It is February – Black History Month. What does this mean to you? While I appreciate the recognition of black history during this month, I find that once March rolls around, things go back to business as usual. Those of us who live in black skin year-round know that despite celebrating black history month every year, nothing really changes from year to year.
I am thankful that I had the privilege of growing up in Jamaica, where the majority of the population looks like me. So, I never felt different or inferior because of the colour of my skin. I never felt like a second-class citizen or that I had to constantly prove that I was worthy. I was never considered a ‘minority’. Unfortunately, this will not be the case for my kids.
My kids are growing up in Canada and their reality is vastly different from mine was at the same age. They are constantly reminded that they are a ‘minority’. So, for them, they have to have thick skin. They have to be better than good because society will judge them before they ever open their mouths.
This is one reason why we were intentional about choosing their names. Though some will disagree with this, we deliberately chose names that were not “ethnic” sounding. We did this because we didn’t want them to face discrimination based on their names alone. It seems odd, but this is one reality that black people face in a majority white country.
Systemic anti-black racism is real. It does not mean that all people who aren’t black are racist. Far from it! But what it does mean is that the systems of power in this country (and others) are rooted in discrimination. It is those systems that allow racist attitudes to remain pervasive in society. It is those systems that need to change. When we say #blacklivesmatter, we are not saying that only black lives matter and other lives don’t. What we are saying is black lives matter equally.
When we talk about ‘white privilege’, we are not saying there is something bad about being white. We aren’t trying to demonize or guilt white people into feeling badly about themselves. Instead, what we are saying is that if you are white, by virtue of something none of us can control – the amount of melanin in your skin – you are able to experience the world with advantages that people of colour will never have. We are not saying that you have no difficulties but you don’t face additional difficulties in your life because of the colour of your skin. That is what it means to have privilege.
So, starting this black history month and going forward, if you are not black, we are asking you to come alongside us and to speak up and speak out against bias, prejudice and injustice against people of colour. We need you. We need allies, not lip service. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”