Racism, and finding a way forward towards a world based on compassion (rather than on money and power)

I haven’t been writing many blog posts recently. Why? I’ve been too worn down by the increasing nastiness in the world, including from world leaders whose words should attempt to encourage every single citizen to feel included, providing them with the best support possible. That’s what enlightened leadership is all about, which sadly seems to be in short supply these days. Some talk the talk, but few are walking their talk to the extent one might hope. And on the biggest stages of all, the talk alone is nothing short of appalling and heartbreaking. I find it hard to move on from, but move on I must.

Last week there was an intriguing opinion piece in Toronto’s Globe and Mail entitled ‘Where are you from?’ In search of my Canadian identity by Esi Edugyan, two time Giller Prize-winning Canadian novelist. Her article reflects on the strength of Canada’s policy – indeed, core value – of multiculturalism from the perspective of a Canadian whose parents were immigrants from Ghana. I’ll let her words speak for themselves:

To be a Canadian is to accept that the story has more than one thread, more than one character, more than one point of view. It has become a near cliché to say it, but it’s true: we are a nation of many narratives and histories, and it is in the attempts to harmonize our various stories that our culture lives.

These negotiations can sometimes be fraught, but they are ours. Within my own family, there are a multitude of stories: one of my sisters-in-law immigrated to Edmonton from Hong Kong when she was eight years old, while the other is from the Coast Salish tribes of Vancouver Island, whose people have lived on the land for generations. My brother-in-law is French-Canadian. My husband’s aunt, who was born and raised in Guyana, has commented that when we sit down to holiday dinners we look like a UN summit. I think, though, that the variety that strikes her as an international feature is actually a very national one. And it is in our struggle to forever negotiate and align these stories that our identity is made and shaped and reshaped. The failure to come to a consensus on a single narrative – the hesitation and uncertainty about having one dominant story – is what the culture has become.

… That feeling is what we need to harness, it is what I want my children to feel. The sense that nothing is closed to anyone, not because of race or gender or religious belief, that everything is open and full of startling possibility, regardless of who we are.

Multiculturalism quote

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, explaining multiculturalism, 1972

I’m not going to kid myself or my readers and pretend that Canada’s multicultural approach to immigration is a panacea, or that it has been fully accepted or even understood by everyone. I’m not so naïve as to think that our policy of multiculturalism has eliminated all discrimination. I am fully aware that I live in a protective bubble because of my white privilege. Although I am actually an immigrant to Canada myself, and a very proud one at that, fellow Canadians who happen to be of Asian, African, Arab, or other non-white or mixed ancestry will occasionally (Oh, God, I hope not often) be called out by some n’er do well (for no reason whatsoever) to go back to where they came from. Even indigenous people whose land we all occupy may be called out. Prejudice and discrimination seem to have an extraordinarily long life span, as heartbreaking as that is. It’s beyond me. It is incumbent on all of us to help dispel the lack of understanding and abundance of fear and hatred that is spread by words of prejudice and vitriol, and made even worse through social media. Surely the world we all want to live in is one in which nobody has to live in fear and everyone feels accepted for who they are.

So the question I ask myself is: How do I get past this funk of despair at the nasty, divisive turn the world has taken and find the sweet spot that will provide me with peace of mind while also identifying some small role an old lady (me) can play in trying to dispel racism and hatred borne out of ignorance? (Sorry, that’s kind of a long question!)

Several posts recently from fellow bloggers have given me some intriguing ideas to consider. Two in particular hit the mark for the challenge posed by my question to myself. Some Kind of 50 recently wrote about life coaching for yourself, in which she gave several useful tips. One that really resonated with me in this post was: Honour your core values and set goals for your own sake. Having participated in many strategic planning exercises (which I realize aren’t everyone’s cup of tea), I love the idea of starting with core values. They’re the foundational measure for everything. I think I know mine, but I’m going to formalize them. How’s that for a useful start?! And setting goals for your own sake means not setting goals that someone else has given you or that you think someone else expects of you. As a happily retired person, there’s nobody else I need to set goals for. Time to get to work. Anyone else interested in formalizing their core values and establishing some new personal goals?!

Related advice was given by Pernille Ripp in her blog post Chasing Happiness. This post explains how she makes effective use of journaling and daily to-do lists to stay organized, balanced, and on target. One concept that intrigued me was the notion of having a “Word of the Year”. Pernille’s word for this year is “More”. Maybe I will try this and make my word “Kindness”. Another interesting part of her organizational ritual is writing a “Happiness is…” list, reflecting on the moments from the previous day that brought her peace and happiness, and taking the disciplined step of recording them. That is also worth trying, although I’m not sure I have the self-discipline to stick with it. On the other hand, a daily Happiness List may be the most important thing I could do to get past my cloud of despair, so I’d better try. Keeping a daily Happiness List could be a very helpful tool in seeking ways to spread kindness and achieve equanimity.

As Pernille Ripp said, “Chasing happiness in the form of meaningful interactions is something that will always be worth it. To seek out opportunities that will bring you joy is never wasted, unless the joy is at the expense of other people.” Hear, hear.

Image credit: BC Teachers Federation


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15 Responses to Racism, and finding a way forward towards a world based on compassion (rather than on money and power)

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    I could never write such a good post because I think I’ve long since adopted an attitude that I can’t affect world affairs so I’m not going to waste energy worrying about them. If I was younger then maybe I’d be more of an activist. I agree that the most realistic thing any of us ‘ordinary’ folk can do is – as your blogger friends have suggested Jane – is to be the best we can be and to act kindly towards others. Dr George Sheehan called it ‘being a good animal’.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Roy, your approach to this seemingly intractable challenge of racism is undoubtedly the best way to minimize feelings of anger and impotence. I’d probably be in a better “place” if I’d just stop reading so much news! However, when people I know (or don’t know) with non-European names or complexions get hassled at the US border, a mere 100 miles from here, and I don’t, or when fellow Canadians who aren’t white get hassled over where “they come from” and even why they don’t “go back”, I can’t let it go. But I’m the first to admit that I have no great answers about how to help effect change as an individual. I can certainly speak up, and we can all do our civic bit to support politicians who speak supportively on behalf of ALL their constituents. Having a publicly racist leader of the most powerful country in the world, the country that had promoted itself as a beacon of light for the world, is not helpful.

  2. smilecalm says:

    having taken a break from all news
    for weeks I feel much lighter!
    wishing you joy & clear, blue skies 🙂

  3. If only we can just put aside our differences and live in harmony without agendas and politics. South Africa is not without racism, still even after apartheid. Many other issues by the minority that ruins so much.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I know. One keeps thinking that it just doesn’t need to be this way. In SA, when apartheid ended, the wonderful new flag with so much symbolism of diversity was introduced, and citizens of different races and backgrounds stood on line together waiting to vote, the whole world watched in wonder and hope. We must all retain that hope, for all our countries. For people everywhere.

  4. Inkplume says:

    Where do I start to respond to this great post? Maybe by first saying I live in Quebec – need I say more about divisive politics, bills, charters of rights, etc.?

    Though not directly related to racism or discrimination, last week I read a great article in the National Post about a retired teacher taking personal action to help the 2 Canadians detained in China. It made my day and also made me realize that no gesture is too small to make a difference. https://nationalpost.com/news/somebodys-out-there-one-mans-lonely-protest-against-chinas-detention-of-two-canadians

    • Jane Fritz says:

      What a welcome comment from a kindred spirit. So glad we’ve connected. Yes, what’s happening in next-door Quebec right now is indeed heartbreaking. Good on Montreal for intending to defy this legislation, which hopefully will be overturned by court challenges. Thanks for sharing this article, which I hadn’t seen; I also just read about it in your blog! If we can all just find our own individual actions that can make a positive difference. We’ll have to work at it.

  5. Wonderful post. I can so relate to how you feel. Magnify it by a thousand and that’s what living with Trump as President. Every day our President targets another group of people. Canada seems like perfection in comparison.But the fact is, the entire world has become less tolerant. We can only
    lead by example, and keep fighting for equality and change. ✌️

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Lesley. Yes, I’m afraid it is Trump who has almost singlehandedly made racist voices more or less acceptable. I have so much trouble getting past it. We need more leaders who will both talk the talk and walk the talk. The hypocrisy of some political (and religious) leaders is unsettling in the extreme. Leading by GOOD example is what is needed, exactly.

  6. Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    Excellent article that forced me to look inward a little more and realize I still have some work cut out for me! Thanks Jane.

  7. Thanks Jane and I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts here as I find myself sometimes in a funk because of others, which is rather dumb when I really think about it. I have always been mystified by racism but occasionally I check myself on that score when I make my quick judgments on someone being stupid. So then sometimes I actually stop and think maybe they just don’t know the difference or they have never had the opportunity to learn otherwise which I was fortunate enough to be given.
    Racism comes in many forms not just based on ethnicity and my innate friendliness is sometimes stretched when I run into stupid people as I can sometimes have a quick tongue! So, my challenge going forward will be to stop and think when I meet people who think differently than me.
    Thanks again for making me think!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. Thanks, Wayne. You can stop and try to think when you meet people who “think differently” than you do, but it’s not going to make it easier! And it won’t help anyone overcome racist views. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to do that yet!

  8. Good post. We are all members of a huge family. The human family. 🤗

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