No matter the medium or form of response, it must be uncomfortable
A few months ago, I read former US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power’s memoir, The Education of an Idealist. In it, she asked a question that has stuck with me since: “What is the nature of individual responsibility in the face of injustice?”
The worldwide protests against racism have catalyzed a myriad of diverse responses. These protests were sparked directly by the murder of George Floyd but also by years of police brutality against Black Americans. We have seen the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter spread across Instagram and Twitter. Many have also seen black squares posted all over individual Instagram feeds. Many have shared news articles on their Instagram stories and redirected their followers to accounts that share anti-racism resources.
One of the most difficult aspects of the current landscape is navigating your role within it. In the past week I, and many of my friends, have struggled to respond in ways that are both supportive of the movement against racism and authentic.
Some people protest. Others donate money to bail funds and victims’ families. Some read books or articles, listen to speeches, or watch documentaries. Some people post on social media and others engage in conversations with friends and family. This process of engaging with the deeply uncomfortable reality of racism in our society is an individual process, it necessitates an internal conversation about what your responsibility is in the face of injustice.
Our responses to confronting racism within society, institutions, and modes of thinking will be diverse. I think the point, though, is to respond. Whether it be a vocal response out in a protest or a quieter response reading the works of Black authors or anti-racism advocates, the point is to question systemic inequities and engage in conversations about how to catalyze change.
In addition to engaging in conversations about police brutality and racism against Black folks, we must be cognizant of the Canadian history of racism against Indigenous populations. This is especially pertinent at a time when Canadian law enforcement continues to use excessive force and violence in their engagements with Indigenous people. The murder of Chantel Moore in N.B and the beating of Chief Allan Adam during a traffic stop in Alberta are reminders of the work to be done. We, as Canadians, must continue to address our own issues of systemic racism against Indigenous and Black folks and collaborate in efforts towards reconciliation.
No matter the medium or form of response, it must be uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because growth always requires some semblance of discomfort. That’s why it’s called growing pains. Acknowledgement of privilege is one thing, but self-reflection on personal behaviours, biases, and beliefs requires thoughtful analysis of our innermost values. Asking yourself or others why you believe what you believe should be uncomfortable because it causes you to reflect on who you are and why you act, speak, or respond in the ways that you do. But self-reflection offers opportunities to construct something new of the old. Perhaps it is through these many individual processes of self-reflection that we, as members of a community, can work towards more equitable realities for all of us.
A few options for those looking to participate in this moment of conversation and education:
1. The National Film Board of Canada has compiled a series of videos and documentaries on anti-racism: https://www.nfb.ca/playlist/anti-racism-films/
2. For those looking to donate:
- The GoFundMe page for Regis Korchinski-Paquet.
- The Toronto Protestor Bail Fund.
- Black Lives Matter (Toronto).
- Black Lives Matter (Vancouver).
- The GoFundMe page for Chantel Moore.
3. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has resources for learning about the legacy of colonialism and residential schools in Canadian society.
4. The “We Shall Overcome” playlist on Spotify has speeches from civil rights and political leaders including Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis.
5. Books to read:
- The Skin We’re in by Desmond Cole
- A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Canada’s Indigenous Constitution by John Borrows
- The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon
- Race Matters by Cornel West
Nemee Bedar is a second-year law school student at the University of Ottawa. She is deeply interested in how socio-economic factors shape individual experiences with the law. When she’s not reading or studying for class, she enjoys running along Ottawa’s many trails.