In the wake of the shooting deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in the U.S. this week, followed by the Dallas shooting that claimed the lives of five police officers yesterday, the Star spoke with a local woman of colour about her reaction to the events. She did not wish her name or photo to be published.
A community event called “Let’s talk justice, equality and power” will be held at the Nelson & District Youth Centre on Wednesday, July 20 at 5 p.m.
The event page on Facebook reads “we would like to invite everyone to join in on a conversation about our future, about racism, about sexism, about systematic oppression, colonialism and all its effects, and how we can move forward to ensure that we create the safest space we can for everyone here and those joining us in the near future.”
The Star: I saw the video of Philando Castile’s shooting death on Twitter the other day and it horrified me. What was your reaction?
It really f***ed me up.
I watched it yesterday morning and I was in tears. I was thinking of the poor little girl, four years old, sitting in the back. She was there consoling her Mom and saying ‘I’m here for you’. The fact that so many times when this happens the police can walk free even though people can see the evidence…They still question it: he could’ve done this, he shouldn’t have done that.
The Star: I’ve seen commenters blame him for being armed, and yet the victims of the Orlando shooting were criticized for not being armed.
Did you hear the statement from Philando Castile’s mother? She was on some talk show yesterday and basically she said ‘you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.’ He thought he should tell the officer he was armed and he got shot because of it. But if you say you’re not armed and you are they blame you for not being forthright.
People are excusing these police officers for murdering people. Why are they excusing it? Because they don’t want to admit this is going on?
The Star: have you tried to have conversations about race before in this community?
I feel marginalized in this community when I try to have these conversations.
People get really upset. People tell me I’m being a victim. I’ve heard people say they hate movies like 12 Years a Slave because they’re just meant to make them feel guilty for being white. And I want to say ‘how does telling someone else’s story make you feel personally guilty?’ Just because it’s not being told through a Euro-centric view doesn’t mean it’s supposed to make you feel guilty.
I do see things through a certain lens because I’m a person of colour and if I don’t have a community around me who feels the same way, it makes me feel apprehensive to participate in those conversations.
The Star: What can white people do to support you and make you feel less marginalized?
This is all tied in with being a woman, the whole Jian Ghomeshi thing. Just coming forward and saying “we believe you that this is happening”, “we stand beside you because this is wrong” but instead we’re bending over backwards to defend the aggressor.
It’s complex and it’s complicated. The key is to not shy away from those conversations when they come up.
The Star: Day to day, what’s your experience of living in Nelson as a woman of colour?
My day to day experience is I wake up, look at the mountains, I feel like a human being and breathe the fresh air and drink great coffee, I have amazing friends. That’s my day to day experience. It’s not like I’m looking around super paranoid.
But there’s certain conversations that need to be had, and I would like to have them.
There are times when things happen to me and I wonder ‘is this because I’m black?’ When I’ve applied for jobs people will move their eyes a certain way, or here’s an example: someone came into my place of work the other day, they asked me a question and I gave them the answer. Then they asked my white coworker, who gave them the same information, and that was okay. I was thinking “was my answer not good enough?”, “did I not give you the right information?”
It’s implicit, it’s not explicit.
The Star: But sometimes is it overt?
I’ve heard people use the N-word and then defend their use of it. They don’t realize or care about the impact it has.
Years ago I was at a (nightclub) and I had someone say something to me. My friends didn’t know how to react, they just sort of stood there. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he used the N-word and nobody knew what to say.
After he walked away his friend came up and apologized privately and my friends said ‘we can’t believe that happened’.
Then another time I was out for dinner and a guy approached me. He told me I wasn’t really human because Adam and Eve weren’t black. As if the Bible has their race in there. And again people said “I can’t believe that just happened”. They can’t believe it because they don’t want to believe it.
They want to think it’s in the past. But it’s actions like that which make me feel unsafe. I told the establishment and they did nothing.
The Star: Do you feel like you have the agency and social support to stand up to instances of racism?
Where I’m working now I feel totally supported, but that’s because we have this dialogue.
The Star: Why did you choose to live in Nelson?
When I came here I’d moved around a lot, but I got this overwhelming sense of home I’d never gotten anywhere else. It was like a spiritual, cosmic thing.
I want to make it clear, though we’re focusing on the topic of racism, that I don’t think Nelson is a horrible place to live where I’m being pushed aside. I feel I am an active and valuable and valued part of the community, and I feel valued here. For the most part people share my values of strengthening community and love of art and love of nature.
I love the fact I know my next door neighbours and my local reporter. I know the person behind the counter at the bank. I know my friends’ kids. I feel safe for the most part, but when we’re talking about this topic I often don’t feel safe. I’m not walking around thinking about this all the time, but it’s always there in the back of my mind.
The Star: What are your feelings on the Black Lives Matter movement?
I don’t know enough about the movement to make an educated statement on their actions that have been in the media, but I do stand by the statement “Black Lives Matter” and I think it’s important for people to understand.
A common rebuttal is “All Lives Matter” which in my opinion negates the urgency of the issue and causes people to remain silent rather than standing up to what is obviously an injustice. If we don’t have these conversations nothing’s going to change.
I don’t believe in moral absolutism. This isn’t something light. This isn’t just a hashtag. This needs action. People are being murdered in cold blood.