Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time, there was a young white-presenting Métis girl. She shared a birthday with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and felt strongly that if the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s happened now, she would have been just like Viola Liuzzo – a young white face marching the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Dr. King, the SCLC, and the SNCC kids.

This young white-presenting Métis girl did not know enough to understand that 5 hours after the March on Montgomery, Viola Liuzzo would be murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan after driving marchers to the airport.

This young white-presenting Métis girl was naive to the fact that she did not, in fact, live in a “post-racial” world. She had the privilege of not facing this.

As this young white-presenting Métis girl grew up, she harboured the sincere belief that since African-Americans (as she understood meant all black bodies not from an African country) no longer sat at the back of the bus, or drank from water fountains labeled “colored”, thanks to Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, and Selma, Lord Selma! Equality had been achieved.

Ok – that’s not accurate – even this little white-presenting Métis girl knew that things weren’t equal, but they were much better.

This young white-presenting Métis girl believed that because she was raised in a “colour-blind” society, all people were inherently the same. This colour-blindness allowed her to believe that everyone had the identical chance to achieve their dreams in life.

This young white-presenting Métis girl did not understand that a colour-blind society is a flawed construct, because there is no way that every person come from an identical background, with identical experiences and identical opportunities. She did not understand privilege.

Growing to be a young woman, she continued to make comments that made her feel superior and “not racist”.

Comments included:

– “I think I will marry an African-American when I grow up.”

– “Martin Luther King Jr. was a kind man. Malcolm X was dangerous.”

– “I’m so glad that I live in Canada, where we didn’t have slavery, and there is no racism.”

-“I am going to take a course on African-American literature because it’s important to know.”

-“Watching movies with lynchings upset me. I think those movies are for people who don’t truly understand the Civil Rights movement. I don’t need to watch things like that, because I already know. There is no reason to make myself more upset.”

In one moment of sheer naive ridiculousness, this young white Métis woman had the privilege to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN, and upon entering the museum and handing her ticket to the man at the counter, she beamed with smug, white saviour pride as her grandmother explained to the elderly volunteer that her granddaughter insisted on coming to this museum.

What the young white-presenting Métis girl didn’t understand was that this man, this elderly ticket taker did not see her as a “woke” white girl – he likely saw her for what she was. A young white-presenting girl wanting to be praised for her desire to understand black history.

This young white-presenting Métis girl spent her life believing that she understood the struggles of black and Indigenous folks. She believed that she would be the type of person to “help”. She did not understand the terms White Privilege, White Saviour Complex, White Fragility.

One day this young white-presenting Métis girl grew to be a young white-presenting Métis woman. She believed that there was such thing as “reverse racism”, and that all people have the same chances in life if they just try hard enough. She no longer felt like she could just go out and “marry an African-American”, but other than that, her ideas about racial equality and injustice remained the same. She felt that being labelled a racist was the worst thing a person could be. She knew that she was not a racist, of course. She was proud to bring her daughter into a world where Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama were the first family.

This showed that clearly racism was a thing of the past. Something from long before her lifetime.

And then Trayvon Martin was killed.

On February 26, 2012, I woke up. The naive young white-presenting Métis girl who became the naive young white-presenting Métis woman became me. Suddenly, I learned that there are people who fear the police. Suddenly, I learned about racist laws in Canada and the US that cause our prison populations to be tantamount to modern day slavery. Suddenly, I learned that people are scared every single day because of the colour of their skin, and that it was not enough to be “Not racist” in a society and culture that was built on racist policies that keep indigenous peoples, and black people from succeeding in a fair and meaningful way.

Suddenly, I could no longer be indignant about “not ALL white people! I mean, I would be marching with Dr. King!” Because here was my chance to prove that I would march for, or speak for, or wrote for what matters, so would I actually be Viola Liuzzo? Would I actually walk my lifelong talk and prove that I believe that #BlackLivesMatter? That I would not stand by with Black and Indigenous People of Colour are gunned down with no consequences to the perpetrators?

Suddenly, I learned that my tears were not worth the tissues they were dried on if I could not learn to be anti-racist. My Indigenous sisters go missing by the thousands and we do nothing, but if a young white woman goes missing, it is international news. I learned that a woman leaving a job interview could be murdered by a police officer, because he was trained to fear her blackness. I learned that centuries of racial tension and rage has gotten us no further than we were in 1863, in 1898, in 1919, in 1943, in 1963, in 1964, in 1965, in 1966, in 1967, in 1968, in 1969, in 1971, in 1972, in 1973, in 1978, in 1980, in 1989, in 1992, in 1995, in 2001, in 2009, in 2012, in 2014, in 2015, in 2016, in 2020…

Suddenly, I learned that there has never been a post-racial era. Suddenly I learned that that little white-presenting Métis girl was dangerously naive and that blockades, and peaceful protests and riots and voices and fundraising and ACTION is the only way. That things do not change just because you want to believe in Pleasantville.

Things will change only when the system that we live in; the system that we are party to; the system that gives or takes away privilege depending on the shade of your skin, the background from whence you came; can only be repaired when it has been dismantled and laid bare.

It can only be fixed when we stop allowing ourselves to be naive white-presenting girls, and grow to be women who want to create a safe, equitable and diverse world for our future men and women.

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