I have a very vivid memory of being twelve years old and riding in the backseat of our family vehicle on a long car ride. My father always listened to CBC radio and although I mostly remember complaining about talk radio back then (I love it now – maybe because of my Dad’s influence!) but on that day, I remember listening to a radio performance of “Underground to Canada”, the popular – and somewhat controversial – children’s book written by Barbara Smucker. It’s a story about two, young Black girls trying to escape their lives of slavery to find freedom in Canada. These girls were the same age as I was at the time and I remember feeing both enthralled and terrified as I listened to the story unfold on that car ride. I can still remember the sounds – the whispered voices of these young girls as the train rumbled across the tracks – and silently pleading inside my mind that they would reach their destination safely.
I did not have a lot of experience with other cultures up until that point in my life. Although I knew of some families who came from “somewhere else” in the world, the concept of race didn’t necessarily equate to experiences for me back then. I saw race as a skin colour, I saw ethnicity as the country you “belonged” too and I naively assumed that people generally have similar experiences regardless of their origins. I came to recognize this later as white priviledge as if doesn’t occur to you that people are treated differently based on their skin colour, then you are definitely privileged in some way.
Over the years, I have became more knowledgeable and aware, thanks in most part to the kind and caring professors and colleagues who were part of my social work education at the Maritime School of Social Work. Their willingness to share their personal experiences of being Black in Nova Scotia for the benefit of a pre-dominantly caucasian classrooms is admirable. Especially as they shouldn’t have had to explain why it’s different to be Black. Although this ignited my own journey of reflection, I can’t stay that I have always remained as attentive as I ought to be in recognizing the impact racism has had not only on individual lives but on society as a whole.
So today, on this day of reflection I, like many others, will reflect on the ways in which I may directly or inadvertently contribute to sustaining racist attitudes or beliefs in my life, in my work and in my community. The circumstances that have lead to this day of reflection cannot be ignored and we all need to play a role creating a new future. As John F. Kennedy once said, “A Rising Tide Raises All Ships”. Although he was referencing the economy, I believe this also applies to the idea of shared humanity as we all do better when we support and lift each other up.