OPINION | When will we see past colour?
Racism is a pandemic that's been infecting our society for hundreds of years
This column is an opinion from Dr. Tito Daodu, a pediatric surgery fellow at the Alberta Children's Hospital.
I am a Canadian. I am a surgeon. I am an advocate for child health and welfare. I am a Harvard graduate student. I am a researcher. I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a partner. I am a friend. I am a Black woman.
If you meet me, you will see a Black woman. That's not a judgment. It's a fact. I'm not asking you to be colour blind. Yet some never see past Black woman.
I remember the day I learned I was a Black woman. The day that I was called "Medusa" by children in my class because of the braids in my hair. The day I was asked if my mother was kicked in the stomach when she was pregnant with me, making my nose flat. The day I was told that I had to play the Black power ranger on the playground, even though he was a boy.
I remember all the days I was reminded I was a Black woman when I had almost forgotten.
The day I was asked to leave a store I was browsing in with my sister when on vacation, when not a single cab stopped to pick us up in the pouring rain. I recall when my full name didn't fit on my driver's licence and it was met with disdain, not empathy, by the attendant. The day I was told by a white friend that the only reason I got into medical school, and she didn't, is because I was there to fill a quota. The day a patient refused to see me because he was expecting "someone else."
I've retained each time a stranger thought it was OK to reach out and touch my hair. I remember every time that I was the only Black person in a room, a conference or a class.
A lens by which I am judged
"Black woman" is not a category that I worked hard for or earned. It is merely the way I was born, and something I can't hide. Yet it remains a lens by which I am judged.
I believed I could use accomplishments to erase my Blackness. I have learned how to fit in. I have learned how to stay quiet and nod, as people around me made inappropriate comments. I have learned to pretend that it doesn't bother me; to pretend that I am beyond race and stereotypes. But I am done pretending.
Breonna Taylor's accomplishments and the hard work she did for her community as an EMT did not erase her Blackness. George Floyd's Blackness was the only thing that mattered as his life was literally snuffed out. These are just two of the most recent lives lost to police brutality in America.
In Canada, we are good at smugly pointing the finger at our neighbours to the south, but we are not innocent. Our systems also have racism built into them.
Police brutality against persons of colour is not just an American problem; it's a Canadian problem. And systemic racism is alive in Canada. I have lived it. Not a single member of my family has been immune. It's exhausting to have to explain it all the time.
I don't want to fulfil the stereotype of an angry Black woman. But I am ANGRY. Many people have been angered by the loss of their favourite activities and plans during the coronavirus pandemic. Racism is a pandemic that's been infecting our society for hundreds of years!
I am angry because of all of the lives needlessly lost due to systemic racism. I am angry because I am tired of sentiment without action. I am angry because we've had decades, even centuries, of marches and protests, but so little has actually changed. I am angry at myself for being silent and complicit. I am angry on behalf of every Black girl in Canada who is just learning that her skin tone will factor into the way she is treated in society.
We cannot go on like this. We can't rally in the streets and raise our voices only to watch everything stay the same. We can't keep letting history repeat itself again and again. We can't put a Black woman on our currency and pretend that the problem is solved.
Has there been progress? Yes. But we are far away from being done.
We must act
We have to speak up in our workplaces, schools and communities. And if we are privileged enough to have the power to change policies about how we hire, train and teach, we should make those changes and not just contemplate them.
We shouldn't just make statements and stand in solidarity. We must act in solidarity.
This is not the time for Canadians to be quiet and polite. It is time for us to rise, speak up and act out our convictions. It's time for us to stop having this recurring conversation and then forgetting about it when the hype wears down.
Some of us don't have the privilege of forgetting. We can't forget because we live in a reality of subtle and overt oppression due to the colour of our skin.
It's 2020. Seriously. It is 2020.
Dr. King's children did not grow up in a world where they were judged solely by the content of their character. His grandchildren are not growing up in that world either.
We have a real chance to use the current moment. We have an opportunity to set a new course and ensure that the children born this year grow up without the spectre of systemic racism. #BlackLivesMatter