None of the other blog posts I planned to write today can possibly come to the fore, not after another announcement of a flawed justice system failing, not after watching waves of heartbreak ripple through my friends, both American and Canadian.
As the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict news came in, I was sitting in a room full of feminists. It was a long table conversation, with many voices at the table. Women – feminists, activists, women of colour, queer women, trans women, and more – spoke of their experiences living under patriarchy. They spoke of sexism, but more than anything they spoke of racism. They spoke of the ongoing legacy of colonization, here in Treaty One Territory, of institutionalized racism, of the subtle “polite” racism. They spoke of violence, their missing and murdered kin. They spoke of violence in threats and violence in words. They spoke of so much that I couldn’t possibly capture here, and that is not the point.
The point is that we are not so far away, and we are all connected to this. Maybe there are other white women sitting in Canada, like me, and other white men, and they can’t see the connection. The heartbreak, how crushing this verdict is. This is more than theory and a discussion, even if, as an ally, sitting and listening and maybe helping out a bit is the role to play at the moment.
We cannot forget that racism, entrenched institutionalized racism, does not exist in the vacuum. The system is upheld by individual people. People who exist in the world with each other and who uphold racist, white supremacist systems with their words and actions. Silence is an action. Using words without considering their meaning, without seeing the harm that can be done on the spectrum of violence, that’s an action too.
Standing up and saying something is also an action. That happened too, here at the long table. When tonight’s conversation wound down, I felt hopeful, optimistic. I felt that people had listened, and people held each other through the difficult parts. I thought that hey, there are some pretty fantastic people in this city working to make it better, and I want to be a part of that. Maybe we can change the world, albeit slowly.
Then I pulled out my phone, checked the news, saw #blacklivesmatter all over facebook again, still. This theory, and the violence of language is part of it. But the actual visceral acts, of racialized physical violence, of murder, of protesting because there’s no other way to say that this is wrong, that’s the real consequence.
Tonight, in Ferguson, and elsewhere across the US, many folks will not have the luxury of coming to a long and open table to do the first step, to simply talk, to find kinship and build connections through dialogue, like we did in Winnipeg tonight. I only hope that those of us who are out here can support them in some way, whatever that is. Hold on to the hope when you find it, and reach out to those who are running low. Make space for the outrage. There is every reason to be angry.
If we’re talking about this, talk louder, talk more, talk to those who don’t quite get it yet. And for some of us, those who have a disproportionate share of air space, talk less, and listen more.