For almost two weeks now, the fissures that were always present in the United States, have cracked wide open, spilling out the not-so-cleverly disguised racism that is present every day, not only in that country, but in this country and in many, many countries around the globe. They have also exposed countless examples of humanity. Sadly, these, in no measure, overshadow the agony being experienced by millions.
I almost chose not to write a blog this week. I am, after all, a middle-aged white woman. I am not an expert on racism. I have not experienced racism. And I sometimes believe it’s important to know when to keep your mouth shut. I had no idea what to say. However, two small happenstances, have given me the little push I needed to not just close my proverbial door and ignore the feelings swirling inside me, but to try to sort them out for myself. One was a post made by my friend, Gail Jacob Barker. Gail is a fellow Leadership Coach, but this is not how I know her. I only learned of our coaching connection when I facilitated a workshop for the Women’s Rural Resource Centre. Gail sits on the Board of Directors of this organization. Gail is a person of colour. Gail is wise, thoughtful, compassionate, and has the ability to calmly sort through chaos and bring new perspectives to the light. She’s brilliant. Brilliant. She wrote a wonderful piece on why it is important for white people to engage in conversations of race, and she has helped me understand how I might begin to navigate these waters.
The other nudge came from my friend, and former colleague, Norma Dogger. Norma sent me a little message saying, ‘You may never truly know how much I look forward to your writing every week because of the profoundness and impact that it has. Thank you, dear friend!’
So here I am again, trying to get my thoughts to make some sense.
Before I felt the two nudges, I’d been thinking of the idea of vaccines and this pandemic; the one that has not gone away even though it has become somewhat of a sidebar on the news since George Floyd’s senseless murder, subsequent protests, and then violence, have taken its place in the headline. So, I’m going to go back to my original thought for a minute.
In waiting out this pandemic, we hear over and over again that even though our numbers of active cases are dropping, and fewer and fewer new cases take their place, we will not be out of the crisis until a vaccine is found. Millions of dollars are being directed toward this research and the best minds are employed on the task. I for one, will be lining up for my dose once a safe vaccine is found.
The way vaccines work is by training the immune system to recognize and combat pathogens. To do this, certain molecules from the pathogen must be introduced into the body to trigger an immune response. This is why scientists around the globe are examining this Corona virus, breaking it down and trying to figure out which specific molecules will provide the key to the vaccine.
As I’ve listened to the news this week, more than once I’ve had the thought float through my mind that we could also use a vaccine to combat racism. At first I was thinking it should be something that protected people of colour from experiencing or feeling the impact of racism. This of course, does not address the issue at all. In fact, it pushes the responsibility onto someone other than me. It’s part of the problem, this thinking is.
As I think of how vaccines work, I think what we really need is for the rest of us, we white people and those of us with privilege, to receive the vaccine for racism. The solution is not that the racism continues and the people affected simply become immune to the impact. The solution is that a change happens within those of us with privilege, on a cellular level, so we immediately recognize our own behaviours and patterns of thoughts, see how they are influenced by systemic racism and consciously stop those thoughts and behaviours. Our minds need to recognize how we contribute to this problem and how we can stop it. If the vaccine was truly effective, over time, and it would not take long, our bodies could rest. Our minds would no longer rush to be on high alert, defending our positions and justifying years of collective, inexcusable behaviour. Less and less and less, would we think about racism as something that is ‘out there’; instead we would take responsibility for our part in the system we are perpetuating, and work to change it.
When the pandemic hit Canada, I was taught what the symptoms were. I know how to recognize it. Via news stories, I saw what it was like for the victims to fight it. I’ve been given tools to give myself the best chance not to contract it. More importantly, I’ve been given tools to understand how I can prevent its spread, how I can be part of the solution, and not contribute to the problem. I know if I do this well, and for long enough, either a vaccine will be developed, or the disease will grow tired of us being so diligent and move on.
I know what racism looks like. I know what I feel when I witness it. Via news stories I see what it is like for the victims to fight it. I know there will not be a vaccine to stop it. I also know we have every single possible solution to this within ourselves. I for one, am looking for my own little vaccine inside of me. I am challenging my thinking, I am reading and learning, and I am thinking of how to create ways in my daily life to become part of the solution. I do not need an outside vaccine for any of this.
As my friend, Gail, so eloquently said, ‘…as a white person, your voice is essential within the dialogue AND it's not the most important voice. In other words, you need to add your voice to the rallying cry, while at the same time ensuring that your voice doesn't over-ride the voices of BIPOC. You need to join the choir, and not be the soloist. Being silent makes it hard to know where you stand on the issue. Are you an ally or not?...’
It seems to me we are fighting two pandemics. Both make it hard for people to breathe. Both have solutions within human hands. Neither is ‘someone else’s problem’. I will continue learning how to add my voice, and more importantly my actions, to do my full part in irradiating both pandemics.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘How am I being an ally?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has absolutely no expertise in immunology but she’s learning how to play her part as one person, with one voice, in this wide, multi-coloured world. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to best play your part too.