BUILDING BRIDGES: Speaking up for change

Social injustice can end if we all work together, writes columnist Taslim Jaffer.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

– Benjamin Franklin

In my different circles of friends, the topic of social justice has been brought up time and again, particularly since Donald Trump became president of the United States.

I have a mixed group of friends and some of the ones closest to me do not share my skin colour, religion or cultural background.

So, conversations about social injustices are even more fascinating to me because we come at the problems with completely different experiences.

Some of my friends are ‘surprised’ that racism exists (which means they are privileged enough to never have encountered it), while I have one friend who was recently threatened in a Tim Horton’s parking lot. Accordingly, my participation in the interaction changes based on who I am speaking with.

With someone who is sharing about being told they couldn’t work with a particular client because that client doesn’t feel comfortable working with brown people, I listen, I accept their experience as truth, and I sit with them in their pain, however they need me to. (True story).

With a girlfriend who tells me she is shocked that people left hateful comments on my post about being a Canadian Muslim, I have to recognize that her experience is also valid – that because she has never lived through it, she thinks the offences only lie in history books. (Also true, but way before Trump even ran for presidency and subsequently increased the number, frequency and intensity of stories like that).

The conclusion of pretty much all of these conversations among my beautiful, rich tapestry of friends is this: What do we do about it?

People who have lived with oppression for centuries (in particular women and men of colour), have tried to figure out this riddle for just as long. What do we do? Do we march and be loud? Do we protest peacefully? Do we just keep our heads to the ground and not rock the boat?

But now it’s time – and I can already see the rise in this – for people who are privileged and unaffected to be asking the same question. In fact, this particular column was inspired by a friend who happens to be a white, Christian woman, who told me she really wanted to know what to do.

Here are three things I would tell her and anyone else who really wants to make change:

1. See yourself in people who don’t look or pray like you. See them as people who have dreams and hopes and fears. Then go one step further, step out of your comfort zone and make a connection. When an opportunity arises, say ‘hello’ to someone you have never had a conversation with. (In fact, here’s a great time to take a look at who you do regularly hang out with; is it a homogenous or heterogeneous crowd?)

This person might not be your new BFF, but a positive connection can have a ripple effect into their lives and yours.

2. Listen to the lived experiences of those with less privilege than you – and accept those experiences as truth. If you see yourself in the person who is speaking (i.e. imagine this was happening to you), you will be able to acknowledge those feelings authentically.

3. Speak up! Speak up against injustices even when the victim is not around. This might mean using your voice in your family or community of friends.

This is uncomfortable, hard work but it is key to change. It might mean no longer excusing your uncle who always cracks racist jokes at the dinner table.

His victim isn’t around to hear what he has to say but the fact that he’s been saying it forever and ‘doesn’t mean any harm’ only further perpetuates this systemic disease.

Those who are unaffected must be as outraged as those who are.

Those are comfortably unaware must become uncomfortably aware.

Those who are privileged must be willing to break the system that keeps them that way.

Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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