White People: Understand your power and use it to dismantle racism!


By Kendra Carpenter © 2020

White people: it’s time we understand the power we wield as white people in a society deeply unequal by race, and use that power to dismantle racism. I’m speaking to you here, as well as myself, as a white person. Systemic white supremacy and racism — the foundation of both the U.S. and Canada — is alive and well and you and I unethically benefit from it. Understand that you’ve been sleepwalking and you need to wake yourself up.

Want to start now? Here are some ideas:

Understand your racist programming
Whether you were aware of it or not, or wanted it or not, the system programmed you to be racist. It enrolled you through consistent, ongoing messages since you were born, and deeply assimilated you. It’s wasn’t just you — it programs everyone. We’ve all internalized and reproduced white and male supremacist ideas, in our families, workplaces, social circles, and in our own minds. We’ve kept silent when we should have spoken up, we’ve allowed all white spaces or leadership teams to run unchecked, we’ve modeled racist tropes to our kids. This programming didn’t start with you or me — but we must be responsible for interrupting it now.

Understand your socialization into whiteness
Understand that you were socialized into a white racial identity. Although you were likely unaware of this, it was still happening. It may be new or unnerving for you to see yourself as a member of a social identity group (white), but stay with it. Whiteness has been normalized. You’ve internalized yourself as the default human; rendering everyone else an ‘other.’ This is where your unconscious bias and sense of superiority can crop up, expressing itself when you tone police others, when you judge people with different ways as incompetent, when you assume your lived experiences are universal.

Know that while this may be the first time seeing yourself as white, people of color have likely always seen you and dealt with you as white. This does not discount you as a unique individual, but rather situates you within the larger experience of a group identified as white. Allow it, if you will, to create empathy in you for members of historically and currently racialized groups, who likely have ample experience of being treated as a member of a group primarily or instead of being seen as a unique person.

Understand your unearned, unethical advantage
Understand you have unethically (even if unintentionally) benefitted from the oppression of others, by colluding in a pre-arranged uneven contest — what U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal calls “unjust by design.” Understand your advantage is not having to be followed in a store while shopping, not having to constantly prove your competence to your white colleagues or white boss (unless of course you’re a woman of any phenotype), not having to deal with racial slurs/biases/aggressions, not having to deal with the police murdering you because you’re jogging while Black or sleeping while Black or the RCMP harassing and harming you because you’re walking while Indigenous or an Indigenous woman or for being Black brown Indigenous or racialized in any setting, time or place.

Understand that, according to abundant data, your white skin means that you will likely make more money, have more accumulated wealth, own your own house, live in an area with good schools, have more access to quality healthcare, have better health, and have a longer life span. You are less likely to die of Covid-19, and less likely to be stopped and killed by the police. You are more likely to get enough pain medicine when you’re ill, to be given empathy, to be promoted for your good work. It is very likely that you will never have to have ‘the talk’ about police brutality with your children.

I’m sure you worked hard. And, you also benefitted, and continue to benefit, unfairly, from the racist policies put in place to keep you up and others down. These are intentional policies, not accidental. Please, read and understand history. Learn who has been valued, protected, and included, and who has not been. See you have an unfair white-skin advantage in this racial hierarchy we’re in, and use it to increase the advantages of others. Use it to speak out against injustice, to call out other white people.

Understand your complicity
See all the ways in which the white supremacist system foils any insight into the system by gaslighting you, by feeding you lies so you can feel good about yourself and carry on while others are exploited, terrorized, criminalized and killed. See where you argue for your goodness, or the goodness of the system based on your lived experience, rather than listening to the lived experiences of others. Trust the lived experiences of others. Ask yourself why it takes many people to convince you that their experiences living in and surviving in a white supremacist society are real.

Understand how you have unconsciously participated in the white supremacist scripts, maintained silence, and reproduced white dominance in your interpersonal relationships. See where you’ve made decisions to uphold white solidarity, white representation, white comfort. See where you’ve worked to assimilate others. See it and interrupt it.

Be okay being uncomfortable, because you will be; when you interrupt racism and white dominance you reveal the unequal system and upset the equilibrium that keeps white people in comfort, colluding. That’s good. The equilibrium is white comfort at the expense of the lives of everyone else.

Understand your impact
Understand that your perception of yourself is limited. Understand that others who identify as Black or Indigenous or a person of color, others who have swum in the waters of white culture and hierarchy and control and dominance are well-aware of your and my whiteness and rightly may see you and me as a threat/danger or at least a burden or major inconvenience to work around.

Reckon with the cumulative stress from racist terrorism that keeps people exhausted and hypervigilant, in a state of heightened fear and awareness, like a second job that takes energy, effort and work, something Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan describes as being “on yellow alert” all the time. Reckon with the legacy of the police who protect you but not others — understand the origins of the U.S. police were slave patrols, and the origins of the Canadian RCMP were Indigenous patrols — intentionally set up to control, bully, terrorize and literally keep people ‘in their place.’ Educate yourself.

Pay attention to your impact; don’t focus on your good intention. If you notice where you’re complicit, or someone calls you out for being racist, acknowledge your impact, apologize and repair. To acknowledge your negative impact on another — with or without your explicit intention — is reckoning with the system in yourself. And doing so makes it much more likely you can be a partner in this work.

Understand our shared humanity
Understand your humanity is tied to all humanity. We are, literally, a human family. We started in Eastern Africa. We migrated all around the world. We’re all Africans. We’re all migrants. We’re all immigrants. We’re all sisters and brothers. We are family. When one family member is ill, everyone is impacted. We must heal the injury that is on our familial one body. And we must start with ourselves. Seeing our own humanity. Seeing that we exist beyond the capitalist function of producing something. Seeing that we have intrinsic value, de-coupled from what we achieve, do, fix.

As a person committed to ethics, justice, peace, equity and a world that works for all, and as a leader educating organizations on how to be anti-racist, I must do the work to show up anti-racist. I must intervene with individuals and organizations who are white supremacist and racist. I have found this takes courage, humility, leadership, and a deep heartfelt connection to our common humanity.

Anti-racist work takes what I call heart-iness — the practice of being centered in your heart, in compassion, empathy, and truth. It’s being courageous enough to actually feel the sorrow, the grief, the anger, the shame, and the whole range of emotions that arise when we awaken to our unwitting complicity as white people in an unethical, oppressive system.

Sufi poet and philosopher Jalal ad din Muhammed Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” To dismantle inhumane systems, we must start within our own systems, our own individual bodies and minds. To sense and feel what comes up and not run away. To touch the sorrow of our legacy of colonizing and brutalizing others. To feel the pain of reproducing a racial caste system we don’t believe in. To feel all of it and in doing so to deepen our commitment to humanity, to justice, and to anti-racist action. To awaken more deeply to our own humanity so that we can awaken to our greater humanity.

Understand! And do the work for yourself, for all.

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50 Years in Canada: Reflections of Gratitude


By Farhad Desai. © 2020 Beyond Binary Consulting. 

My first memory of life was in December, 1970. I was two-and-a-half, holding my mother’s hand, and walking to Thorncliffe Plaza in the freezing rain – or pokey rain, as I called it then. We walked into the plaza, where the Salvation Army was doing a Christmas Toy Drive. One of the volunteers asked my mother if it would be alright if they put me on top of the toys and then put my picture in the paper. Welcome to life in Canada.

Just a few months earlier, on May 22, 1970 – 50 years ago today – my mother, father, brother and I arrived in Toronto as immigrants from Bombay, India. At that time, there was no social media, no What’s App, no Zoom, and not even email to keep in touch with friends and loved ones. There were very expensive long-distance phone calls that you had to arrange in advance with the operator. There were letters with stamps that took weeks to reach their destination, and then weeks to get the reply. There was limited access to news, sports, and entertainment from India – or many other parts of the world. There were no translation apps, and no YouTube videos of people talking about their experiences before and after moving to Canada. No cultural training.

In 1970, Toronto was Canada’s second-largest city and Montreal, the largest. But the 1970s brought terrorism against Anglos in Quebec. That started to unnerve all the corporations that had Headquarters in Montreal and there soon began an exodus to Toronto. Small businesses and families followed.

And it didn’t stop with people from Quebec. Toronto grew as Canada’s business city, and people from all over the country came here for jobs. Plus, every year in school we had students arriving from different parts of the world. Of course, we were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. But there were also kids from England, Scotland, Ireland, Poland, France, West Germany, Austria, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Ukraine, Finland, Japan, Egypt, Armenia, Greece, Portugal, and Italy. We got American refugees, avoiding the draft for the Vietnam war. Add to that, new students arriving from Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Israel, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and I’m sure I’m still leaving out so many more countries. After a few years, Toronto overtook Montreal as Canada’s largest city.

Back then, we still had the six boroughs that made up the city – this was the main inspiration behind the nickname, the 6ix, as Toronto is popularly known today. Of course, there were no Raptors yet, no Blue Jays, and perhaps most amazingly, only three years removed since the Leafs last won the last Stanley Cup. We were still six years away from bragging about the CN Tower, and nineteen years before we saw Alan Thicke open the SkyDome. Toronto had a modest skyline, not yet filled with bank towers and condos.

The touristy neighbourhood districts like Little India, Little Italy, and Greek Town, were not touristy areas yet. They were known as foreign districts of the city, neighbourhoods where new Canadians would begin their lives here.

There was no citizenship test and no ceremony. We’ve watched the Canadian government create the immigration system we know today, create policies and infrastructure, and even a ministry of multiculturalism. In 1982, we witnessed the creation of the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This helped judges clarify their definitions of human rights, and that has led to changes in equity and quality of life in Canada in a remarkably short time.

These days, my wife and I take walks in a ravine nature trail near our apartment. Along with the breathtaking views and wildlife all around us, we marvel at the number of languages we hear. In 1970, new Canadians would be very cautious and mindful about speaking their native languages publicly. Today, the PM tells us diversity is our strength. And I agree with him.

Countries today compete over who gets the most qualified immigrants. The words, multicultural and international are beginning to describe every major city in the world. We live in a time when more people have the ability to choose where they want to live and move there in a matter of hours, not days, weeks, months, or years.

Cities and countries around the world are all trying to figure out how to successfully integrate new citizens. The nations that learn to leverage the diversity of the world for the betterment of each nation will be the leaders. Canada is in a good position to be one of those leaders.

Sir John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, and one of the key founders of the Dominion of Canada, was a Scottish immigrant. He was only five years old when his family made their long trek to Upper Canada in 1820. His family came here because his father was in debt and wanted to start a new life for his family. This country accepts people from all over the world, puts them in a position for success and then reaps the benefits of a happy, healthy, well-educated, engaged, productive population.

Today, it feels like my life has come full circle. My wife is American. We lived in the US for five years, where she sponsored me as a permanent resident. Now, 50 years after arriving in Canada, I’m sponsoring her to be a permanent resident here, as we stay with my parents during the lockdown. And who knows, if she decides she wants to be a citizen, I’d finally attend my first Canadian citizenship ceremony.

So many of us have come to Canada for peace and opportunity. All of us together, over the years, have created the nation that we all enjoy today.

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Meditation in the Time of a Global Pandemic

© 2020 Beyond Binary Consulting. Pictured in photo: Farhad Desai. Photo by Kendra Carpenter.

By Farhad Desai

There are moments in history when the comforting structures of our lives are suddenly revealed to be illusions. And those illusions are shattered into millions of pieces right before our eyes. I believe this global pandemic is one of those moments. Some countries dealt with COVID-19 with denial, hoping to preserve comforting illusions of stability and exceptionalism, and hoped it would pass without fanfare. Others saw it for what it was and took action quickly.

We can think of our own lives the same way. When we’re faced with something unpredictable, unpleasant, or potentially life-changing, it can seem easier to deny it, to look the other way, or just hope it doesn’t impact us the way it has impacted them. And let’s be honest, for some of us, this has been a fairly successful strategy at times. But right now, we are all impacted by the virus. Regardless of class, nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, phenotype, personality type, or communication style, denial will not help. We’re all watching old comforting illusions shatter and new paradigms form. And we’re all trying to navigate the quickly-changing nature of our lives, moment by moment. From global partnerships and economic alliances to what effective leadership looks like to who essential workers are to seeing what our personal priorities are. Everything is in flux right now.

At times like this, we have several choices in front of us. We can double-down on our illusions and hope the problem goes away. We can maintain certain aspects of the illusion that comfort us, and avoid the troubling parts. Or, we can take the bold action of acceptance. Acknowledge that what used to bring me comfort has now broken apart and been revealed as an illusion. Instead of picking up the pieces of illusion and attempting to put them back together, I can discard the broken shards and sit with the feelings of what is actually happening, even if those feeling are fear, loss, sadness, boredom, anger, powerlessness, or even happiness.

This is the opportunity that meditation gives us. It can provide us with many of the skills and tools necessary to help us navigate our thoughts and feelings, specifically at a time like this.

I don’t think of meditation as a suppressant, or a quick-fix solution to problems. I see it as part of an ongoing lifestyle and as an awakener of my mind. Meditation clears off the thick layers of dust that cover my lens of life. It scrapes clean all the psychic plaque that can build up without maintenance. It allows me to experience my life more fully and clearly. It provides a space for me to sit with myself – everything, the happy, the sad, the fear, the doubt, the insecurity – and not get stuck or overwhelmed with any one moment of stress.

With practice, we learn to focus on healthy choices, which often lead to more healthy choices. We learn to see life as it is, fully, clearly, with perspective, and without running away from our thoughts and feelings, when they are unpleasant.

Instead, we become stronger. We’re able to accept what is happening within us and around us. We are able to make choices that help us move forward in a healthy way and also give others around us permission to be calm, focused, grounded, and transparent in times of panic.

With practice, meditation gives us all the chance to be the leaders we are waiting for. And helps us to move forward. Together.

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