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Not calling out racism 'is killing us,' Yellowknife mom says

A Yellowknife mother of three young boys says watching George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for his life while dying under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer last month, was a stark reminder about the reason why we need to talk about racism, even if it’s an uncomfortable discussion.

On protests, George Floyd's death, 2 Yellowknifers reflect on experiences with racism

'As a mother, you don't want to take their innocence away from them too soon. But you want them to be aware of the world as it is so they'll be safe,' says Inemesit Graham, a Yellowknife mother of three. (Dave Brosha Photography)

"Hey, blackie!"

It's not something you would think to hear at a funeral. But that's what was shouted a few years ago when Inemesit Graham was attending one for her father-in-law's friend.

As the only black person in a crowd of a hundred, she felt mortified.

"No one in the crowd said anything," she said during an interview with The Trailbreaker's Loren McGinnis.

"It's incidents like this, if you see it happen, even on a small scale, call it out because every single time that you don't call it out you empower men to get murdered on the street."

The Yellowknife mother of three young boys said watching George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for his life while dying under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer last month, was a stark reminder about the reason why we need to talk about racism, even if it's an uncomfortable discussion.

"Not wanting to make other people uncomfortable is killing us," she said.

Floyd's death has sparked protests across the United States and around the world. Here in Canada, massive rallies across the country took place on Friday to call for change and remember the black lives lost at the hands of police.

One life in particular is seared in Graham's memory and influences her parenting.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy, was fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer in 2014 while holding a pellet gun near a public park.

When Graham's son recently wanted to play in the park with a water gun, she freaked out and told him no.

Graham and her three sons Asher, MJ and Nate. (Submitted by Inemesit Graham)

"As a mother, you don't want to take their innocence away from them too soon. But you want them to be aware of the world as it is so they'll be safe. And my response to him was like, 'I just don't want people to see you as dangerous.'

"But my thought was your skin already makes people see you as more dangerous than somebody whose skin is lighter than you."

Cynthia Mufandaedza, a business owner and city councillor in Yellowknife, knows anti-black racism is not confined to the United States.

"It's not a U.S. problem, it's not a Canada problem, it is also right here in the Northwest Territories," she said.

Cynthia Mufandaedza hopes sharing stories about anti-black racism will help raise awareness and bring about change. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

On more than one occasion, she said her husband, who's also black, has been targeted in the city.

In one instance, she said a store owner called the police and told them a black man was threatening them after her husband questioned the owner about a bill for a service.

She said when the police showed up, they told her husband he was under arrest.

She said they made a formal complaint to the RCMP but dropped it because it would take too long to process.

Mufandaedza hopes sharing these stories will raise awareness, the key she says, to bring about change.

"We would like to see police officers get trained on diversity, we would like to see a lot of policy changes around these problems," she said.

"As long as we're the only ones screaming, our voices will be drowned out. We need the majority to be just as angry, to be just as aware and to stand up for us."

Written by John Van Dusen, based on interviews by Loren McGinnis produced by Kate Kyle

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