Dear reader, I want to ask you, how are you sleeping?
Are you tossing and turning all night long, your mind running over and over the same thoughts? “A statue of a 17 century slave trader was toppled and thrown to the sea.” “The city of Minneapolis has announced it will disband its police force.” “Is this change?? It feels like change.” “My son, his skin is the lightest of browns! How do I start to teach him about the privilege of his skin?”
On and on and on and on for the last two weeks, this is my mind at night. I am a non-black person of colour. My skin is light brown and my hair wavy. I am the product of mestizaje, the mixing of white Spanish Europeans, the native peoples of el Zulia, and black slaves, that took place during the birth of Venezuela. For years I have tried to understand how racism and discrimination based on skin colour and cultural background played a role in my life as an immigrant in Canada. This is not the subject of this reflection.
The subject of this reflection is how I, a brown-skinned person, have benefited from being closer along the line to “white” in the artificial colour scale created by white supremacy, than somebody who was born black.
Prior to May 2020, I had considered myself educated, that I had done and that I was constantly doing my homework. But if the pain and rage unleashed by the murder of George Floyd, as well as Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery has taught us something, is that this wasn’t and was never going to be enough. The inescapable truth is that all along, us, people of colour, needed to speak up, stand up, march alongside, and protect our black family and friends, for they have experienced something that we never, ever will.
I know that confusion and fear stopped many of us. But no more. It is imperative for us to talk right now, right at this historical moment. I want to look back back at May 2020 and know I spoke up, that I stood up. Because maybe I’m naïve, maybe I’m again being a hopeless optimist, but this feels like it is a true inflection in history. And I’m not afraid of being accused of virtual signalling. This is the record I leave as a citizen living through these times that I am joining my voice to the fight, and that I will never again confuse my own experience of discrimination with the racism suffered by Black people.
Earlier in the year, I tossed and turned all night thinking about the pandemic. It continues to keep me up at night. We can’t forget that after George Floyd was murdered, people had to break their own quarantine and put their lives at risk to go protest in the streets.
But I keep thinking too: Could 2020 finally be the year when we understand the power of the collective? Could the experience of going through the lockdown both to protect ourselves, but mainly to protect each other, have something to do with people finally being real allies to Black people?
The experts and the historians and the social scientists will determine that. What it’s true is that this feels different, like true progress, something we so rarely get to see so clearly, lost as slow progress is in the passing of time and the complexities of history.
So I just have to say, may this be the moment when we understand what it takes to bring about real change, how our individual, small actions do help to bring about collective change. And if right now we must remain laser-focused on the black experience, may this be the lesson on how we need to stand up and speak up for other people who are systematically discriminated against—for example, our Indigenous peoples here in Canada.
And while we cannot all be activists—that’s a calling that a few brave among us decide to take on and for that I’m so thankful—we can, as concerned citizens, as concerned human beings, do our part to combat racism wherever we are and whenever we see it. We need to call it out, call it by its name, and help eradicate it.
The inadequacy I have been feeling for weeks now is not Black people’s problem. I personally have to get over the fear that everything I say feels inadequate. I have a blog and I choose to say what I think and what I’m experiencing right now, but even if you don’t do it vocally, we can all individually get over the feeling of inadequacy by reading, learning, quietly listening to Black people’s experiences, by trying to understand—and not judge—the moment, the rage, the destruction.
One last thought: a few years ago, at the peak of the Venezuelan crisis in what is now an over 20-year dictatorship, I got dragged into a heated discussion with a random guy at a party who wanted to discuss Chavez. It was soon clear he was an admirer of Chavez and that he would question and refute every single one of my statements about the repressive and corrupt regime Chavez had implemented. It was enraging and exhausting. At one point, after over an hour of discussion I told him, “Please, please, stop! I don’t want to talk about this anymore!” It was not my job to teach him anything about Venezuela and my experience.
Black people are exhausted. They have been telling their story ever since they were able to speak, write, sing, dance—which is from the beginning of their enslavement. They have told us everything we need to know about their oppression and their suffering. Don’t ask them again to teach you; to learn and to change is our job and our job alone.