This was going to be another post about my life between France and Switzerland, and the latest developments in our new home search. But then things in the world went sour and I just don’t have the heart for it right now. To talk about such things as the world explodes with injustice seems a little, well, tone-deaf.
For most of my life I rejected the idea of privilege. Even as a kid, I remember being told I was fortunate. To think of all the starving children in Africa when I wouldn’t, couldn’t finish what was on my plate. To be grateful for having two parents, a stay-at-home mom and a father who left for work each morning carrying a briefcase. For being able of body and sound of mind.
I rejected outright the guilt that came from this accident of birth, which struck me as entirely unfair. I hadn’t asked for any of it. To be born in Canada to parents who had enough to feed us and have a nice home. Appearances can be deceiving, I would say. My so-called lucky white middle-class family struggled in different ways. Besides, there were so many other people who had so much more.
I never accepted being identified by my race, gender or whatever other labels people threw at me. Catholic. Blonde. North American. Single or married. You don’t know me, who I am or what I think, I raged, whenever I felt seen through such filters. Don’t judge me by your standards!
In return, I did my best to do the same, to see the person before the skin. No racist or gender stereotypes for me. Which was, of course, delusional.
The first time I heard the words ‘Black lives matter’, my reaction was true to form: “What? Why only Black lives? All lives matter!”
Many years ago, I lived in a well-to-do suburb and a bastion of white privilege outside Minneapolis. In Edina, people of colour were rare birds indeed. But in the twin cities (Minneapolis-St.Paul) the racial divide was extremely evident. You could draw a line between the rich and poor, white and black parts of town.
Coming from Toronto, a city that defines itself on diversity and what we then called the ‘cultural mosaic’ (as compared to the American ‘melting pot’), the reality of segregation, of outright racism, was shocking. I knew it was wrong but I didn’t know what to do about it. They were formative years for me, in my early to mid-teens, and a time of huge social unrest in the US. I remember the Kent State shootings as the first time my eyes were opened to the terrifying power of the state and how it could be turned on its citizens.
Now I see ‘Black Lives Matter’ differently. All lives can’t matter until Black lives do. White privilege is real. Acknowledging these truths doesn’t make us any less valuable as human beings. On the contrary.
I’m not sure exactly when the shift happened. It has certainly been gradual. Perhaps my eyes started to open while watching a Netflix series called ‘Dear White People’ that portrays a group of black students at an elite, mostly white university. Recent events in the US, culminating in last week’s murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, made me realize that the issue of race, which I had naïvely assumed to be a thing of the past, is still very real.
And not just in the US.
In Paris yesterday, demonstrations turned violent when 20,000 people gathered to protest against racism and police violence.
“Demonstrators voiced their support for the Black Lives Matter protests and demanded justice for Adama Traoré, a young black man who, like Floyd, died while in police custody in the Paris suburbs in 2016.”
Racism is different here in France, but it is still racism.
Inégalité — inequality — is real. So are poverty and hunger, as the long lines for aid from our food banks attest.
It’s okay to feel guilty. It’s okay to feel outrage. It’s not okay to act like it is normal or acceptable.
How are you feeling?