As the Black Lives Matter movement takes the world by storm, it can be tempting to have an “us” versus “them” mentality, “us” being the good folks who object to racism, and “them” being the perpetrators who provoke inequality. But such a framework does not fully capture the true landscape of racism
There is no question there are flat out racists and white supremacists that exist in North America and across the world.
They are explicit about their hate, and their views are dangerous and extreme. But far more prevalent is the quieter and less spoken of racism that exists in society at large. I am referring to the systemic racism that we are all part of – stereotypes that we adopt, prejudices that manifest unintentionally and views to which many of us become passively indoctrinated. And one could argue there is even a form of complacent racism, where we may speak out against injustice but fail to take the next step and actually act on that advocacy. And it is these more subtle forms of racism that need to be acknowledged and addressed if Black Lives Matter is to have its optimal impact.
If we are truly going to make lasting and impactful changes, we need to understand the problems at hand, of which there are many.
I had the pleasure of hosting Anthony Morgan on the Preconceived podcast. Anthony is a racial justice lawyer in Canada who has devoted his life and career to bridging gaps in social and justice racial inequality. One of the first things that came up in our conversation was Canada’s history of slavery, a two-hundred-year period that is often overshadowed in the history books by the much shorter but more widely known about fifteen-year period of the Underground Railroad. Somehow Canada’s history of slavery has been largely omitted from the Canadian narrative, but it is vital in comprehending the current state of racial inequality.
Just because our present laws, policies and collective mindset are different now than they were a hundred years ago does not mean that the effects of history have been erased. The socioeconomic gaps that exist between Black and other communities directly stem from this historical context. Years of oppression, free labour and lack of educational access still manifest today, with higher rates of food insecurity, unemployment and homelessness amongst Black communities. These problems cannot be looked at in a vacuum. They must be examined in the greater context of how they developed.
While equal opportunity may exist in intention, it does not exist in reality. Merely committing to equality is not the same as equal opportunity, and equal opportunity will only arise if action is taken to repair the mistakes of the past. And perhaps it is in the realm of economic policies that we can most practically reduce the racial economic gaps.
While it may sound extreme to some, the idea of “reparations” money to Black communities has been suggested. Anthony Morgan mentioned that some believe, for example, that free childcare for Blacks could be implemented, as a form of reparations for the decades that Black women took care of White kids without compensation.
As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, affirmative action is the practice or policy of making sure that a particular number of jobs, etc. are given to people from groups that are often treated unfairly because of their race, sex, etc.
This is a controversial topic. Some fear that this could lead to a “reverse” racism, where White people would be passed on for certain job opportunities, even if they are perhaps the best candidate. On an individual level, yes, this could be frustrating if you were passed on in such a situation. But on a practical level, isn’t this one of the tangible policies we can implement to actually lead to change? And given the historical inequality that manifests in present day, isn’t this a way of leveling the playing field? Furthermore, can we really trust that all companies that are hiring will choose the Black candidate, even if they are the most qualified applicant? Perhaps yes in some situations, but likely not in all circumstances, whether consciously or subconsciously.
So as we reflect upon the current state of affairs, perhaps the worst thing we can do is dissociate ourselves from the problem. Sure, we can point to the radicals and cast shame upon them. But we already knew they were radicals. They have been identified as a problem and largely been denounced for decades. But maybe Black Lives Matter is more about the subtle racism that lies within all of us and less about the extremists we already knew were crazy. Maybe this is more about accepting our own inherent biases and learning how we can do better.
Subconscious biases don’t disappear overnight. We all use stereotypes everyday, most of the time not realizing it. But while we work on our understanding and recognition of these internal biases we all have, we can start by taking action. We can endorse government policies that seek to narrow the socioeconomic gap between Black communities and other factions of society. We can be more open minded to affirmative action in schools and the job market. And we can all continue to learn how to be better to gradually address the issues at hand, not just in speech, but in action.