I can’t breathe.
Against the backdrop of a pandemic, these three words are ricocheting around the world as people protest against racial and social injustice.
This is nothing new.
Racism has been a problem in our society for centuries and has finally reached a tipping point. This injustice has resulted in protesters confronting systemic oppression and inequality, en masse. A boil has been lanced and the wounds are deep.
As a white woman of privilege, what do I know about racism? How could I possibly speak to the Black experience?
I can’t, so I have invited someone who can to share his personal story. Anthony Adams is the communications co-ordinator at CARP National and lives in Toronto.
In his words:
“The recent death of George Floyd has highlighted the social injustices black people have faced for centuries and as a proud member of Canada’s African community it warms my heart immensely to see all the messages of love, support and encouragement for black people around the world; letting us know we’re not alone in this fight.
“However, please remember that blacking out your profile pictures, using ‘BLM’ (Black Lives Matter) in a hashtag, and posting pictures of the black power fist is one thing – actual activism is another.
“At the end of the day those of you not personally impacted by this can go on with your individual lives, but I’m still going to be Black.
“I’m still going to face the same forms of discrimination I’ve experienced my entire life: I’m still going to be followed by security guards when I enter a store. I’m still going to have assumptions made about my education level, employment status, and criminal record. I’m still going to be scared when I’m driving down the street and see a cop car pull up behind me.
“I still have to be aware of which neighbourhoods I can visit knowing I’ll probably be labeled as ‘suspicious.’
“I’m still going to have someone tell me that my achievements are mainly based on free handouts due to the colour of my skin. My friends and I are still going to be turned away from restaurants under the assumption that we cannot afford their prices.
“I’m still going to have someone tell me that I’m an obedient Black who ‘knows his place.’
“I’m still going to be called the ‘N-word’ from a passing car when I walk down the street.
“And I’m still going to have someone tell me that I should be lynched from a tree.
“For those of you interested in being more of an ally to the Black community here is what you can do:
1. Truly examine and understand how race and privilege intersect in our society and the role your own whiteness plays;
2. Talk to the people of colour in your life and listen to their experiences and past struggles;
3. Make sure this is an issue that your political representatives are focused on;
4. Join groups dedicated to achieving racial justice and change through litigation, advocacy, and public education;
5. Speak up when you witness any form of racial injustice. You have a voice so use it;
6. Actually realize that institutional racism exists and start looking at ways to end it.
“Remember this isn’t just another trend; this might save my life.”
Adams’ sentiments are powerful and an important call to action.
But as we advocate for social change and an end to racism, please do it in small groups with social distancing in mind and wear a mask.
We want Dr. Bonnie Henry to sleep soundly at night.
April Lewis is the local communications director for CARP, a national group committed to a ‘New Vision of Aging for Canada.’ She writes monthly.