobias unacceptable. Anti discrimination laws, human rights codes and acts, hate crime laws, and movements like the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter help to raise awareness and consciousness and create a standard of how we should be together – or what we should strive for. This election race and outcome has undermined these efforts and advances by normalizing and sanctioning overt hatred and violence – specifically Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, immigrants, Muslims, women, and people who identify as LGBT.

The horror of this election campaign and victory is that in addition to systemic racism and oppression – which is demoralizing and exhausting to live with as marginalized people, with far-reaching negative economic, social, health (and other) outcomes – there is now an even stronger threat to actual physical safety and the devastating personal experiences of racism, xenophobia (etc) and oppression.

While at least part of the US population reels from the results and the reality that the Trump victory suggest for their country for the next 4 years, there is another danger beyond the US borders: smugness.

Many of us in Canada are sighing with relief and saying how happy we are that we don’t live there as we point south towards the Canada-US border. I’m sure these sentiments are echoed in other countries as well. But consider this: it wasn’t long ago that we had a prime minister who successfully whipped up a national fear of Muslims, contributing to the rise of Islamophobia in this country. And we have legitimized racial profiling in many police departments through a practice called carding. The KKK exists in this country too. And although we have good LGB human rights, trans rights across the country are not consistent. Indigenous populations living on reserves are dealing with conditions that rival those of some developing countries. And women still don’t have adequate representation in positions of power. Although our current prime minister made sure the house of commons was 50% women “because it was 2015”; it wasn’t “2015” for Black people, or Indigenous people.

 Hatred and bigotry are not reserved for our US brothers and sisters. They may be showing theirs in fuller force and for all to see these days, but if we point our fingers at them, and think we are better, we miss the opportunity for self-reflection and our own healing – and to make the communities, cities and the countries we live in better for everyone.

See more.

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

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The Power of Words

16 Oct

Today I’m writing about words and choices.

In our post-colonization societies, the use of words still reminds us (if we are aware and paying attention) of who is in charge, and who has value – and who doesn’t – in the eyes of the state.

Take some of the names of sports teams, for example.

Last week, Jerry Howarth (long time Toronto Blue Jay’s announcer) was interviewed by the Toronto Star. He said that he hasn’t used the full name of the Cleveland baseball team in decades, because it’s offensive to First Nations people. Not only is their name offensive, their logo is as well – see below.

cleveland-indians

Jerry Howarth made this decision to not say the whole name because someone who identifies as First Nations took the time to write him a letter and tell him how offensive it was to them. It had never occurred to Jerry before that, he told the Toronto Star, but it changed his heart, and his mind. And his actions followed.

When things don’t impact us, we often don’t see them. While this may be hard to believe for the people that are impacted, it is really relatively easy to miss things if you’re not. Why? Because we are surrounded by messages every day that are steeped in racism and the legacies of colonization, that tell us who and what has value, and who doesn’t. Those messages are pretty clear – by omission and commission – and we soak them up without questioning. And voilà! We repeat disrespectful team names and perpetuate various other acts that degrade and disrespect people – mostly people who are “not like us” – probably without giving it a second thought. Because we are not impacted by it.

Cleveland isn’t the only team. The Washington Red Skins are another – and they recently appealed a US Supreme Court decision cancelling their trademark registration because it doesn’t trademark names that ‘potentially disparage people”. Here is what John Oliver had to say about it.

It’s not just about sports.
Take a moment to think about the things you say without thinking – sayings you’ve grown up with, for example – that perpetuate stereotypes, negative assumptions and promote discrimination and inequity for a group (I’m not going to list them, but think about it. They are usually cultural or race-based).

Words have power.
Jerry Howarth is using the absence of a word to send a strong message about respect. We all have choices about the words we use and choose not to – and each of those choices either adds a voice to the struggle for equity and inclusion, or is complicit in undermining that struggle.

What’s your choice?

See more.

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

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Sign up for my weekly Inclusion Insight – same topic, but with a challenge to help you see more.

 

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

 

 

Racism in a Costume

26 Sep

If you haven’t heard about it already, Disney has a new movie coming out (Moana), featuring Maui – a revered figure in Polynesian culture.

That’s a topic all of it’s own; that a company will take culturally significant figure (particularly an Indigenous one) and make a movie with it. But that’s a post for when the movie comes out – because in addition, they chose to make a costume for kids to wear at Halloween.

Here’s the problem:

Think about the history of colonization, genocide and racism with regard to Indigenous people worldwide (past and present).

Then think about what it might mean to have a North American company (read: white) take one of the most meaningful Polynesian Indigenous figures, and make a movie about them.

And then, sell a costume so that kids all over the world can dress up like someone Indigenous Polynesians consider a key figure in the history of their culture (and an ancestor for some).

I’m trying to think of an equivalent that might help this hit home. Maybe if people dressed up like Jesus? Or maybe Moses? But it’s a moot point, because those are revered figures that are known in mainstream culture and therefore wouldn’t be messed with. Period. But somehow it’s ok to do this with a revered figure from an Indigenous culture.

It’s called racism.

But it’s worse.
The costume wasn’t just an outfit – there is a costume that is Moana’s outfit. Sigh – Maui’s costume included tattooed brown skin!!

Hold on.
Yes. You read correctly.
Brown material meant to be skin, for your arms and legs.
With tattooes that are sacred.

For kids to wear so they can look like a revered ancestral figure in Polynesian Indigenous culture!!!! In what reality is that ok?!

I’m so mad, I’m speechless.

Thankfully there was backlash, and the costume has been pulled.
But someone thought it was ok to put it out there in the first place.

It’s another example of the way we disregard and disrespect ways of being that aren’t ours – Indigenous cultures in particular.

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

Systemic Racism in many forms…even dolls!

27 Jul
Last week in Calgary, a woman was shopping for dolls for her children at Toys R Us and made a startling discovery – the “dark skinned” doll was priced lower than it’s “lighter skinned” counterpart (those are the words from the CTV new report).toys r us dolls
Image from: http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/toys-r-us-says-doll-pricing-discrepancy-due-to-an-operational-error-1.2997459

So, that’s a problem.

The woman was horrified and called the manager who told her that they were aware of the issue, and had already taken it to corporate (where pricing is set).

Also a problem.

The price has since been noted as an operational error and corrected – both dolls are priced at $22.99 (the lower price).

I’m going to go with the operational error explanation – but here’s what comes up for me.

Corporate knew about it, and did nothing until someone complained.
How many other people were in that store, looking for dolls, and didn’t say anything? And why is that?
I’m going to argue that it’s because we have a deep bias that dark skin colour lowers value. And not just in toys….

Then, let’s think about this:
If a Black woman had complained, what would this have looked like?
Often when people of colour advocate for themselves around issues of racism, we are seen as:

  • taking things too personally
  • being too sensitive
  • having an agenda
  • and let’s not forget the “angry Black woman” stereotype!

So I would bet that if a Black woman had raised the issue, we at the very least wouldn’t have the same news coverage.

And why do I say if?
Because many people probably picked up that doll and said nothing. And some of those people were likely people of colour. Over time, when you are inundated with messages about your worth (or lack thereof) you begin to believe it. So I use if, because raising the issue would mean that they would expect something to be done – and that’s an expectation that (sadly) I’m not sure is always realistic.

Allies are important. They shine lights on issues of injustice and exclusion in a way that often makes it possible for the mainstream to hear and take notice.

But in that noticing, there is a bigger issue for us to come to terms with – we live in a society where some people are not seen as equal.
Not really.
And that needs to change, no matter whose voice is shouting it from the rooftops.

See more. 

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

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