Nobody is born a racist

[Disclaimer: I am convalescing from having shoulder replacement surgery last week, and so have little to do but take pain pills, lie around, and think about the state of the world. Thanks to the state of the world right now, the pain in my heart far outweighs the pain in my shoulder. I feel compelled to write down my thoughts, even if limited to one hand. You see, racism is the one big evil in the world that I have never been able accept or compartmentalize. It eats at my soul, even though I don’t even suffer from it directly. And so, I’m going to let it all out. This post will be longer than usual, so I hope you can bear with me. Also, for those who know me well, you will be surprised by some references to God and even Jesus. It seemed the most appropriate approach and I do so intending utmost respect.]

Nobody is born a racist. Nobody. Children of all shapes and sizes, all colours and religions, play together without a care, not noticing any differences except as a matter of innocent curiosity.

Racism is a learned behaviour. For many, sadly, it’s learned in the home. For some, also sadly, it’s learned at their place of worship, in those troubling instances where bigotry, hypocrisy, and hatred have replaced love and tolerance for all. And for many, it’s learned through other kids at school and in their neighbourhoods, but these views would have been picked up from adults.

It’s a learned behavior, and it’s propagated with frightening ease. Those of us who happened to have been born white – through no effort or talent of our own – must bear some responsibility whenever we make it too easy for those who would spread hate.

By Michael De Adder in the Halifax Chronicle

Some actions we take or don’t take are unintentionally damaging:

  • Not speaking up when someone makes a racist or otherwise demeaning comment.
  • Making excuses or downplaying a demeaning comment made by someone else. “They didn’t mean anything by it.”
  • Making a demeaning comment yourself and then saying you didn’t mean it, you were just joking. It’s never a joke. “Sorry if my comments offended anyone” is remarkably offensive in itself.
  • Accepting such behaviour in others because you want to be part of a group. If speaking as a racist bully is going to help you fit into a group, run for your life.

Such examples are endless. The bottom line is that one person’s “harmless fun” is someone else’s lifetime of hurt, exclusion, fear, and self-loathing.

This penchant on the part of so many humans, including too many so-called leaders, to divide the world into “us” and “them” and then proactively make life miserable for “them” has been a pain in my heart ever since I was a kid.

I grew up in the 50s, about 40 miles from NYC in the new suburbs on Long Island. Nearly everyone was from somewhere else. We were all post-war babies, and our parents had come from different parts of the U.S., from apartments in the City, from Italy, Germany, Poland, etc. I had one friend whose grandmother lived with them who only spoke Italian and another friend whose grandmother lived with them and only spoke Yiddish. Our neighbourhoods and schools were healthy mixes of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.

Anti-Semitism.

The first time I was made painfully aware that racism existed was when anti-Semitism raised its ugly head in my sheltered life. The war ended in 1945. The whole world knew that 6 million – 6 MILLION – Jews had been brutally treated and then murdered in the gas chambers in Germany and Eastern Europe. We all knew that many of our school friends had relatives who’d perished in the death camps; some even had survived and were living with them. We knew that. And yet – and yet – somehow the kids still knew who were Jews and who weren’t. And some of my Jewish friends were taunted, including a popular kid on the basketball team. Oh, it wasn’t violent. It was most likely some kids thinking they were being clever. I remember thinking, “Knowing about the Holocaust, how can any adult in any household have put this idea into their kid’s head?” it’s not like any of us even looked different, but somehow differences got figured out. And so anti-Semitism traveled to suburban America in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust. Astounding. None of the non-Jewish kids would even know what it meant to be a Jew beyond that your relatives were gassed in Germany. Yet they still picked up on this hateful taunting without thinking twice. And some adults had to have put the idea in their heads. At home. In the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust.

Divisions sown by religious teachings.

We were Protestant and our neighbours across the street were Catholic. We all played together happily, day in and day out. I vividly remember one day (about 60 years ago!) when a younger neighbour, who would have been 7 or 8 and getting ready for his first holy communion, boldly told me, as a 13-14 year old, that I was going to hell because I wasn’t Catholic. No, this did not put the fear of God in me. 😉 But it did give me cause to question just how much church messaging had anything at all to do with love and tolerance as opposed to control. Even at 13 I knew that it made no sense that God would only take care of people who went to a specific church. How could that make any sense?

Slavery and never-ending anti-black racism.

The schools I went to did not have many African-Americans. Now I realize how early my white privilege started. But even so, anyone who learns anything at all about U.S. history, or reads any novels set in the south, or sees any films about the south, cannot pretend ignorance of the staggering brutality brought to the Americas in slave ships, starting 400 years ago. People taken from their homeland in bondage. People owned and brutalized by white masters. People whose wives and children were sold on auction blocks. And then after the Civil War, life as a free black person was not very free and not very pretty. Any improvements in the past 155 years have been slow and only reluctantly accorded. Treated with derision, cruelty, exclusion. You name it. As we are now reminded yet again, the road to being treated just the same as another human being regardless of skin colour seems to be cruelly endless.

I want to cry out, “WHY??” Why are the majority-white churches not crying out as well, reminding their parishioners that we are all the same in God’s eyes? Maybe reminding them that, after all, Jesus was a brown-skinned Middle Eastern Jew. What would He think of how so many of His followers are treating their black brothers, God’s children who have already put up with countless unfair barriers?

Anti-Indigenous racism.

The European colonization of the Americas was built not just upon slavery but also on the genocide of its Indigenous peoples. Oh yes, a fine legacy we white people of European heritage carry. The American history I learned seemed to skip from the kindly encounter of the Indians with the Pilgrims at the first American Thanksgiving to a few battles with fearsome warriors on the Plains to total silence on the topic. Canadians of my age would have learned a bit more and a bit differently, but the whitewashing (aha, a fitting double entendre) would have been similar. At least now Canadian schools are finally teaching some Indigenous history. Next step, teaching Indigenous respect.

The truth is that in Canada as well as in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Americas, Indigenous populations were decimated by disease brought by the Europeans, first by accident and later by design. They were further decimated by purposeful massacre. Later, in Canada at least, our Indigenous neighbours, whose lands we stole, were subjected to loss of self-sufficiency, cultural genocide, and deprivation of human dignity through relocation, the evil residential school system, and patronizing attitude of successive governments as they oversaw their controversial Indian Act. Canada’s government now talks the talk but has yet to walk the talk. This is to Canada’s continued shame.

Continuing anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism in the Americas are both tied to systemic/societal enablers and revisionist history. (That doesn’t mean to say there aren’t other stories of racism in other parts of the world.) All of the history we learned was presented from a European perspective. This perspective has pushed the notion of white European supremacy and omitted the reality that civilizations existed in the Americas for 5,000-12,000 years prior to the arrival of Europeans, thank you very much. These civilizations and societies had language, astronomy, architecture, governance, worship, agriculture, trade, and so much more that define a culture such as art, crafts, music, and organized sport. The Europeans didn’t “discover” anything new. It was all already there. People had lived in these places for millennia. All the Europeans did was rename everything after themselves and abuse or kill the inhabitants. That. Is. Our. Heritage.

Bill Nye, Science Guy, says it all.

Anti-Muslim racism.

I feel I must include this here. How can we live with ourselves for allowing our leaders to foist paranoia about a religion on entire swaths of humanity under siege? Syrians, Yeminis, Iraqis, Rohingyas: they’re just people trying to raise their children in a safe place. Their homelands are being destroyed, in many cases by equipment and bombs bought from our countries (good jobs in the defense industry, you know). Tarring millions of innocent people with the brush meant for a few is inhumane. And the discrimination of Muslims in Quebec in the guise of their provincial law of secularism is just racism by another name. For shame.

Anti-Asian racism.

I am very sad to say that Anti-Asian discrimination has a long history in Canada. Chinese workers started coming to Canada way back in pre-Confederation days (pre-1867), including the many Chinese workers involved in building the railroad through the Rockies in the 1880s that made Canada “whole”. There have been numerous examples of overt discrimination through the years, including various head taxes, citizenship restrictions, and the especially egregious confiscation of the property of Japanese-Canadians during WWII and their placement in internment camps over several years. We have much to atone for. But what’s up with this recent anti-Asian sentiment because of COVID having started in China? What does someone of Asian descent who lives in Thunder Bay or Saskatoon have to do with a pangolin or bat that infected someone in China with a new virus? Is our need to find someone to blame when things go wrong so strong that we need to blame our neighbour instead of the pangolin on the other side of the world? WTF?!

The list of victims of racism and prejudice is just too long: LGBTQ+, the visibly disabled (like mocking a reporter with a shriveled  arm, perhaps), women … name your “other”. Why is it so hard for humans to be kind to each other and expect the best from each other?

My Dad once asked a neighbour to leave our house, completely upending an evening of bridge for four neighbourhood friends. This “request” came because the neighbour had been spouting “manly” talk about what his sons could get away with with young women. I’m proud that my Dad had the conviction to take that action. I would like to think that he would have taken the same action if an anti-Semitic or anti-black comment had been made.

It has to start in the home. In every home.

Why should some parents have to teach their children to be careful in public or around police for fear of being deemed suspicious for no reason except colour of skin, while others don’t? What does that do to someone growing up and living that experience, in their own country? It’s got to be soul-destroying. Two entirely different sets of expectations, one based on trust in our systems to look out for us and the other rightfully based on distrust in our systems due to racial stereotyping.

When your young child points out something different in another person, he or she is providing you with an opportunity to teach a lesson in inclusion, understanding, and kindness.  Take that opportunity every chance you get. And lead by example.

We must turn away from hatred, fear and exclusion and towards acceptance, understanding, and compassion. Man’s inhumanity to man must stop. And that change must beat in every home and every heart.

Labs of all colours can get along, why can’t humans?

 

 

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53 Responses to Nobody is born a racist

  1. jane tims says:

    I think the biggest challenge during this COVID crisis has been to understand the bad behaviour that has come out in (some) people. But the learning in thinking about the challenge is that a lot of bad behaviour has been hiding under the surface for a long time. I hope we don’t go through all this and blithely go back to normal. I was raised in southern Alberta and there were few people of colour. However racism existed in the ‘Ukrainian’ jokes told (60 years ago) and in the differentness of the Hutterite people who ran the markets on Saturdays. Fortunately I had two fine adult role models: my mom who was a teacher who taught me to identify and respect ‘differentness’ and my Grade Four English teacher, Mrs. Bowen, who had taught in a Hutterite colony for years and made an effort to teach us the history and culture of the Hutterites. In later years, through the Fundy Model Forest, I met and enjoyed learning about indigenous culture with the Elsipogtog First Nation. And later, I took anthropology courses which showed me that we all share the same ancestry. In spite of the years and learning, I struggle with a tendency to see people as part of a group rather than as individuals. I am a dreamer and I believe there will come a day when we will see all humanity and its diversity as a huge gift! sorry, I didn’t mean to go on and on; I thought I wouldn’t be able to write one word.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. You wrote lots of words, Jane! Thank you so much for these observations. You’re right. It’s easy for us to forget/ignore/remain ignorant of pervasive racism when we’re not the target. I think it is my #1 heartache of all mankind’s foibles. Like you, I embrace a diverse, multicultural world over a tribal one, and by times I have been optimistic. But the veil has been lifted recently. The amount of work to be done is astronomical. We need strong proactive leadership at every level, in every country. 😥🙏

  2. AMWatson207 says:

    This could be an outline for a master class called Be a Person, Damn It. Excellent.

  3. calmkate says:

    a powerful and detailed post, made more powerful by linking it with your personal experiences!

    We are one race = human race, just different tribes
    … please be careful of your vibes!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Many thanks, Saania. I’m a tiny bit hopeful that this time those in power can’t ignore the voices of the people. That they can’t just wait it out and get on with business as usual. Racism as usual. We can’t let that happen.

  4. iidorun says:

    Wow, Jane! This was so well written and encapsulates so much of what is wrong in our world. This must have been really weighing on you given that you wrote it despite your shoulder surgery. I am strengthened by your words – you get it! White people have an awful heritage to come to terms with but the healing will only happen once the injury is named and the repair process is committed to. Thank you for educating and being vocal about the need to be actively anti-racist. ❤️💐 Heal well!

  5. K E Garland says:

    Love this Jane ❤

  6. Jean says:

    Rather ironic…there was an anti-racism march locally that ended only 10 min. walk from home. I had no idea.

    Anyway, yes various racist incidents in life over the decades. I also volunteered for a decade in Toronto directly in such organizations — 1 a national, non-profit org. for Chinese CAnadians..we worked on race relations, policy development and immigrant services in terms of advocacy. 2nd organization was for a magazine on Asian-CAnadian literary work and the arts..an areas of less representation in tv, Hollywood south/north, etc. At the time..some slow change. I haven’t written much specifically in my blog since race matters are complex .. and some of it quite personal. https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/from-race-around-the-world-series-chinese-canadian-part-14/

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thank you for sharing these comments, Jean. I guess we all have to find ways best suited to us as individuals to help spread a sense of understanding and respect, and to build an inclusive, welcoming community.

  7. Beautifully said, Jane. A salve for those of us who are struggling right now. Rest well and mend well… – Marty

  8. Excellent post! I came to this blog via Cynthia. Briefly, here is my experience growing up in Maine. As Catholic Franco-Americans, my family and I were on the receiving end of prejudice from the Protestant Yankees who ran things. I can’t tell you how many times I heard dumb French jokes aimed at me. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Klan marched against the French Catholics here—my grandparents’ generation. There was a law enacted to stop Maine Franco-Americans from speaking their French—much like Canadian French—in public places. Way past time to speak up and join in solidarity with those who are oppressed.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Hi Laurie. It’s a pleasure to hear from you. I live right next door, in New Brunswick, la seule province avec deux langue officielle! Whether your family roots are Acadian or Québécois, I know that similar terrible situations were experienced all over New England and Upstate NY by French-speaking Canadians who migrated to the States. The Protestant-Catholic enmity seems to have thrived for centuries. Since Canada was “founded” on two languages and two religions (not to say they got along, but they had equal status), there doesn’t seem to have been the same strains about a Catholic holding a position of power as there was in the US at least prior to JFK. I don’t know how we turn off this we/they switch, but I just can’t bear it. Meanwhile, glad to meet you, neighbor!

  9. A brilliant post, Jane. Thoughtful, challenging, analytical. I took the liberty of mentioning and linking to it on my blog. Thank you.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thank you very much, Cynthia. Coming from a professional writer and journalist, that is welcome praise indeed. Now if we could only snap our fingers and fill the world with kindness. 😥❤️

      • We can help support and keep each other honest in the struggle against bigotry. The dominant response I hear from Blacks my age these days, after”I’m furious” is “I’m exhausted. When does this crap end?”
        As for me, it’s been the triple whammy of fighting for women’s rights in the workplace and public life, fighting for accessibility and the lifelong fight against racism. I am so thankful you’re there, Jane. You help keep me upright.

        • Jane Fritz says:

          OK, Cynthia, I’d better be up for this challenge! There’s nothing I care about more than human rights at every level, so I will do everything I can to not let you down. ❤️

        • And keep me honest, please! I am greatly privileged myself and don’t always realize it or take the opportunities to be an activist that made up a huge part of my life before the car accident. I am rusty.

  10. Excellent post… So in-tune with your thoughts…. ( I came via Pendantry’s reposting of your blog..) You are so right it is learnt behaviour patterns… In fact most of our preconceived ideas stem from what we are taught both by our parents, education and the media’s narrative..Your Dad by the way sounded to be a wonderful soul, who stood up for principles..
    Far too many today do not do that for fear of being singled out as not being in the herd mentality.. And they then themselves get labelled …

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts… Sending hugs and well wishes, I hope your shoulder and your heart soon heal.. ❤ 🙏

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thank you so much, Sue. I’m pleased that thanks to Pendantry I was also able to find your blog. Thought-provoking poetry. And I hope my shoulder is listening to your good wishes! 😏😊

      • Hi Jane… I am sure it is when you tell it too.. I am a great believer in Mind over Matter.. 🙂 And our bodies reactions to our thoughts.. 🙂 Many thanks for following… I am sure our thoughts will resonate back and forth I feel our energies will mingle well 🙂 😉 🙏

  11. debscarey says:

    Beautifully expressed Jane, especially when such a complex subject. Thank you for finding the words that so many of us are struggling to express.

  12. Thanks Jane and good vibes for quick healing of the shoulder. I wish everyone could read, digest and understand this but I fear until we all become like your Dad this will continue.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Wayne, for the shoulder vibes. I need them! Re the challenge of overcoming racism, I’m afraid you’re right that it’s a very distant dream. Doesn’t say much for human beings, does it?! 😥

  13. Lots of hurtful hearts right now Jane. We are all God’s children and just like that last photo of yours of those labs, it would be nice if every human out there understood this. Hope your shoulder is feeling better, the soul will take a little longer to heal sadly.

  14. dfolstad58 says:

    Thank you Jane for your clear and thoughtful message. In my opinion it was lengthy and may be better digested and remembered in a series of posts. I shook my head that there could be antisemitism after 1945. Baffling.
    I think you are right, it stops when we speak up! You write with authority and I appreciate the time it takes to write as well as you do.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks very much, David. I did actually think just that, that it would be more effective as more digestible separate posts, but to be honest I then decided that I didn’t want to post a whole series on such a painful topic. One of my sons occasionally mentions that people like less serious topics than I sometimes choose, and my experience is that he’s right. So I decided to throw it all (well, most of it) out there. Not to say you’ll never hear me on the subject again! 😏

  15. an extremely clear and powerful post.

  16. Roy McCarthy says:

    Well written and well elucidated Jane. I haven’t the words to debate the subject but I can’t see how anyone could not stand foursquare with you. Yes, the cycle has to be broken in the home, like so many cycles – men that hit women is a common one. And like your father, we need to be brave and call it out when we see it. ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ Desmond Tutu.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks so much, Roy. It sounds to me as though you could debate the subject admirably. I think men hitting women in the home is an excellent example. The kind of learning from kids in such an environment is sickeningly similar to the learning in a home environment where the father makes derogatory comments about other races and religions. Desmond Tutu’s quote is important for all of us to keep in mind.

  17. Pingback: 8 Specific Actions We can Take – Cynthia Reyes

  18. barryh says:

    Well said, Jane. We Europeans share the historic shame of white Americans/Canadians in stealing the land of other civilizations. And the persecution of Jews and Muslims goes way way back… A sorry story we need to keep on telling.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Barry. Let’s live in the hope that by some miracle at some point people just get so tired of hating and baiting that they decide to extend the hand of kindness instead. Meanwhile, each of us can at least be pleasant to others and see how far that sentiment might spread!

  19. Thank you Jane. That was a long but cathartic examination of our society, ending with a bottom line of the need for more tolerance, acceptance and inclusiveness. People are people no matter what colour they are. People. Like us. The very same. Your dad must have been an upright and formidable figure in the face of his blagging neighbour, and I know it takes a lot of courage to go against the mores and attitudes of the group. He set you a great example, which you live by as you speak out. Look after that shoulder and get some good healing in place. I’m sure getting this off your chest has helped.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks so much, Joyce. My Dad was indeed upright. I never thought of him as formidable (he died in 1965), but he sure must have surprised those friends that evening! It was my Mom who told me. You’re right that writing out my despair was cathartic, even if only temporary relief. We humans could be so much better.

  20. pendantry says:

    … the defense industry…

    There’s a misnomer, if ever I heard one!

  21. pendantry says:

    Reblogged this on Wibble and commented:
    This is a long article, but it bears repeating.

    It brings to mind a poem I wrote some years ago: Step Outside.

  22. Inkplume says:

    I have refrained from writing about this myself because there are others with a better platform or whose voice can speak to it more eloquently. Yours is one of them. Thank you for this post – I hope your heart and your shoulder mend quickly.

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