LETTER: Systemic racism is alive and well

From reader Jill Morris...

Thank you for publishing the story on the recent community discussion regarding racism in Nelson. This is a difficult topic and it was an act of courage to hold the event and to report on it in such an open and direct manner.

It is not surprising that many white residents of Nelson are largely unaware of the racism at work in our community.

That is a significant hallmark of racism: those who benefit from the system see no problem in it. Nelson is a kinder, gentler place than many, and I trust in the good intentions of those members of our community who wrote in to express their concern and accuse the event and the report of being unfair and racist.

But I respectfully question their understanding of the issue because of their lack of direct experience and I urge them to pause in their reactions to really listen to what our neighbours of colour have to say.

And this, after all, was one of the goals of this meeting.

I was unable to attend the evening but I hope to be able to participate in the follow-up conversation being planned for some time in August.

I plan to attend to show my support for this vital conversation and to learn as much as I can so that I can be a more effective ally.

It is difficult to stay and listen when someone is telling you something that is hard to face, but if we know our history, we must acknowledge that we live in a society that is fundamentally shaped by a history of oppression.

This history continues to determine or influence many of our institutions and habits of mind and this is key to what I believe may be missing in the negative responses to the recent gathering.

There is an important difference between direct and systemic racism. It is highly unlikely that there will ever be a white-hooded parade down Baker Street; I believe that most Nelsonites do a reasonable job of recognizing and condemning acts of direct racism, but we have work to do in confronting and changing systemic racism.

Direct racism is overt: jokes, refusal of service, insults, violent attacks with clear racist purpose. Systemic racism is so much more difficult to recognize, name and change.

It is in the images and stories that surround us that celebrate a primarily white perspective, ignoring and, so, subtly degrading other perspectives.

It is also in the habits of mind when it comes to hiring, inviting neighbours to a potluck, choosing the historical events that will be taught in school, assuming the interests and skills of a person based on the colour of their skin, and the list goes on.

We need to stop responding defensively from a feeling of guilt, or a fear of guilt, and begin to listen.

If everyone’s heart is in the right place (and I believe they are) then we will learn enough to perhaps realize the full potential of this lovely town.

Jill Morris

Nelson

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