- Malini Ondrovcik, M.A., RP, C.C.C.
I’m not racist, but…
I simultaneously love and hate the fact that racism is at the forefront of attention at the moment. As a visible minority, on the one hand, it is refreshing to know that people of all walks of life are beginning to recognize the prevalence of this problem, but on the other hand, I can’t help but feel the air of tension from people on one side or the other of the issue, not to mention the discomfort I can feel oozing off some people when speaking with me about any issue of diversity. I have thought and re-thought the idea of writing a blog about this topic, because like everyone else, despite the fact that I am a visible minority, I don’t want to say the wrong thing, or even say the right thing but the wrong way. I’ve decided to channel 13-year-old me, who presented a speech in front of my class, school, as well as a community organization about racism, and didn’t care what others would say. While this only dates back to the 90s it certainly wasn’t something anyone really talked about, and I can tell you that growing up in a city and neighbourhood that was predominantly white, third and fourth generation Canadians, my family was quite unique… not the, “Oh, cool you have a pet parrot” kind of unique, but more the “Ew, what is that in your lunch” kind of unique.
At 13, I had been at the same school my whole life, had great friends I had known from a young age, and did great in school. It took some reflection today to remember why at 13 I thought it would be important to talk about such an uncomfortable subject in front of so many people. Growing up, I obviously knew I was different, for many reasons, but it didn’t really bother me. As a very observant child, however, as I aged, I started noticing passive racism being directed at my family, namely my father who has always been quite outspoken. This fact is important, as even though he rarely takes crap from anyone, there are a few key times that I recall despite the overt racist comments or treatment, he stayed quiet. I knew it was wrong but couldn’t understand why it was happening.
So, what’s my point? What does this have to do with what is going on in the world today? Well, it should come as no surprise that racism and prejudice have been around in some way, shape, or form for as long as people have been around. What I personally take issue with is the appearance in the media of what seems to be an epiphany to a number of different groups--racism is alive and happening now and has been happening forever. Racism is not a new concept, nor is it always obvious. Racism is unconsciously skipping over a resume because you can’t pronounce a name. Racism is assuming that immigrants who are new to the country are here to collect social assistance, or better yet, are here to take your jobs. Racism is the confused look you give the white man who is at the park with his biracial child. Agree with me or not, but racism is also appropriating the concept of racism as if it is something you yourself can somehow understand or have experienced when it is so incredibly far outside of your radar.
So, back to 13-year-old me. What did I accomplish other than making other people uncomfortable with my speech? Until only recently, I hadn’t given this a second thought, but it is my sincere hope that the sheer discomfort I caused all those years ago at the very least created a moment of pause and reflection about why on earth this little girl is talking about such a topic. I believe that the same holds true today with the protesting and upheaval which is taking place—the role, in my opinion, of those who are not living racism is to take a moment to reflect on their own lives, choices, behavior, as well as conscious or unconscious biases and make real changes in your daily life. Making real, individual changes in your behavior and thoughts are far more meaningful and lasting than changing your social media profile picture to a black square. What is truly needed at this time is a society that approaches diversity with curiosity, acceptance of what you don’t know or understand, and a genuine desire to be kind to people of all races because you want to, not because it’s cool right now.