I was raised to be racist. I was eleven and had just purchased We Shall Overcome, a songbook from the US Civil Rights movement. I brought it with me on a visit to my mom’s parents farm. I vaguely remember her discouraging me from bringing it. It would have been better if she had outright told me no, but then she would have had to tell me why. 

My grandpa was a smart, practical farmer who was way ahead of the times concerning women. He paid for my mom to finish high school by sending her with her brothers to the nearest high school a two hour train ride away. I always hung out with him when we visited the farm. He showed me how to stay on my feet riding the hay wagon, and sometimes he let me drive the old truck through the field. I thought the world of him.

Then I showed him my new book and he used the n word. Recalling it almost sixty years later, I feel nauseous. Learning my beloved grandpa was racist was devastating.

I had never met a black person. The only people of color in the small prairie town where I lived was a family who owned the local Chinese restaurant, a medical doctor from India, and the many Indigenous people who lived in the area covered by Canada’s Treaty 6. 

The only Indigenous family in our all white neighborhood lived in a run down shack that backed onto a ravine at the end of our block. Mom told us to stay away, that they were drunks and dangerous. I don’t actually remember noise or drinking. The old woman who lived there was nice when I occasionally saw her.

I have vivid memories of sitting in the back seat of our comfortable car with my sisters as we slowly drove on a Saturday night through the lower end of King Street past bars where Indigenous people were spilling out onto the streets, drunk and fighting. 

For Grade 7, I left our all white grade school. Everyone in town went to the same junior high then high school. Social groups were highly segregated by race, but by high school I was making friends with some people who were Indigenous. I was learning about racism and the civil rights movement for black people, but stereotypes and racism about Indigenous people was unspoken and unacknowledged. 

When I asked a fifteen year old friend what happened to his face one Monday, he said the cops brought him in for questioning on the weekend and pushed him down a staircase.  I believed him and I was shocked. As a white person, the police were my protectors. When I see a police car behind me on the highway, my first thought is not that I could die at their hands. 

As an adult, I made a commitment to educating myself and being actively anti-racist. I vote and donate and continue to talk about and challenge racism. And I live in a culture where I am privileged due to my white skin every day in so many ways I don’t see. I don’t have to actively participate in racism to benefit from the historic and ongoing systemic oppression of people of color. 

I challenged my mother when she said something racist. Although we had many discussions about the trauma, pain and social breakdown as impacts of colonization and residential schools, she was never able to see a broader context of racism in Canada. She had two Indigenous grandchildren who she loved as individuals. In her mind, she was not racist. Indigenous people had the same opportunities as everyone else. They needed to stop drinking and get it together. She was wrong.

In Canada, we have an ongoing process of Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous people and white settlers. A commission has been set up and across the country Residential School survivors testified to their experience of sexual and physical abuse in these church-run institutions. The stated purpose of residential schools was to “take the Indian out of the child”. Young Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families, often taken miles away, often never heard from again. We cannot understand the drunken bar fights on the lower end of King Street without acknowledging and understanding this.

In Canada, September 30th is Orange Shirt Day, a national day for truth and reconciliation. It is an opportunity to learn and digest. More information here.

Gabor Maté MD has written a new book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture. Reading the first few chapters feels like a gut punch. This is the truth part of Truth and Reconciliation and it is hard to face.

First we have to see the toxicity of what has been normalized as our culture. His book challenges us to look with clear eyes. We need to see the truth before we can change. 

This week our Sunday class is looking at race and class in part through his chapter Assaulted Sense of Self: How Race and Class Get Under the Skin. The stories and stats speak to a toxic culture. We need to know this.

If you’re still reading, let’s take a moment to breathe and be with what is here. It is hard learning about and acknowledging truth. 

My ancestors fled to Canada to escape persecution in Scotland. They moved to Nova Scotia, unceded territory of the Mi’kmaw people, and from there further west to Cree and Blackfoot lands. The British declared Canada to be available for immigration and my ancestors were part of that wave. 

I am a white Settler on Indigenous land. I benefit from systemic oppression based on race. I feel shame and responsibility. I feel like what I can do will never be enough. It will never be adequate reparation for the harm that has been and continues. 

We are not individually and directly responsible for what happened in the past or for the systemic oppression that exists now. We are individually and directly responsible for how we engage with this now.

Intersectionality means we see the connections between oppression based on gender, homophobia, race and class. Life is hard for everyone, especially right now. And it is harder for some. And the reason it is harder for some has its roots in systemic racism and toxic culture. 

Compassionate somatic mindfulness is a way to build resilience and courage. Clean pain is when we face the truth. We grow up and accept reality. We stop making excuses and take a clear look at what happened and what we can do now.

This week in our Sunday community class we’re going to look at privilege through social location, a practice I learned through Michelle C Johnson. Where are we closer to power and where are we further away? As always, we inquire, then share in small groups, then come back together. I hope you can join us.

Join us in our community class Sunday 10AM Eastern or Insight Timer Live at 11:30AM. In our community class at 10AM, we inquire then break into smaller groups to explore together. Links here.

Would you prefer to listen? You can do that here on Medium.

Truth and Reconciliation
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