Protests and demonstrations against racism are putting pressure on institutions and individuals to change. This is necessary and healthy for all of us.
Part of one major demand of the protestors is systemic* change in policing. Again this is necessary and healthy. My hope, however, is that we as a society go beyond general demands for change in one institution and make radical change in cultural racism.
Having lived in different countries and organized anti-apartheid action in Canada in the 70’s and 80’s, I have seen and felt different kinds of racism. I would say Canadian racism is different in that it is largely based on ignorance. Now I agree with one young protestor who said ignorance is no longer an excuse.
But I do know people are discriminated against because they are vulnerable, disempowered, regardless of the scale of racism. To truly end racism people need to be empowered so they are not vulnerable and denied their full human and civil rights. This means we all have a responsibility to reach out to each other, to actively include others in our social and family lives who are different than we are, and create changes in our communities and organizations that invite everyone in Canada. We all have a responsibility to demonstrate that diversity empowers us all, when we empower each other.
Canada has made systemic changes but more is necessary. Recent immigrants are now our neighbours and colleagues and creating opportunities to learn about our differences and similarities. Many Canadians have lived and travelled to different cultures and have a genuine respect and appreciation for difference. We have made a start in treating each other with respect, though we have a long way to go.
* Systemic Racism includes the policies and practices entrenched in established institutions, which result in the exclusion or promotion of designated groups. It differs from overt discrimination in that no individual intent is necessary. (Toronto Mayor’s Committee on Community and Race Relations. Race Relations: Myths and Facts)