We take care of our own. Musician Bruce Springsteen even wrote a song about it.
Children aren’t born racist. My own experiences growing up support this. During my childhood, my mother worked with Indigenous populations. She would often bring us to summer barbecues with her students. My most vivid early memories of these events are of her students laughing, teasing, playing, and spouting witty banter.
As a child, it never once crossed my mind that these peoples’ skin was a different shade than my own.
As it turns out, later in life I became a big sister through the YWCA to a young Indigenous girl. Early on I felt uncomfortable, guilty and unsettled about how different our lives were. The cards that she had been dealt were blatantly unfair on many levels, and much more challenging than my own.
It’s what many refer to as white privilege, and as I got older it became my reality. Apart from the political rhetoric that surrounds this term, my privilege impacts the quality of health care we receive, my probability of successfully getting a job I apply for, and how others receive my thoughts and ideas.
While I take care of my own, “my own” has grown over the years. What’s interesting is the level of attachment and trigger response that arises when “our own” are scrutinized. Surely, parents can relate to this. We take care of our own.
Unfortunately, as I got older and attended college, my beliefs subtly changed to reflect what those around me thought and said about Indigenous people. While I wouldn’t overtly say racist comments, I’d often allow myself to be around individuals, both in the agriculture industry and outside of it, who would openly say racist comments.
Most of the stories my farming friends told about Indigenous people involved crime or theft. Informal conversations at the bar about Indigenous people would reach levels that I was uncomfortable with. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t speak up.
I feared being mocked and discriminated against. Perhaps these comments bothered me because my friends were, indirectly, making jokes about my little sister.
As I got older my ignorance began to flourish. Simple ideas such as, Indigenous people are lazy, or, naive thoughts such as “just say no to drugs” filled my mind. “Why can’t homeless people just get a job?”
It’s almost as if I thought that marginalized populations chose to be in the situation they were in. Back then I lacked knowledge, perspective, and a bit of life experience.
What I’ve come to learn is that knowledge leads to understanding. Books and podcasts are an excellent way to learn. However, my most impactful growth has come from experiential learning and relationship building.
Attending pow wows, interacting with homeless people, and travelling to different parts of the world have resulted in a slow progression of deprogramming my mindset from the racist culture that I am engulfed in.
Slowly, I’ve began to see the beauty and value in all people, not just my own.
When we personally know someone that is struggling with addictions, abuse, homelessness, or poverty, we are generally less judgmental than we are to complete strangers. Imagine if your mother, brother, sister or friend was being discriminated against?
Most of us are friends with white people who have similar values and beliefs, which means it takes conscious effort to expose ourselves to new ideas and new people.
Racism isn’t simply what we say, it’s also how we respond to minority groups on the basis of their ethnicity. The system is failing Indigenous people, and we are failing ourselves. We are all part of the solution.
These are challenging and uncomfortable aspects of self-awareness, but necessary more than ever. Significant cultural changes rarely happen within one generation, but small changes can have a significant impact on the next generation.