RACISM IS NOT DEAD
I have found myself struggling with writing this piece. For two reasons:
1) This is my first time writing a piece and I want it to grab your attention and
2) Writing on a topic that is very near to my heart and also very controversial.
Racism is NOT dead. There has been so much attention in the media lately surrounding the topic; a lot of it focusing on the Indigenous people, my people. The pipelines, protests, Land Back movement, MMIW movement, Land, Water and Air Protectors. I felt like I did not want to bring more attention. The last few months have brought a lot of issues and hatred to the surface of the Canadian people. Canada is a society where most would almost prefer to close a blind eye to the realities that a lot of minorities live daily.
I am a proud Mi’kmaq woman. Some would call me strong and resilient considering my personal history. I am raising the next generation that will hopefully carry on our traditions and ways of life. It is my responsibility to teach them the ways of our people, the ways of the Universe and to listen. I want them to be proud of where they came from.
I am going to share with you a true story that happened to my child this year in 2020.
My son is 16 years old. He has very strong Native features. He is also an all-around good kid. Good grades, great football player and a role model for his peers. He spent his free time (pre-COVID-19) peer tutoring and helping with younger students and football. He truly is someone that others look to for guidance. He has been raised to be proud of his culture and to stand proud for what he believes in.
Since starting high school 3 years ago, he has been bullied numerous times for the colour of his skin, for being Native. I remember him clearly calling me from his cell phone while at school when he was in grade 9. He informed me he hit a kid while on a class trip. His class had gone to the theatre to watch Indian Horse. This is a documentary movie about the Residential Schools that existed in Canada. The last one was closed in 1996. This is very raw for many survivors. My son told me that he hit this other student for saying his mother and sisters would be raped if Residential Schools were still operating today. My son was outraged and reacted as such.
There are several more incidents. A classmate making “war calls” mocking our culture; being asked to remove his orange T-Shirt supporting “Every Child Matters”; as well as having his Native Pride hat knocked from his head while on the bus heading to school. School, a place where he should feel safe. Not once have I received a call from the school to inform me of any of these incidents.
Tuesday February 18, 2020 things took a turn for the worse. My son was involved in an incident where he was BRANDED as a “DIRTY INDIAN”! A classmate took a piece of wood while they were in shop class. This student held the wood against the band sander, using the kinetic energy to heat the wood. When he was satisfied that the wood was hot enough, he found my son and held it to his arm. This burnt my child. It left a permanent mark on his arm. My son will have this mark for the remainder of his life. A scar that will stare at him as a daily reminder of the racism he faces in the year 2020. In Canada. Ranked number “6” as the safest country to live in the world. And yet, my son is not safe.
My child’s response to this was to punch the assaulter in the face (and yes, I have spoken to him about his behaviour and how hands on is not the approach to take). He ended up hitting this person one time, but with a lot of force. He knocked the boy out. (I should mention that he is 6’2” and about 175lbs. He plays defence for a few different football teams/leagues.) But you tell me, how you would react if you were literally just burnt and called a dirty Indian? Or something equally hurtful to you.
I still had not receive a call from his school. As a parent I was outraged and contacted them myself. I was informed that because my child used excessive force when punching his assaulter, that the should police become involved and both boys would be charged with assault. I reluctantly dropped the conversation. My son is an exceptional football player and student. I did not want to put a smear on his record potentially hurting his future chances at scholarships.
When him and I sat down to discuss the incident, he was visibly upset. His words to me are as follows: “White people shouldn’t be able to do these things and continue to feel safe after. I don’t. Why are there no consequences occurring from this sh*t? I cannot just sit around and take it anymore. They need to know that I am a human too! Why can’t the white people hide in terror for once? Every race has had to be afraid of the white people at some point. But never have the white people been afraid of anyone of a different race. They sit on their white pedestals with their privilege. Privilege that was paid for with my ancestors’ blood! On the backs of the black man. And now my blood. Those pedestals need to start crumbling. There is more than one race in the world.” Although I do not agree with all of his words, I remember these are the words of a 16-year-old boy who is not learning about racism from a textbook like most kids this generation. He is learning from firsthand experiences. We had a strong conversation where I let him know that not all people of any race are all the same. There are good and bad apples in every race. That we are all humans. I also let him know that there are a lot of situations that are fueled with ignorance and fear. Its not about the reasoning behind the situation, but rather how he handles it that will be remembered. I reminded him that he needs to make his ancestors proud. Be someone that the future generations will look up to.
His most recent incident happened with online gaming. He was playing as a team with some other kids on Xbox Live. His thumbnail beside his username says, “Native Pride”. A person from his team intentionally killed him in the game. When he was asked why, my son was told that he didn’t count as part of the team, so the problem was taken care of. My son called him out on the racist comment. Even stating that this is 2020 and there are bigger things going on in the world that does not involve the colour of someone’s skin. This was met with the response, “Ban all Natives!” Rather then go off into a rant, he quietly ended with that team and joined another. Taking a stronger approach. I am proud of how he has handled himself. However, it breaks my heart to see him go through these situations. This is something that as a parent I want to protect him from. I have come to the realization that I am not able to shelter him from the hatred of the world. I can only remind him to trust in the Universe and believe that there is a better future. I teach him to be proud of his culture; to love the colour of his skin and the blood that runs beneath it. I tell him and show him to stand strong for what he believes in. For who he is.
Racism is a learned behaviour and we as parents, communities and societies need to rise above that. We are raising the next seven generations. We all need to do better, together.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, he has a scar on his arm from the one incident. I am allowing him to have a tattoo placed over the spot. He may have been branded but he is going to have the say as to what he must look at for his life.
I am not raising a sheep. I am raising a boy into a wolf.
My son is a young warrior. He will not be broken.
-- Tanya Langille