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My Response to Charlottesville

(Feature Photo: News2Share via Reuters)

Have you read the news lately?

To be quite honest, I was at loss for words when everything went down in Charlottesville this week. But one thing I wasn’t, was surprised.

Racism is as American as apple pie. The country was built by the sweat of slaves and the genocide of indigenous peoples.

Somehow, the moment Obama was elected in 2008 we suddenly existed in a post racial world. Racism ended. No one saw colour.

But, of course, we know that was far from the truth.

In Trump’s America, racism can be uncloaked and confident. It can spill into the streets carrying torches, bearing flags with mythical histories, and recycled symbols whose messages have murdered millions.

I’ve allowed myself to mull over everything the last few days; I’ve straightened out the facts as well as my anger over the entire debacle. I’m still angry, but now I can actually form some coherent thoughts.

1.Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims. Charlottesville was a domestic terrorist attack, by definition. A car sped into a throng of counter protesters, killing one and injuring nineteen others during a scheduled gathering called “Unite the Rally” by a group of white nationalists, supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and KKK members.

2. President Trumps rhetoric during the election empowered white nationalists and his ambiguous morality after the attack has empowered them even more. Neutrality helps the oppressor, and instead of calling terrorists for what they are, he claimed there was fault “on both sides”.

3. White supremacy is not native to America, it does not exist in a vacuum. It has existed since European powers started colonizing the world, and has left its prints everywhere they went. Charlottesville was not a solo act. It would not be surprising if we witness a rally on Canadian soil as our history is not as nearly as untarnished as most people would like to think.

My initial reaction to the news was a sense of hopelessness much like I had felt when Trump was elected eight months ago. It feels like we’ve been peeling back layers of the world and finally seeing its true colours. But I realize that I’ve been able to silently neglect this reality because of who I am, how I look, and where I grew up that has allowed me to live in a comfortable little bubble.

People of colour have been living this reality each and everyday, they have lived with constant disappointment, that the colossal disappointment that occurred in January wasn’t a surprise.

So I refused to let this surprise me and let the disappointment hit me full force. I spent hours the past few days, watching footage, reading articles, and personal accounts of what happened on that day. I’ve been flooded motivation to do something though I’m not sure what.

While we could all focus on pointing fingers, calling out the racists and problematic behaviours, we should have been doing this before.

I think what all of us, but especially us white folks, need to do more self reflection. Ask ourselves, why does talking about race feel political? Why is it so hard to say white supremacy? Why can’t I call white terrorists for what they are? Why is your response to “black lives matter”, “all lives matter”? Why do I let my friends and family continue to say and do problematic things?

And mostly, ask ourselves what more we could be doing.

It’s so easy for those with privilege to not look at the headlines, go for a walk and live your life just as you had been living it before.

There’s not more time for inaction. It’s time for us to see the broad spectrum of colour and do something about it.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something you could do, here’s a very helpful resource that can help you catch up on some very necessary reading:

 

Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves.

writing

White About It

A writer’s job is to create characters and worlds that are inspired by the world they live in; to delve into the mind and see how their cogs and gears turn. It’s a naturally empathetic hobby. But how do these ideas mesh in our world which is so upturned by issues like identity politics, or high tensioned racial disparities? How can a middle aged woman get into the mind of a young boy in a wizarding world? And how could a white man get into the mind of a black woman residing in the south side of Chicago?

Growing up, I’d always work on these impressively complicated soap opera-like plots in worlds that were even more complicated. I’d make these characters that were so deeply thought out they seemed like my friends. But in my teenage years I realized that all of the stories and people I created were white. And by white I mean incredibly White.

YA and its obsession with paleness

In Twilight, Stephanie Meyer found every way to describe Edward’s deathly pale skin, and I found it really interesting for some reason. It found its way into my own writing, describing characters from translucent pale, to peachy, and sometimes tan.

hermione poc
[Source]
Hermione Granger being described in the Philosopher’s Stone as having: “lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth”, led a generation of young women of colour to rightfully assume that she probably looked like them. As a reader, I would read of how every character was described, and despite lacking descriptions of skin colour or race, I’d almost always assumed they were white.

Diversifying my own writing

As a writer and and a reader I began to challenge myself. I wanted to diversify the worlds I was creating and reading. For the latter, it wasn’t hard. While reading the Hunger Games it seemed positively certain to me that Katniss was supposed to be a woman of colour with black hair, grey eyes and olive toned skin. However, for writing it was much more difficult.

It’s not so much that I was forcing myself to create diversity in my own writing, I was actually keen on creating stories that diverged from the majority of fiction, television and film that were white. I wanted the stories to reflect my own life and my own friends that had changed when I moved to a larger and more diverse city.  But I realized I was breaching into territory that was not my own.

Much like formative years, I was creating stories and worlds that were incredibly endeavouring. I was trying to write stories about people from walks of life and from perspectives I couldn’t actually fathom. Some people’s lives, real or not, take more than the imagination. 

When writing in the first person perspective, one has to have confidence in what they’re narrating. They have to do their research. But how can someone like me research the lived experience of a black man, a muslim woman, or a transgender teen?

The answer is, I don’t think I can. It’s just not my place.

So… what’s the solution?

White people just can’t write in the perspectives of people that don’t look like them? I’m not sure if that makes sense. The lack of diversity in the world of fiction, on screen and off, is a problem. Encouraging a white-dominated field to only write within their demographic would create a bigger divide and even less representation.

Third person is a great compromise; writing as spectator, as someone watching but not entirely knowing.

But most importantly, it’s not about encouraging the white dominated field of fiction to diversify their protagonists, but to encourage more people of colour to write their own stories, and for them to create their own characters and worlds that are inspired by the realities they live in.

Empathy in Readers

A Cambridge University study by Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education, said that: “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think”.

I credit my knack of reading from an early age to my ability to effectively empathize. One is stepping into another’s shoes when they read from another person’s perspective. It comes to no surprise that the people who read on their free time in their formative years ended up following movements like feminism, and stay attuned to other similar social issues. 

By encouraging people of colour to write, it will open the doors to many people to see new realities, characters, and stories, and develop an even more empathetic readership.

As for myself, I recommend Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and perhaps even add these to your summer reading list.