On August 22, 2011, I lost a boss and a mentor. Someone I could look to and say yes, this is what Canada needs right now.
Last week we did a tour of Parliament to show off the best of Ottawa to a visiting niece. As we stood in the hallway outside the House of Commons chamber, Joe turned to me and ‘this is where they had Jack lying in state.’
I knew this, of course. I have seen pictures of colleagues mourning there, and videos. But I was not there. Shortly after Jack died I went to Regina to visit family. The trip had been planned, the tickets purchased. I missed the lying in state, I didn’t go to the funeral with my friends and colleagues. I didn’t get the communal mourning. I will never stop regretting this, even as I know I made the best choice. I should have been a part of it. This dedication to a man who was so important to me.
Of course, my life is now, at least partially, dedicated to this man. To what he taught me, what he made me believe and what he stood for.
What would he say now? What would he think of where we stand?
He left us with advice, at least. He believed in us enough to share with us that Canada can be a better, fairer, more equal country. I believe it. I am hopeful, but I am not optimistic. I am loving, but also filled with hate.
I am fearful. I am tired.
We are now fighting battles that we have fought before. That some have been fighting constantly, for generations.
I want my daughter to never have to battle for her own rights and the rights of her friends. She is being taught that she is not above anyone else, that she was born lucky being white, Canadian, middle class, but she does not deserve to have an easier life just because of this luck. That she will sometimes have to speak up for her friends, get uncomfortable. The because of who she is and where she was born she has a duty to listen, to amplify others, to stand up.
But I can’t begin to explain to her what’s happening out there. We tried to explain racists to her, and she knows that they don’t make any sense. She knows that LGBTQ people are just people who should have the same rights as other people.
I am doing as much as I can for my daughter. But then there is the boy in her class who tells her she can’t play with the train because it’s not for girls. There is the girl at the park who says two women can’t get married – which is factually incorrect as well as being wrong. She knows. But they don’t know.
I watch television and see people say they don’t hate anyone and call for racial “purity” in the same sentence. They tell immigrants to go home while standing on stolen land. They don’t want to hear any different. They pray to a Jesus that they clearly don’t understand. And they are teaching their children.
How do you reach those people, Jack? Those people just want to believe anyone who tells them they are superior, while ruining their lives at the same time. How do you educate those who don’t want to be educated and how do you reach the next generation when intolerance prevents it?
How do you keep believing that, overall, people are inherently good?
That is the lesson I wish you had left us, because six years later it’s more of a struggle than you might have ever thought possible.
I haven’t had the will to post recently because there is too much going on. I have started multiple posts and been unable to finish them. I have been trying to spend time lifting up the voices of the people we really need to hear from right now – those whose experiences are perhaps the most important right now.
We have actual, modern day Nazis marching in the streets. People who claim to speak for the white race and proclaim that they don’t hate anyone, they just want what’s best for their children. Meanwhile, I had to sit down and tell my daughter that there are people in the world who hate other people for no real reason. And I had to remind myself of the privilege of being able to have that conversation on my own schedule.
I was born privileged in so many ways, and so was my daughter. We are white, middle class, Canadian, urban. We do not have to be afraid where we live. We have the privilege of being able to escape from the horrors that we see on the news every night. We have the privilege of turning away. But I can’t.
The fact is that these racists are almost fascinating – the denial that they’re Nazis, even while surrounding by Nazi paraphernalia, denying that they hate anyone while referring to the black woman interviewing them as a “mongrel.” The misuse of religion, biology, language and whatever else they need to distort to justify themselves. These people who will stay in their little, miseducated bubble, thank you very much.
You’d think it would be exhausting to hate that much, but I have a feeling that many of them are too stupid to realize. And one of them is the President of the United States.
I mourn for the ignorance I had before the past few years, the last election, when I thought racism was only alive in small pockets. But really, I should think of all the times I thought to myself that there was no one something was going to go the way it eventually did – the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, Ferguson, the election itself.
When the election results came in I felt a little bit of what it’s like to be so hated as a woman that people would vote for this fool. And that’s not even close to what it feels like to be black every day in America. Or Muslim. Or an immigrant. LGBTQ.
I fear this from my neighbours. The vile ignorance, the willful misunderstanding. I fear that my bubble is about to be burst and we will see these people in Canada more than before. These people who have never cared about the facts about Indigenous peoples and the land they’re living on. These people who didn’t care what the actual facts were about how citizenship ceremonies are conducted, they just want to see Muslim women controlled their way.
These people who would refuse desperate refugees for fear of terrorism, all while ignoring the fact that most terrorist acts on this continent are committed by white men with a history of domestic abuse.
Those people who are more numerous than I care to face.
I raise my voice, I add it to the chorus. It is wrong, it is ignorant, it is shameful and I will not allow it. Never again.
I took the puppy to get his haircut today, and before I dropped him off I took him on a bit of a walk around a park, down a path, because we were a bit early. I’m trying to take him for more walks. He’s getting old and he deserves it, and I deserve that time too.
As I was walking I was thinking, as one is wont to do when in quiet nature. I thought to myself ‘why don’t I do more of this?’ Why don’t I walk more often. Why don’t I walk for longer. It gives me the opportunity to think, to breathe. And I answered myself too – I’m scared.
I’m scared of getting hurt, I’m scared of over-heating. I’m scared of looking incapable, of making things worse. I’m scared of how I look to people.
And that’s just stupid. I thought I was over that. When I was a new mom and I caught myself singing to my little girl to keep her entertained in the grocery story I though I was over getting embarrassed by what other people might thing. I am more important, and what I demonstrate to her is more important.
I even try to act completely calm around all types of spiders and insects.
And so, if I am in control, how do I continue to let myself be ruled by these beliefs about myself and what I am capable of, even though I know that the only way to change anything is to go ahead and do the things?
Why do I let my brain get in the way? And why do I let me have the same fight with myself over and over again. Perhaps more importantly, how do I slough off this thinking and move forward, accepting fear as part of the journey and walking through it?
I can accomplish.
I know that I can, especially when I have to. I just need to convince me of that.