I am racist.
I am sexist.
I mean those statements from the bottom of my heart, and they bother me.
As you get your heads around those, let me say something else from the bottom of my heart that also bothers me: I believe that all white people are racist, and all men are sexist.
I have grown up with levels of privilege that I cannot even begin to imagine, simply because I am a white male. I live in a society that for centuries has told itself (quite repeatedly) that it was created by white men because they were smarter, kinder, and all around better than others – than women, than indigenous people, than Asians, or Africans. Those are lies – it was created by a lot of people, and they worked together, sometimes in spite of one another. And even when they have tried to impose one set of values still others get in because they are of value. And yet the myths persist – and they do so because we perpetuate them. The “we” referred to here are others who like me, are white and may also be male. We have privilege, and we get advantage from it, even if we do not seek to claim it directly. We just receive it. And we perpetuate the mistruth of it.
We do it in big ways, by almost always (until quite recently) having only white men in leadership positions. And we perpetuate it in small but no less significant ways, such as by only having white people on our money – until a few years ago when we included an indigenous man, and then an African Canadian woman, on the $10 bill. Constantly using those symbols on a regular basis gives the message that white men rule.
Recently I asked someone to name the first Canadian female prime minister and they laughed at me. “We haven’t had one yet!” they said. I had to point out that Kim Campbell was prime minister in 1993. Her term may have been short, but so were several other people’s (John Turner and Joe Clark come to mind). But she was (please notice quotation marks here) “just” a woman.
I have grown up with privilege, and thus I have grown up with responsibility. The responsibility is about trying as hard as I possibly can for my sexism and my racism. That means when I see people and have emotional reactions to them, I need to ask myself “how are race and gender coming into play here?” and follow that up with “how can I be more accepting in these areas?” Because every day I will make judgments – I will, it’s a fact – that are based on race and gender. If I just let them accumulate, over time I will find I can tell myself again that I’m right, and that’s dangerous. If I question them, and look for alternatives, I can at least do a small part to alleviate some of the racism and sexism that drive our society.
I can also look for ways that I can say and do things that will – however subtly – remind others that there really is room for everyone in this world, and in this country. I have to help make that room. Every day.