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On Racism and Language

Chantal Ratnam

Posted on January 23 2019

Welcome back everyone! I know it’s been a couple of weeks since you’ve heard from me.  I didn’t intend to miss last week.  I had, in fact, been working on a blog post surrounding the conversation about racism and the knitting community that had been happening on Instagram a couple of weeks ago.  The problem was that no matter what I wrote, it didn’t seem to be the real thing that I wanted to say and since I couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted to say I decided to think about it a little longer. 

Conversations about racism can be very tricky and even now I’m hesitating about exactly how to phrase exactly what I want to say.  For me the difficulty lies in discussing racism without claiming hardships that are not mine to claim.  Yes, I’m a woman of colour, and absolutely yes, I’ve experienced racism but the racism I’ve experienced is not the same as the racism that Black and Brown people struggle against in the United States of America or the racism that our own Indigenous communities struggle against right here in Canada.  When I bear witness to those atrocities, I have to admit that I feel shame about complaining about some of the racism that I’ve experienced. 

That feeling of shame is something I fight against though.  Racism is wrong in its entirety. Like one of my favourite comedians, Hasan Minhaj, says, someone shouldn’t have to die before we acknowledge that we have a problem with racism.  In order to eradicate this problem you need to start at the root, and the root of racism is the microaggressions that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Persons/People of Colour) have to face on a daily basis.

The whole Instagram conversation started with a blog post and many people who read it couldn’t immediately see the problem until it was explicitly pointed out that some of the language used was not as carefully thought out as it could have been.  From her response afterward, I think it’s fair to say that the author was incredibly shocked to be accused of racism and many of her supporters jumped to her defense accusing others of being ‘too sensitive’. 

The idea of someone being ‘too sensitive’ has always been bizarre to me.  When I go to the dentist and she prods my teeth, she doesn’t ask, “Is it too sensitive?” No, she asks, “Is there any sensitivity?” She doesn’t judge the level of sensitivity for me.  Any sensitivity is an issue that needs to be addressed.  When people comment on something being offensive or hurtful, that is coming from a lifetime of experiences that we know nothing about.  We all have things that we are sensitive too. I would imagine that the fastest way to empathize would be to think, “I’m sensitive to (fill in the blank with what you’re sensitive to).  If she/he/they are complaining about something, that thing is fundamentally similar to the thing I’m sensitive to”?  Let’s also not forget that race is a construct designed to separate us from one another in order to subjugate and oppress.  There’s no way of being too sensitive too it.  We should all feel that. Keenly.

Reject language that separates us from each other.  Don’t say that people are too sensitive and don’t tell people that they’re being divisive. These are things people say when they don’t want to acknowledge the suffering of others.  It’s usually the language of people used to having the upper hand.  You might not agree with the way someone feels but that doesn’t invalidate the way they feel.

You know how that relationship advice that goes “It’s not you verses me, it’s you and me verses the problem”?  That’s not just good relationship advice.  That should be our guiding principle in all of our interactions with each other.  I just said reject language that separates us from each other but the truth is reject, vehemently reject, all things that separate us from each other including a me verses you mentality. Even as I write this, the part of me that knows that I haven’t learned this lesson perfectly fake coughs, “Trump supporter” and I have to make the sign of the cross and ask sweet baby Jesus to bring me to that test only when I know I’m good enough to pass it.  Finding a way to understand Mr. Trump and his kin is going to be the final hurdle I leap to make it to heaven. 

Regardless of how uncomfortable it was for some, a lot of good things came out of the conversation that happened on Instagram.  A lot of people felt empowered to speak their truth, a lot of people came forward and said that they wanted to be better allies and spot lights started shining on artists of colour who have been doing great work for a long time but haven’t had the privilege of visibility.  I hope we continue to have these conversations.  It’s the place where we perfect the language of inclusion and that only makes a better, stronger and more productive as a society.

I know that my thoughts on these topics are still incomplete and that has a lot to do with the fact that I’m not particularly educated on them.  I’m going to keep reading, listening and learning and I hope you will too. In the meantime, let’s just do as the great Ellen Degeneres asks and be kind to one another.  We’ll talk soon!  Until then, PEACE to you and yours and, as always, happy knitting.

 

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