Fighting The Disease of Racism

I am heartened to see many videos and images this morning of Police joining with peaceful protesters in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. While racism in society is pervasive and progress toward true equality moves at a frustratingly slow pace, the relationship citizens have with those sworn with a duty to protect them is at the core of this anger.

I am not a police officer and I have no family connection to law enforcement. However, like many of us I know many and some very well. I have heard their stories and have nothing, but respect for the job they do. Many of the officers I know are also black. I have deep admiration for these heroes because I would imagine their sense of duty to their communities comes with an inner battle that must be won before they join that group and don that uniform.

So I am careful not to suggest solutions in policing, or offer changes to law enforcement structures that I don’t understand.  I am a member of another professional tribe and I am all too aware of the unwritten code that frowns upon calling members out – publicly.  I have done it, and it was ugly.  Verbal harassment, intimidation, being ostracized, and this was from fellow teachers! Imagine calling out fellow officers and crossing what is widely known as the blue line.   Still, I hope it happens, and images of officers taking a knee while peaceful protesters march is an encouraging start.    

As for what we do to combat the evils of racism in society.  We already know the answer; it’s a question of whether we want to do what is necessary to fight it. Some sheltered people will claim that they don’t see it in their lives and I don’t doubt them. If you surround yourself in the comfort of your own race it is easy to live in ignorant bliss. But try living as a minority, if only for a moment in time.  I have, on a few occasions, and the lessons it taught me were profound. 

As guest to a friend’s Church service, I was stunned by the experience.  I have been the centre of attention before, but not because of the way I looked. People were nice and their warmth put me at ease, but I did give a nod to other white man in the house.  It’s the same gesture I have seen countless times, from my friends of other races when they see a person of the same race in similar circumstance. 

I find complete joy at weddings when couples of different races come together in love. I am pleased to say that I have been at a number of these for both friends and family.  I am blessed to have these experiences in part because of how I was raised, but more importantly, I believe, because of the diverse communities I have lived and gone to school.   

My Conscience. My Crew. My Brothers.

Some believe they know what cures racism, but it’s is not going to end with the countless words written or spoken. It is a disease. But unlike the one we are fighting now, its eradication will not come from living a part, only coming together. We must live, learn, work and play in a world with people that represent that world. Knowing the cure is futile, if we don’t have the courage to act and live side by side.  White flight and gentrification don't happen by accident. It’s too easy and may even be our human condition to surround ourselves with people who look the same. But we cannot let this be our fatal flaw.  

Raising your voice or marching are necessary to bring attention, but if we want to move beyond a reaction and to actual solutions then we have to ask ourselves the tough questions. What barriers are we putting up that separate ourselves and our race from one another? 

Canadians like to believe that disease of racism is not as bad up here compared to our southern neighbour.  From living in both countries I believe that is true. The institutional divisions the U.S. continues to build allow the disease to fester. The racial divide within the same community is stark and sadly plain to see. Until that country wants to break those artificial barriers down it will be hard to overcome the natural ones. In Canada, our openness to immigration and diversity will only get us so far. My own high school of racial diversity is no more. We’ll follow the same dark path of the United States if when outsiders move in, we all move out. 

We should know the cure to beat racism. Like the other disease we are facing it does require collective action.  In this battle, we are truly in this together.  We will fight it joining hands – not living a part. It will not be easy and the battle will go on for generations, but we can do better than this. 

Luckily we have many heroes among us who inspire by not only talking the talk, but walking the beat as well.  They join other tribes or cross their own blue lines in the lives they lead. 

I find personal inspiration and hope from the ones protecting me, who continue to do both.    

Gregory Cawsey