In today's society, the population likes to think that things like racism and exclusion based on societal difference no longer exist, that we are a unified, just people who do not place judgements upon others without first knowing their story. Of course, this is simply a normal narrative that we fall prey too, while prejudice runs wild around us. The differences between us all, coded deep into our genes, make certain people targets and others targeters, even for the smallest, most miniscule of differences. If you aren’t part of the majority, then there’s something wrong with you and that something leaves you vulnerable to criticism and hateful words. “Perhaps unaware of these realities, 55 percent of Canadians are satisfied that we have ”overcome” racial discrimination (PV Editorial Board, 2016, n.p.).” Yet, why is it that we seem to think that there is no such thing as racism? Are we really so blind that we fail to see the issues facing minorities not only in Canada, but across the world? In looking at a number of self stories created within the ECS class, it’s ever so obvious that racism doesn't only run rampant in public, but in our homes as well.
In the case of both Tori and Jordan’s self stories, the very obvious sign of discrimination or prejudice based on appearance comes in the form of children who are darker skinned than the rest of the classroom, which was filled with a white majority. In both these stories, the narrator is young, likely under the age of 9, but even then, they view their new classmates as different, based purely on the colour of their skin. Tori’s seems innocent, childish questions aiming to discover the nature of their new classmates, asking “Did they tan more than I? Are they from a place where it is always sunny and hotter? (Peterson, 2016, n.p.)” These questions point to the fact that she notices the differences of her new classmates, but doesn’t hold any preconceptions about their character based on their race. Jordan’s, meanwhile, approaches the issue with more disappointment and wariness, asking a much different set of questions, “Who are all these brown kids that I don’t know? What on earth are they doing here in OUR classroom?” (Schutz, 2016, n.p.) These questions are darker in nature, calling out the new, brown children as if they were invaders to the natural order of his classroom. While both of these stories call out children based on a stark difference in skin tone, my own delves into slight differences, which alludes to what could happen if children with even more noticeable differences were to show up. With all these examples laid out, I find it important to question when exactly racism and discrimination start to become a part of a child’s outlook. When exactly do the beliefs of the society and family start to influence that of young children?
The answer is simpler than one might think. Using DiAngelo's article on white fragility, the answer becomes clear. “Most whites live, grow, play, learn, love, work and die primarily in social and geographic racial segregation (DiAngelo, 2015, n.p.).” Backing this quote up, Tori and Jordan’s self stories both take place around the age of 9, just under half way through elementary school and they had yet to see other children bearing skin tones other than white. They hadn’t been immersed in other races at all, in school, in public or even on television, if their initial reaction to seeing people of different colour is any indication. In my own as well, with the absence of people of obvious differing colour, the children had to seek out minute differences to ridicule. In growing up in a white dominated society as children, none of us had any experience in seeing people of different colour, and yet as visible in Jordan’s self story, we still are prone to meet non-white people with hostility. This hostility is instilled in us by the white society itself. By growing up with little to no interaction with people of colour, the unknown becomes an alien entity deserving of scorn and distrust. If young children can have such negative reactions to differences in appearance, there is quite obviously something wrong with our society. The myth of the end of racism is just that, a myth, one which affects children from a very young age.
Even now, we strive to eradicate any idea that we ourselves are racist. In Tori’s blog, the extent to which she tries to paint herself as neutral is quite noticeable. Throughout her self-story, she doesn't once refer to the new children as a particular colour. She instead uses sentences like “They were darker in skin tone (Peterson, 2016, n.p.),” in order to avoid using colours. Children though, don’t react to new things in such a sophisticated manner, rather they often react to the obvious, which in this case would be colour. This quote, “failure to name color is clearly indicative of the negative associations that continue to be attached to notions of color and race (R. P. Solomon et al, 2006, p.g.150),” is highly relevant here. While a child would describe these new children by their colour, it being the most obvious feature, Tori’s older self saw colour as a negative indicator and chose to leave it out of her account. As Solomon’s quote suggests, even today we try to divert away from using colour as an indicator of race, because of its negative connotation. In my own as well, I chose to move away from racial colours considered to be negative, instead focusing within the white spectrum, which is typically seen with a positive connotation in conjunction with white supremacy. In doing this, I highlighted issues within whiteness, but also unintentionally downplayed further problems with people who aren’t white, whether they be black, brown, or any other pallet. While this was unintentional, it further supports an unwillingness to delve into things we find uncomfortable, which in this case is naming colours other than white. It is of course, important to highlight that within the white race, there is still racism; not to the western ideal of whiteness of course, but rather to people like those from Asian races that have a paler demeanor, aside from other features that set them apart.
In talking about skin tone and colour, I believe that Cameron Russell's TedTalk on the ideals of beauty is important to bring up. She says, “How we look, though it is superficial and immutable, has a huge impact on our lives (Russell, , 2:22).” This is true for our overall appearance as well as our skin colour. The myth of meritocracy says that our life and social standing is fully dependent on how hard we work, but this is, in fact, not the case. AS much as we wish that hard work was all it took to get anywhere, Russell is right that our looks have a huge impact on every aspect of our lives. White privilege, while often thrown out the window by the majority of white people, is a very real thing. In today’s society, it’s important to not only be white, but to also possess an unrealistic body type. The bodyt ype in itself, while hard to obtain without jeopardizing one’s health, both mental and physical, is overshadowed when it comes to skin colour. Skin colour isn't something you can change without drastic medical treatment that includes bleaching one’s skin. These treatments are seen as fashionable and desirable because with them, someone with black, brown or other negative skin tones can become beautiful, which means white. If racism has really become non-existent, why is the image of beauty plastered by whiteness? Once again, it’s clear that racism is out of control, to the extent that people are willing to change what they look like just in order to become accepted not only in the realm of beauty, but also in becoming ‘normal.’
It’s easy to bust myths about racism. Still, ideas like “white supremacy remain deeply embedded within the ideological structures upholding the Canadian state (PV Editorial Board, 2016, n.p.).” People will spew nonsense about racism being non existent, about society being a place of equal opportunity for those who work hard enough, because we as a society are so far taken with these myths and normal narratives that we fail to see the truth that is right in front of us. How can we begin to combat something so deeply rooted within our psych? Truthfully, we can’t fully erase it. Mankind, since existence, has purged and persecuted all those different form the majority. That said, we can work to instill a sense of right and wrong within the next generation, as teachers. We can work to make sure that our classrooms are a place where your colour, race and appearance do not affect constructed ideas like grades. We can't ever fully let go of the normalities so heavily stuck in our minds, but we can disrupt them and work through them whenever they come up to affect our judgement. I’m white, raised by a white society and that in itself is bound to make me racist. Despite this, I can challenge my own thoughts and actions, as well as those as others, in order to erase myths about racism. We shouldn't stay silent about issues of racism and discrimination, otherwise we’ll be stuck in the same loop of normal narratives over and over again. So it’s up to us, as individuals, to bring it up, at home and in public, and to disrupt these normal narratives. Recognition of the problem is the only way we’ll ever be able to move past it.
(2012, October). Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://ed.ted.com/lessons/looks-aren-t-everything-believe-me-i-m-a-model-cameron-russell/review_open#question-2
DiAngelo, R. (2015). White Fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism. Huffington Post.
Peterson, T. (2017, February 14). New Classmates (Prompt #1). Retrieved March 24, 2017, from https://toripetersonblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/new-classmates-prompt-1/
Schutz, J. (2017, February 14). Self Story #3- My Grade 3 Experience. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from https://jordanschutz.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/self-story-3-my-grade-3-experience/
Solomon, Portelli, Daniel & Campbell. (2006). The discourse of denial: how white teacher candidates construct race, racism and ‘white privilege’. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 8(2), 147-169.
“White supremacy remains deeply embedded within the ideological structures upholding the Canadian state (PV Editorial Board, 2016, n.p.).”
The bright red of the overalls is quickly becoming faded and brown, as dirt and mud coat the water resistant material. I swing my legs slightly from where I sit on a thin ledge, and shining my light downwards reveals damp limestone walls, but no ground. My stomach turns and I grip the rope, eyeing the carabiner nervously as I make sure I’m still attached to the safety line. The girl next to me, Becky, shifts to the left as the person ahead begins their descent.
Ba-bum. Ba-bum. My heart beats loudly against my chest. I move my hand up, still gripping the rope, to clutch at the material over my torso. A drop of sweat slips down my brow, falling much like the water dripping from the ceiling, into the endless, dark abyss below.
Becky shifts as the guide instructs her to move into the repelling zone. I watch her descend, gulping down my anxiety in quick, greedy breathes. The next turn is mine.
I watch until I cannot see her anymore, until the darkness envelopes her like it did the rest. I can hear them down below, but my frightened mind tunes the voices out until all I can hear is the sound of my own blood rushing, tunneling through my ears.
“Your turn,” the guide announces, motioning me over.
I can feel my eyes widen as I shift closer, until I’m next to the guide, looking down at the repelling line that ends in only inky darkness.
My hands shake.
My breath comes out in panicked huffs.
How far would I have to fall in order to hit the bottom, this morbid thought crosses my mind.
A hand steadies itself against my shoulder, snapping me from my panicked thoughts.
“Hey,” the tour guide, who’s name has escaped me in my panic, comforts me with the ease that comes from years of practice. No doubt the man has seen countless freak outs during his time. “You’ll be alright. Me and my partner will be supporting and spotting you the whole time, you’ll be fine. Move your clips carefully and put your hands on the line. You’re completely safe.”
If I'm being honest, this did little to quell my bubbling anxiety and fear, but it gave me a burst of adrenaline that led me to reclip my carabiners and reach out for the repelling line.
I take a deep breath.
I’m not calm, of course I’m not, but I’m not panicked either.
I can do this.
I move off the ledge and let out a nervous gasp as my weight becomes fully dependent on the cable running through the air. I can feel my body freeze as I dangle.
“Hey!” The guide speaks up. “You’re fine, see? You aren't going to fall, now just lower yourself down slowly.”
I close my eyes, trying to free my body from it’s state of paralysis. I’m fine. I can do this.
I begin to slowly lower myself, gripping the ropes as a slide down. It’s a slow process and everytime I slide a little too fast, I force myself to bite back panicked sounds and pause momentarily before collecting myself and beginning again.
It feels like decades before my feet touch the ground, the firm feel of the limestone beneath my feet comforting beyond explanation. I let out a slow, uneven breathe before unclipping myself.
I turn and grin at my group, as the adrenaline of success rushes through me. An array of congratulations comes from those around me, but the words fail to reach.
Caked in dirt and mud, purple bangs sticking messily against the side of my face, along with all sorts of grime, I can smile. I can smile because despite being physically weak, despite being scared and terrified beyond all belief, I have done something I didn't think I ever would. I didn’t need to be string or fit, have the muscular structure of a man. All I needed was adrenaline, courage and a little bit of willingness to keep on trucking. And in the end, that’s all that really matters. Today I performed an act I hadn't thought possible before now. And that was enough.