Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

While America Laughed

The news broke today that actor and comedian Bill Cosby had been found guilty of sexual assault against ex-basketball player Andrea Constand. At 80 years of age, and after a long life in the spot-light, Bill Cosby’s final years will be spent behind bars.

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Andrea Constand surrounded by supporters following a guilty verdict in the Bill Cosby rape case. –Getty Images

Over 60 other women have come forward over the years to describe abuses that span over several decades, but due to statute of limitations, only one of those cases has been brought to trial. Several of these women were in the courtroom today. They openly wept and cheered when the verdict was read. They finally had justice.

This news has saddened me deeply. Not because Bill Cosby is “America’s Dad”, the man who made us laugh and cry on a weekly basis during the 80’s and early 90’s. But because while he was in front of the camera, accepting accolades and adoration from his millions of fans around the world, there were 60 different women living with the unbearable trauma of what he had done to them; the violation of their body and their will, and knowing that they may never convince a world that the man adored for selling Pudding Pops and Jello-O was actually a sexual predator. The cost of our entertainment was far too great, and I fear it is the very thing that blinded us.

I grew up with Bill Cosby. My father loved reading his books and listening to his comedy tapes. There are very few good memories of my childhood that aren’t linked to Bill Cosby.  He was a fantastic actor that played his part so well– he had the world fooled that his on-screen and on-stage persona was his true self–but the art is in his duplicity. The mark of a great thespian is the ability to become someone you aren’t, and the verdict this week proved that he gave an award winning performance his entire life. His trophy is now a 6×6 cell.  His final bow is a tragic end in a comedy of errors.

But then I contemplated about the impact of the verdict and why it was so significant. There is little question the entertainment industry has consumed pop culture. We define our lives around the television shows and movies we watch. The portrayers of the characters we adore are played by flawed men and women, and never has that been more apparent than this past year. Each new accusation brought to public attention has spawned further discussion about sexual misconduct and who to believe. Women who have previously been afraid to speak up or point fingers are finding camaraderie among the countless others who suffered just as they have. But as a public, we contribute to the stigma preventing women from coming forward. We resist believing these women because we are so attached to the body of work these men were a part of, and to admit their guilt tarnishes the craft they helped create. Will anyone be able to sit and watch The Cosby Show ever again without thinking of the allegations levied against its largest star? Its doubtful.

But the bravery of the women who have been stepping forward is remarkable. Even in the face of continual pushback when they try to speak their truth from people who refuse to believe their idols are capable of such horrendous crimes, they are making their voices heard. And the momentum is continually building. And it was necessary, especially after the outcry from women all across the world when the verdict for the Brock Turner case was announced. The victim impact statement was the plea for justice heard around the world, and it was the plea that was ignored and dismissed by a judge who only saw a young man’s talent.

If you don’t remember her statement, here is a reminder of what no one should ever forget:

You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.

A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person…When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing.

On that morning, all that I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately.

One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article. In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. This was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work. I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me.

The rest can be heard here. (Her words still haunt me. She had a legal system that believed her, and still she received little justice for her ordeal.)

Brock Turner was sentenced to only 6 months in jail, and only served 3 of those 6 months. The woman he assaulted will have to spend the rest of her life trying to cope with the trauma he inflicted on her when she was unconscious and vulnerable. But because he was a young man with potential and talent, he was excused and his crime was minimized by a lighter sentence.

There is still a public outrage concerning that trial, and I suspect it is precisely one of the reasons why there is such a movement among women to take back the power and the dignity these men robbed from them. Talent and power and wealth is no longer a protector of the guilty against facing their accusers. Whether it be a loss of status, a loss of employment, a loss of respect or a loss of freedom. Some argue that the price of a tarnished reputation is too great, that simply the whisper of inappropriate behaviour is enough to sink a career for any of these men. Some have even said that the women were asking for it, they wanted it, what did they expect when they pursued a famous person in such a way. All of these statements are inherently wrong because it places a greater value on talent then it does on a person’s right to have autonomy over their own body.

Women have worked tirelessly to break barriers for a hundred years in order to even the playing field in terms of rights, professions and status. Women were fed the lie by men in powerful positions that in order to get a head they had to put out and shut up, but therein lied the deception, because the men were never going to allow the women to get ahead. And so long as the men could control and manipulate with sex, they could keep the power. So now the men are having to pay their due. And sadly, the largest one to fall is the one who broke the most barriers within his career. But his success is not enough to keep him from facing the consequences of his crimes, not anymore.

The price of our entertainment should never be at the expense of someone else’s denied consent. Not anymore.

The tragic and the comic lie inseparably close, like light and shadow.

–Socrates

 

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Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

How I Learned to Have Boundaries Written by: David Sutcliffe

“I used to have a hard time saying no. And being direct about what I wanted.

I often found myself accommodating others, doing things I didn’t want to do. This would lead to lingering resentment, and if it persisted, an explosion of blame and victimization.

If I finally confronted someone the response was usually, “Well, why didn’t you say something?!”

It’s a good point. People are not mind readers, nor should we expect them to be.

Read More

Cancer Battle

Learning to Fly While Falling

Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.

Leonardo da Vinci

I had just come to the end of an exceptionally traumatic year. Circumstances beyond my control had thrown my world upside down and I was forced to work through the emotionally exhausting work of repairing my life. The feeling like I had absolutely no control over my life was both angering and frightening.

It was a beautiful day in late August. The journey was long, but the anticipation was more than a distraction. At first I thought our GPS had taken us down a wrong turn because it looked like we were in the middle of Nowhere, Ontario, but driving a little further down the dirt country road and we saw the sign that told us we had arrived. The air was still, the sun was warm and there were beautiful fluffy white clouds dotting the sky as far as the eye could see. We were early but I figured if I showed up early, maybe they would take me sooner. I had wanted to do this for a long time but indecision was my driving force behind complacency. It was only when my world had come crashing down that I was prompted to act.  And today was the day, I was finally going to jump out of an airplane.

If I was going to be put into a situation where I felt out-of-control I wanted to be the one who put myself in that position rather than what I had experienced over the past twelve months.

I walked into the trailer adjacent the airport hangar where I was greeted by a youthful young woman. She had me fill out the necessary paperwork, including the waiver releasing them from liability in the event that I died, and then I was instructed to wait.

We waited for three hours.

Others were ahead of me. Dozens of brave, crazy, and enigmatic people were all waiting to be take up into the sky just to free-fall back toward the earth. My excitement was palpable and I could feel the rush of adrenaline before I was even hooked into my harness.

My son, in an attempt to disarm me, had told me in the days before about a woman who had gone sky diving on her birthday, she was seventy or something, and she had fallen out of her harness while in free-fall. I looked up the video online and sure enough, that actually happened. She survived but note to self: don’t loosen harness. When the airport owner took us all aside to instruct us on the finer points of safety and what we needed to know I was immediately reassured. I would be strapped to a qualified and certified jumper who was going to do all of the hard work. All I had to do was keep my head back, feet held back between his legs, and jump when he says jump!

The ride in the little two prop plane was bumpy, and we were all packed in like happy sardines. The men and women who had jumped a thousand times before were raucous and care-free, I liked them all immediately. I wanted to be like them.

At an elevation of approximately 17, 000 feet the plane hatch was opened and it was time for us to go. Looking down all I could see was white. The jump out of the airplane was seamless; it looked like all we had done was leap into a layer of freshly fallen snow. I was damp, my hair was wind-whipped and my ears needed to be popped but the rush of falling at exceptionally fast speed—faster than any motor vehicle on land—was amazingly liberating.  Descending through the clouds and eventually seeing the ground come into view propelled my line of sight across a vast landscape of farmland and shoreline approaching at an alarmingly quick pace.

Once we pulled our chute we were jerked immediately into a slow descent and my tandem jumper estimated we were then at an elevation of approximately 5,000 feet. The lack of sound at that height was mesmerizing. I could hear the sound of my own heartbeat as we gracefully floated down toward the waiting earth below. It was the first time I had experienced peace since my world had been torn apart and my urge to sob in gratuitous response surged through my body. This is what it must feel like to fly. I didn’t want my feet to find solid ground.

But we did land. I didn’t die. And life moved forward. My emotions began to heal and my anger ebbed away.

I couldn’t control the circumstances that turned my world upside down, but it didn’t kill me. If I can survive jumping from an airplane then I could survive anything.

A year later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My world again had been ripped from beneath my feet, but it hasn’t killed me yet. And I am still here, still living and breathing and still remembering what it was like to fly.

Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

#CanadaStrong and Mighty

Media is releasing the names of the victims of a senseless attack that occurred on the streets of Toronto, ON Canada on April 23, 2018. 24 hours later and the world is learning the names of the 10 people, and 15 injured after a mid-day attack on a busy street in the heart of one of Canada’s most diverse cities.  The impact of such a tragedy is being felt around my country. These things are not the norm for us Canadians. We don’t have experience with this level of sadness and loss. Not when it was intentional, callous and with discriminatory intent.

Our instinct is to try to make sense of what can’t be rationalized. Our instinct is to point a finger and provide an explanation that fits what we are comfortable with. Because the alternative is a world that is chaotic and frightening. It’s a world where the unimaginable can happen, at any time and in any place to anyone.

Public response was immediate. Conclusions had been drawn before law enforcement could conduct a thorough investigation. And the preliminary assumptions were formulated around two theories that are predominant in our rationalizations of violence: terrorism or mental instability.

The nuanced assessments—even by seasoned professionals—about the perpetrator of any mass casualty event, cause damage to the mental health community.  When they immediately assume that the crime was motivated by a person who was mentally ill, they spark a discussion. They tout past record of instability, inability to connect with others, past history of mental break downs, history of medications, and history of violence—all in an effort to lend credibility to the theory that mental health was the mitigating factor behind a senseless tragedy. And in that context, the attempt to thwart the stigma of mental health issues in our Western culture takes a giant leap backward.

In the aftermath of such tragic events, anyone taking medications like Cymbalta or Celexa, Risperdal or Ativan, are viewed with suspicion and fear. Anyone who is brave enough to own their anxiety or depression is judged as if to suggest they are seeking attention or being lazy. The ones who suffer with the debilitating mental health diseases such as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder are deemed unsafe for society. Anyone hospitalized or formed are stigmatized as crazy or nuts. The correlation between uncontrollable mental health disorders and violence are no longer up for debate, they are now a concrete reality in the editorializing of steadfast pundits. And every time another occurrence of violence disrupts our civilized society, the same arguments are touted over and over again until that mantra is cemented into the minds of our culture.

I spent the better part of my weekend on Twitter in a heated debate on an unrelated topic. And even when discussion broke down into insults and abusive assaults on my character, the reason mental health is still so stigmatized was staring me right in the face. We use harsh and sometimes prejudicial remarks about someone’s mental state when attempting to disparage them. Even though i attempted to remain above the fray and refrain from using insults and cursing to establish my narrative, I did at one point say “Are you off your meds?” It didn’t strike me as wrong until a day later when I watched as users on Twitter did the same thing when debating the motivation behind a young man driving a white rental van down a sidewalk filled with pedestrians. It was horrifying for multiple reasons, not the least of which was a reopening of further prejudice against anyone and everyone who has ever suffered from mild, emotional distress to a full blown psychotic breakdown. And I propagated the stigma. I contributed to the  ignorance.

Stigma and fear don’t need a propellant in order to enact their wounds. We need to begin reassessing how our culture examines tragedy without immediately casting dispersions toward an entire group of people. And mental health does not discriminate. It affects all ages, races, genders and professions. And it begins by making a conscious effort to understand all of the motivations behind premeditated violence, whether it be mass shootings, attacks using motor vehicles, or even bombings. When mental health is instantly attributed to the accused, all discussion shuts down and the truth matters little.

When these events take place in our communities and our nations, we can begin by having discussions among the people around us; families, friends, co-workers and neighbours. We need to ask ourselves if these kinds of generalizations make us sad, for more then the reasons apparent. Do the accusations thrown around so mindlessly make us stop to think? Do the discussions around mental health make us feel like we need to hide the daily struggles each of us face? Is mental health the underlying mitigating factor to senseless violence, or is there something we’re missing?

Mental health issues do not correlate to violent acts. Millions suffer with mental disorders on a daily basis and they don’t resort to committing mass murder. So we as a society need to do something. We need to change the conversation. We need to change the beliefs. And if we are successful, the stigma can end.

Cancer Battle

Bittersweet Farewell: A Fictional Imagining

To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. – Thomas Campbell

The sun is shining today. It had been a long winter and its tight grip on Spring was beginning to make me wonder if I would ever see the sun shine in time. I opened my eyes slightly and allowed the harsh glare to peer in through the slits of my eye lids. It was gleaming; the warm reminder of a brand new day.

sun-shining-through-the-window-with-sun-blind-picjumbo-com

The smell of fresh coffee aroused my nostrils. I lean over and sense a fresh cup cooling on my bedside table beside me. It’s steam slowly rising in wafting wisps of aroma. I try to raise my head, but the feeling of weight pulls me down toward the mattress, enveloping me into the fibres of the pillow top surface.

I look over at the chair in the corner of the room. It’s occupied by my sister this time, her eyes closed from exhaustion and emotion, a book of poetry on her lap and a crimson blanket limply wrapped around her left shoulder. She hasn’t noticed that I’d awoken, but I hadn’t the voice to call to her. Instead I stare at the ceiling, counting each intricate bump and crevice that outline each ceiling tile. I had stared up at these tiles countless times before over the years, but now they stared back at me as if to witness my fate.

I hear footsteps coming down the hall, and in vain I again try to lift my head. The door opens a crack, and my sister stirs. She rubs her eyes and notices that I am awake, and like a soldier she is at the ready and by my side. She takes hold of the comforter and straightens it for me, and as she does her eyes connect with mine. She desperately tries to conceal her emotion, but her eyes betray her, like windows wide open to the world. She is sad. She is fearful. She reaches a hand over and strokes my head where my hair had been. She reaches for the scarf that adorned my head, and gently places it back over my bare skull. Her hands are warm and soft, delicate and sure. Her hand lingers for a moment just above my forehead, and I can see she wants to make the moment last a bit longer. I don’t deny her. I blink once, trying not to break eye contact. Her eye lids flood with liquid and a gleam is hidden behind a sea of unspoken emotion and tears. She breaks her eyes away and I can hear her utter something under her breath. It’s unfair that she gets the last word, not like when we were growing up. She was insistent she was the smarter one, the prettier one, the better one. We were best of friends and the fiercest opponents. Stealing my skirts and make-up were only the tiniest of trivialities now. If only we could sit and drink our coffee and laugh like we used to. Unmade bed

At the doorway is my husband. He has a plate of food in his hand, and I assume it is for me. He smiles as he places it down beside me, and gestures to me that he would like to help me up from my pillow. I nod meekly. The pain in my throat is harsh and unyielding.  But after all these years, he sees beyond what my body can communicate. He reaches his strong, capable arms around my torso and attempts to bring me to a seated position.

He places the cup of coffee to my lips, and I try to reach for it to hold it for myself, but the effort is fruitless, I have no strength left. My body aches so much that I twitch in an effort to feel relief, but there is none. The coffee touches my lips, but the flavour is absent. The aroma is sensual, familiar. I desperately wish to taste it but the desire is futile. I haven’t tasted anything in weeks. Its a cruel sentence, facing the end without so much as a last meal, or at least one that can be savoured. I lazily blink my eyes, and my head is heavy again. My husband instinctively senses this and helps to gently ease my head back onto the pillow. His eyes also deceive him, but he remains stubbornly stoic; the caregiver, the lover, the survivor. A lifetime of love is communicated in a glance, and breathlessly he leans in for a kiss.  I can sense its meaning more accurately and plainly than I could recall the flavour of coffee. Its delightful, bittersweet recollection is like permission to breathe. The petty arguments, the strife, the pain and the struggle are forgotten in favour of laughter, passion, late night talks and endless love-making. The simple, quiet moments of seeming inconsequence are now vivid reminders of a life well loved, and I would give anything to have those moments back again. The early morning hours where I would lean into his slumbering frame and wrap my leg around his, snuggling into his warmth. The long walks down the road, hand-in-hand, saying nothing. The longer car rides where I would be attempting to read, but he wanted to talk. His phone calls when we were on our way home from work, where he would call to ask what I had planned for supper. I never had supper planned. The evenings at night, when we would finish our day snuggled up on the sofa, engrossed in a television program, never saying a word but instead sharing in the drama and the laughter of someone else’s creation. It was moments taken for granted. It was the everyday mundane things. It was us.

And had I told him everything I wanted to say? Had I taken every opportunity to let him know I loved him?

I closed my eyes, and he lifted his lips from my skin. We parted. And I fell into sleep again.

I open my eyes. The sun is still shining, but the colour is different. Through bleary eyes I can just make out the image of a familiar person but the effort is too great, and I close my eyes again. The soft sounds of a breeze whistles through the slightly open window. Its crisp air swirls around my body and chills me. I shudder involuntarily. The pain in my legs and my arms intensifies and I squirm in an effort to relieve the sensation. An unearthly groan can be heard coming from deep within my chest, but I consciously hadn’t made the sound. I desperately want to turn to my side, to roll over and go back to sleep, but my muscles won’t co-operate with what my mind is communicating to them to do. In defeat, I close my eyes and wish for sleep.

A slight pain in my arm arouses my senses, but I lack the energy to open my eyes. A pair of hands, soft and gentle, but decisive and quick, have taken a hold of my arm. It’s unclear what is happening but I assume its a nurse starting an IV line. I’ve been given something because before long, I can feel a fog of relief coursing through my veins.  It’s subtle at first, numbing the pain as it creeps through my blood stream. I welcome it, like an old friend.

It is dark outside when I open my eyes. My mouth is flooded with saliva, and I choke slightly on the sensation. I can barely swallow. My throat is so coated with mucous that it is almost unbearable and I long for the ability to spit. Instead I gurgle and someone places a soft cloth around my mouth to catch the drool that creeps out around the corner of my mouth. I look across the room, trying to focus but its difficult. The low light and the bleariness make it difficult to distinguish anything except what it familiar from memory. My sister’s unmistakeable silhouette is seated on the chair again. Her eyes are puffy and red and she has obviously been crying. My husband is seated at my side and I can smell the musky scent of his deodorant. Its a comfortable smell, and ordinarily I would be turned on, but that response in my body seems to be lacking. His hand is resting atop my own. Its rough texture and unmistakeable shape envelops my frail fingers that have lost almost all similarity to the youthful  hands I had once possessed. My wedding rings have long been removed due to swelling. My finger nails have lost their lustre and are now brittle and thin. But his hands never change. His hands were the hands that worked tirelessly to support us. His hands were the support for me in times of fear or worry. His hands were instruments of pleasure. His hands. The night we flirted with one another, the night we knew that we were falling for each other, it was his hands that reached out and grabbed mine. The wave of butterflies that welled up from the pit of my stomach flourished into a giddy sensation that made me desire him more. Of our souls and our bodies, our hands were the first to touch. And now they would be the last thing that connected us. I silently begged, oh please don’t let go.

I open my eyes, it’s still dark outside. There are others in the room. I can’t make out their faces, but their voices are familiar. Their timbre’s blend into a symphony of sounds lulling me into silent appreciation. It’s harder to keep my eyes open, harder for me to remain conscious. All I can feel is the pain, ever knocking at the door and being kept at bay by the fog. All I can smell is the scent of bodies and emotion and my Aunt’s perfume. I can hear the voices constrained by fear and respect. The urge to laugh is suppressed, the urge to cry even more so. I can hear the forced smiles behind their muted conversation. I can feel their eyes on me. It’s awkward. I wasn’t there to entertain, yet I was the central attraction. I feel rude and inconsiderate, despite what I know is ultimately my final good-bye. And I have no say in the outcome. I have nothing to contribute. I have no eloquent speech prepared, no flourish of creativity or drama. I don’t want to leave like this. I have so much left to do and so much left to experience. The anxiety swells within my lungs and an unearthly moan involuntarily lurches from within my throat. Someone new is in the room with me, I don’t know how she is. She moves deftly to my left side, pushing my husband aside causing him to let go of my hands, She has a syringe of some sort in her hand and she injects something into the tubing in my left arm. It takes only seconds for the fog to fight my senses for dominance, and it overtakes me. The silhouette of the stranger floats into the background and I again can sense my husband rush to my side. He grabs my hand and squeezes it tight. He squeezed just tight enough that I could sense that he never wanted to let go. How I wish I had the will to open my eyes.

The room is silent. My eyes won’t open, but I know there are only a few people seated around. Their breathing is low and laboured, like they are trying to preserve the last remaining air in the room. What day is it now? How long had I been asleep?

The sun was just slowly coming up. The soft pink and white glow was just peeking through the window blinds and I desperately wanted to see it. As if by determination alone my eyes opened and I turn my head toward the East. The rays of light reach out like beacons of welcome for a new day. The glowing lines stretch across the horizon and warm my face. My husband is fast asleep, his hand still resting in mine, his head lay beside me on the edge of the bed. My sister is asleep in the chair. Her vigil hasn’t ceased. Neither has my husband’s. I can’t tell them how I know, but it’s time.

I muster the urge to open my mouth and utter a tiny cry. My sound is like a blazing alarm, and they each rouse from their slumber. My husband draws my hand to his mouth, caressing my fingers with his lips. The warmth of his breath moistens the dry skin on my knuckles. My sister rubs her hand along the length of my shin situated beneath the thick comforter. I turn from one to the other, in voiceless appreciation. Their faces never looked sweeter. And as if time stood still, a light brighter then the rising sun fills the room, bringing with it the sweetest melody of hope and joy and laughter.

porch-1034405_1280Inexpressible sounds like a symphony of everyone I had ever known calling my name through song and the scent of every pleasant memory waft through like a sensual aroma. I smile, or at least I think I am smiling.

And then…my soul lets go, like letting go of a hand, or like blinking. I am gone.

Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

I Am Racism

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”
― Albert Einstein

At the beginning of April after the tragic death of a bus load of Humboldt hockey players in Saskatchewan, a Canadian writer issued a tweet;

It was the tweet heard around Canada, and it was sickeningly ill-timed and in poor taste. Soon afterward she was vilified, trolled and threatened with bodily harm, rape and death.  **I want to be clear, I do not support or condone ANY of the horrendous and vile words that were spewed in her direction. I do not wish this woman ill-will nor do I think she is a horrible human being. But I did not agree with her statement. She exercised her right to free speech, and sadly the consequence was a horrible week online for her and anyone associated with her who publicly agreed with her.

But while her tweet was tactless and agenda driven, she did bring up an issue that was sorely under-pinned in Canada. Her point, while poorly communicated, is that systemic racism exists in North America. She drove that point home over and over again, especially when people would respond with such vitriol and blind hatred in response to her persistent and unapologetic argument.

The conversation about racism has been brought into the social consciousness due to a variety of factors, mostly because a new and rising generation–one not immune to prejudice–are speaking up in defiance of a system that has unbalanced the scales for far too long. Another because polarizing political structures in the U.S. and Canada have become ever more divisive due to a wider expanse between conflicting ideologies.

I started to see examples that inspired me to look further at this issue, rather than assume I was immune to this issue.

Sandra Oh, who played Christina Yang on one of my favourite television shows was interviewed by Vulture, and she revealed to the interviewer that when she was initially offered the part for her new television show Killing Eve, she didn’t realize that she was being offered the lead role.

[So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us. It’s like, how does racism define your work? Oh my goodness, I didn’t even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers. Why? And this is me talking, right? After being told to see things a certain way for decades, you realize, “Oh my god! They brainwashed me!” I was brainwashed! So that was a revelation to me.

–Sandra Oh

A talented, and brilliant woman who has worked tirelessly in her field and has won accolades for her performances doubted that she was leading-lady material. This woman was born to stand out, yet the pervasive prejudice that exists within our systems of society told her that she didn’t fit the mold.

Naomi Wadler, an 11-year old from Alexandria, made headlines on March 24th when she gave a rousing speech during the Rally in Washington, D.C for the March 4 Our Lives Event.  She was interviewed extensively after the event, and in an interview with Elle Magazine she says:

I once had a social studies teacher who made it out to be that black people in the past had more freedom than they did, and I knew it wasn’t true. She said basically they didn’t have to fight in wars, they could run away, and that running away from slavery was so easy. I felt like it made all the white kids around me believe that slavery, segregation, racism were not that big of a deal.

And once, in third grade, a boy and I were playing a game, and he said how I should be the slave or the beggar woman because I’m black, so I can’t have money. I’m Jewish, too, and that same boy told me that I can’t be a black Jew because there aren’t black people who are Jews.

              –Naomi Sadler

One week ago, two young men were arrested after sitting at a Starbucks while waiting for a friend. Their skin colour alone was the reported mitigating factor in why law enforcement was called in that situation that escalated into a nationwide incident. The incident has provoked Starbucks to respond by closing all of their U.S. based stores in order to conduct bias-education for their entire employee base. A bold move for sure, but one that seems is increasingly necessary in a society where people of colour are being shot and killed or arrested in suspicious circumstances that seem to be related to race.

Prejudice is taught. Prejudice is ignorance in action, and it has to stop. The more we deny it, the less we’re able to have a civil discussion about it.

But even the discussion has become a war of words and sound bites. It’s not enough to simply shove our view point down the throat of others and then run away. (Or log off our computers) There needs to be intentional discussion with respect and dignity. Purporting one race over another has never been acceptable, so turning the tables on the balance of power is not the answer. The idea that “white identity” is being lost amidst  multi-culturalism and diversity is a fear that is being fuelled through evangelist style media reporting from the alt-right. And the issue is becoming a hostile hot bed of the ugliest side of humanity coming into the light.

There has to be a point where we stop, and listen to the experiences and the truth that belongs to people of colour. Certain sects of society balk at the idea that white privilege is even a phenomenon, but when I think about it closely I realize all too quickly that the colour of my skin has never given anyone reason to fear me or be suspect of me. It has never denied me an opportunity or respect.

I remember an incident when I was a teenager working in a retail store. One of my co-workers, who was one of my superiors, instructed me to follow a shopper around the store because she looked “suspect”. I did as I was told because I was the young employee, but other than the colour of her skin I had no reason to see what my co-worker saw. The woman I was instructed to follow was a person of colour, she had long braids in her hair, and she was wearing a large denim jacket. I remember the jacket because I was hoping it was the reason she was targeted, and not because of her skin colour. But then the woman caught me skulking around her while she browsed through children’s clothes. She knew what I was about, and called me on it. I was horrified and speechless. She was mortified and furious. And in hindsight, I couldn’t blame her. She left the store without purchasing a thing.

Twenty years later, and we are no more evolved as a society. The incident from my teens illustrated that prejudice did indeed exist, it was just disguised behind a different rationale. It’s subtle, and deceptive. But now there are hoards of people speaking up, and shouting at the top of their lungs, “It’s NOT okay!” It’s not okay to assume someone is suspicious because of their skin colour. It’s not okay to assume their intelligence level because of their race or country of origin. It’s not okay to assume someone is incompetent because their first language isn’t English. It’s not okay to assume that someone is criminal because they have darker skin. It’s NOT OKAY. If our foundation of belief about a person or people group is rooted in the colour of someone’s skin or their country of origin, then the problem begins and ends there. And it is that mindset that needs to change.

This quote, written by Dr. Debra Soh for the Globe and Mail was so inspiring yet sobering at the same time:

What is racist is placing such an emphasis on immutable characteristics a person had no say in obtaining. As an Asian woman, the way I look has no bearing on the way I think, and to assume otherwise is close-minded and patronizing.

What struck me so powerfully about this is her articulation of something so profound that it transcends the racism issue. There is a belief in North American culture of what defines normal: white, male, attractive, skinny, blonde, blue eyed, tall, able-bodied, straight, and rich. There are a few exceptions to this list, however, anything outside this “norm” is considered less-than. The amount of things on this list that can be controlled by any individual are few. We are born into circumstances and into our bodies– yet we are judged and discriminated against by the very things we have no control over.

Most people would deny they’re racist. I deny I am racist. I do not believe that I hold intentional judgements against people of another race or ethnicity from me.

Yet, truth be told, I have.

I HAVE made initial judgements about someone because of their ethnicity.

I HAVE made jokes about people groups that aren’t my own.

I HAVE mocked someone else’s accent.

I HAVE made assumptions about a people group because of their ideology or their religion.

I HAVE discriminated against someone because of how they dressed or how they smelled or how they spoke.

I WAS WRONG, and I AM ASHAMED.

But what I believe sets me apart is my willingness to be educated and humbled. I am full of remorse for my ignorant mindfulness.  And it motivates me to change and adapt my behaviour or thinking in response.

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.

–Albert Schweitzer

Nora Loreto’s timing and tactics were poor when she made her statement that fuelled a fire storm of hate. But she wasn’t wrong. Systemic racism and its ugly prejudices need to be exposed and need to be dismantled. Society can not look backward and continue to endorse these narrow-minded and ignorant views of humanity any longer. And once we take that view, we need to take action and do something to correct the behaviour. Only then will things begin to change.

 

Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

Status Anxiety: Keeping up with the Joneses to the Nth Degree

One of my best friends suggested I watch Alain de Botton’s video Status Anxiety (2004), and it placed a spot light on some of the philosophical questions I have been pondering over the past few weeks and months.

In the opening few minutes of the video, Alain describes what he perceives to be the foundational reason why our culture suffers so much from anxiety, and it relates directly to the expectations we place upon ourself, or the expectation we think society places on us.

Two-hundred years ago when European settlers came across the ocean and began colonizing the Western Continent of North America, they left behind a class society or hierarchy and aristocracy. In the new land they were building, anyone could become anything. It was a clean slate. In today’s culture, where we live in a class-less society and everyone is deemed “equal” there is a pervading myth that every opportunity and every advantage is available to all of us in equal measure. Men and women are equal and are afforded the same opportunities. Blacks and Whites are equal (and every other race) and have equal value. Rich and poor are just as equally important as one another. But even reading over this list, anyone can admit that this is just simply untrue. But that is the nature of our free, democratic society. The belief that if we work hard enough, persist long enough and continually make choices to be a “better” version of ourselves, then all of the above is true for anyone. We can be the best we can be.

But the flaw in this belief is that it creates an unending cycle of striving to be something we so desperately want to be, and we are NEVER satisfied.

These are the questions I have been asking myself:

  1. What if I don’t have as many friends as my friends do, does that make me unworthy or unlovable?
  2. What if I am never recognized for my accomplishments? What if my dreams are never realized?
  3. What if my house is not the nicest or the biggest? Does that make me a failure?
  4. What if people don’t like me, does that mean that I am a failure?
  5. What if I can’t lose the weight? Does that make me unattractive?
  6. What if the things I write are never published, never read by anyone but me and never appreciated?
  7. What if I never have the latest and greatest toys and gadgets like the people I know?
  8. What if I never get to travel to the places I so desperately want to see?
  9. What if I am not as successful as the person next to me? AM I STILL VALUABLE TO SOMEONE?

The above list is only a portion of the questions I have been asking myself, and I can’t be alone. But the underlying question is Do I have value as a human being? The politically correct version of that answer is yes. But the realistic version that culture subliminally pushes on us is, no I do not have value if I am not “successful”. If I am not striving to be the next best {insert thing here} then I am failing. If I don’t adhere to the latest parenting fad then I am a failure. If I don’t make x amount of money then I am a failure. If I don’t drive the newest car, or I don’t wear the latest clothes then I am a failure. If I don’t learn the latest hobby then I am a failure, if my house doesn’t look like a Pinterest ad then I am a failure, if I don’t subscribe to the latest political ideology then I am a failure. The list goes on and on. But who gets to define success?

The problem exists when we begin to compare ourselves to our peers. The people within our closest sphere of influence are the ones we equate our identity with, and so when one or more of our “peers” advance in a stage of life we believe that we too should be advancing in the same way. A co-worker gets a promotion over us, or a friend inherits a large sum of money or has a job where they make more money than we do, a friends child receives an accolade for something they accomplished, or a friend buys a larger house–it creates a jealousy that makes us look at our own life and think, “I don’t measure up.” When we do that it creates a problem in our relationships that didn’t exist before. I nearly created a problem between a friend and myself when I admitted to my own jealousy that they were selling their house when I had been wanting to sell mine for almost as long. (When I developed cancer last year it put my life on hold and I was forced to put all of my life’s plans on the back-burner). My jealousy prevented me from being able to effectively communicate how happy I was for her (which I was) because all she heard from me was my unhappiness in my own situation. That wasn’t fair to her.

But it made me realize that her accomplishments do not diminish my own successes. It also made me realize that the things I don’t achieve are not a direct reflection of my character or my value.

If I never accomplish another thing in this life or acquire any more wealth, and simply live every day like I am now, would I be satisfied? And if the answer to that is no, then it begs the question as to why? Is it for my own satisfaction or because I am too preoccupied with a deeply ingrained cultural myth that I have to achieve certain things or do certain things in this life in order to be satisfied?

In the past few decades our culture has seen and experienced such a vast accumulation of technological advancements and wealth, has been given access to great knowledge at our finger tips, and has seen the development of a globalized economy. But in those same years we have seen a steady increase in mental illness, anxiety, depression and overall dissatisfaction. Is it because as a society we have become more adept and more open about discussing mental illness or is it because there has been such immense pressure placed on us all that we are constantly trying to attain a lifestyle ideal that is unattainable?

If you have a couple hours to kill, I highly suggest watching Alain de Botton’s video. It is long, and his voice is soothing so don’t watch it if you are tired. But his views are worth pondering, and while he doesn’t provide any answers, he allows us to consider that our happiness is derived from the things we already have and not from what we desire.

Click the link here to watch his documentary.